10 years ago today our family and friends gathered to celebrate our marriage. Our wedding day was exactly what we planned it to be, the only small hiccup was that I didn’t enjoy any of it.
Looking back I can see that my unchecked anxiety leading up our wedding day left me so tapped out I was experiencing a depressive episode. The most significant feeling I remember from our wedding day, next to numbness, was crushing overwhelm. Throughout our whole relationship I always had this little voice in the back of my mind saying “how can I commit to forever when I haven’t even been able to commit to a university degree?” That question wasn’t absent on our wedding day, in fact, it was front of mind. When the doors opened for me to walk down the aisle, when I saw Mat for the first time, my thought was “I can leave, I don’t have to do this”. Everyone watching me made me want to run. I guess this is one of the few moments in my life that I can be grateful for my deep rooted people pleasing tendencies. Me leaving would have meant letting down not just Mat (that should have been the biggest deal) but the 400ish people who had gathered to witness our marriage.
My thoughts when I saw Mat for the first time that day were most likely the hangover of a not very peppy pep talk I received from a family member the night before. While I appreciated the sentiment of not wanting to see me make a mistake, telling me that I could leave right up until I signed the papers (the day before I was supposed to sign the papers) maybe wasn’t the best approach to take with a painfully anxious person. This same feeling lingered through the first few days of our honeymoon. Mat and I both now talk (and thankfully laugh) about the Oh sh** moment we had during our honeymoon when we both thought to ourselves “what have we done?”
The night before our wedding Mat and I wrote each other letters that we sealed in a box to be opened on our 5th anniversary, or if our marriage was in crisis before we made it to 5 years. So many times I looked at that box and thought to myself “we are never going to make it there”. Our first 5 years felt like an eternity.
Our fifth anniversary happened to fall during a very major depressive episode for me. Enda was 8 months old, my Mom had just finished her radiation after 6 rounds of chemo, Mat had only been home from school for a few weeks after having left me home with the kids for the better part of 2 months. It was not a beautiful season of my life. I am glad we had made a plan years before for how we would spend that anniversary. We had planned, 5 years earlier, that we would open our box, read the letters we had written to each other, and write new ones for our 10th anniversary. I don’t remember anything that Mat’s letter said. I have no idea what I wrote in my letter to be opened tonight but I am actually a little bit nervous about it.
Hopefully I put together words better than what I was feeling because what I was feeling was that I was done. Not done with our marriage but done with everything. I could not fathom another 5 years that looked like our first 5 years. I felt like I was the only member in our partnership. Was that the truth? Maybe a little bit, what was more true is that even after 5 years we still hadn’t figured out how to be partners. We had not yet figured out how to meet each other's needs, to complement each other's strengths, and strengthen each other's weaknesses.
Even though I am not excited for Mat to read the letter I wrote 5 years ago I am so excited to write a new one. Years 5-10 have been hard. In fact I feel pretty comfortable saying they were very hard. We doubled our kid count in one shot, we moved, lived through a global pandemic, started 2 businesses, and most significantly lost Mat’s Dad.
As I tell this part of our story I think it is important that you understand that for both Mat and I for the past 10 years our marriage has been our favourite part of our lives. Even when I felt like I was drowning or we were working through big, hard things, it was still our favourite part. For me the reason for that is because when things get hard Mat shows up, I don’t just mean he is physically present. He shows up with all of himself, every aspect of who he is shows up to work for our marriage. We both brought our lived experiences from our families of origin into our marriage with us. For both of us that meant good things, and some things that we wanted to do differently. The thing with doing things differently is you aren’t going to nail it right out of the gate, and let me tell you, we almost never do.
In November I reached a breaking point. Something had to change. I was back to teaching in a slightly less than ideal environment (yes, I am talking about the hallway classroom), I was solely responsible for getting our kids to and from childcare, and I carried the majority of the domestic labour and mental load for our family and home. Was Mat just bumming around living his best life? Absolutely not! He was working crazy hours almost everyday, he saw me struggling but when I told him what I needed it was like I was speaking a foreign language. From his experience he thought what he needed to do to fulfill his portion of our partnership was to provide for us. He knew there was more to it but he didn’t know what it was, or how to do it. From his lived experience working long is what he knew. The thing was I didn’t feel like that way of life was a partnership. I felt abandoned. I remember saying to Mat more than once “I didn’t have kids to raise them alone”. At the time I didn’t realize how hurtful that was but writing it now I feel the sting of my words. I was doing bedtime alone 5-6 times a week. Mat saw the kids on the days I worked for 20 minutes in the morning while he helped me get out the door. He was working for his business almost every Saturday and was working on the farm late at night and on Sundays. Everything that he was doing needed to be done. It was important and necessary work.
What it finally came down to, and where we were able to start growing from was that I didn’t have anyone to catch what I dropped. I didn’t have the option to drop anything. A great example of this is missing bedtime. It wasn’t uncommon for Mat to miss bedtime by just a little bit because he needed to wrap up a job or stop in the office to wrap up his day. I couldn’t not do bedtime, sometimes I could wait but I was never really certain when Mat would be home and waiting might just mean I am doing it alone but with over tired kids. Was he avoiding bedtime? Maybe sometimes, but he genuinely had important things he needed to do. The thing was that I also had important things I needed to do that had to get set aside to fulfill other responsibilities. Finishing a task, or wrapping up my day was a privilege I did not have. I considered finishing a job to be a privilege, not a given.
When someone pooped, I couldn’t not change them. When someone was hungry, I couldn't not feed them. If I wasn’t done with my work, I couldn’t not pick up the kids. If someone didn’t do the dishes, I couldn’t just not make dinner. The real catalyst for change was when I reached my absolute limit with Natural Family Planning. The weight of a potential error was too heavy for me to carry alone for any longer. I asked Mat to help and he couldn't because despite us using this method for over 5 years he never had to learn it. I just did it, because at the time that is what made the most sense for our family. The problem with that is that I couldn’t just stop doing it. Not sharing the weight of that very significant part of our marriage was a privilege that I didn’t realize Mat had. He didn’t realize it either.
It wasn’t that Mat wanted me to carry the burden of never ending unfinished tasks, or that he wanted me to carry the weight of our home alone. He also didn’t want to miss our kids growing up. He just didn’t know how to do all of the things. The weight that we were each carrying individually was so heavy that we couldn’t see each other's load. We had been working on so many of these challenges for so many years and tried so many times to initiate change that giving up on growing in these areas would have been easy. What it came down to is we loved each other exactly where we were, but we also loved each other too much to stay there.
Things are still crazy. I still do a lot of solo bedtimes, but Mat asks if I am up for the task. Almost always I can say “yes, finish your job, that is what makes sense right now”. The odd time I can’t do it alone, and Mat respects that. He accepts the reality that finishing his job isn’t always a privilege that he has. The sharing of that reality makes me feel love beyond measure and the fact that Mat is willing to show up for me, our marriage, and family, in this way is why our marriage is the greatest source of joy in my life.
*Disclaimer I never write anything about our marriage without first talking it through with Mat. He always gets final say about what is shared because this belongs to us and no one else. Some things we hold for ourselves and others we feel are important to share to encourage other people on their journey. All that to say, this post is Mat approved*