This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on how to positively shift gears in your relationship or marriage. To enter the giveaway for Project Happily Ever After, please leave a comment below–with your own Happily Ever After tip, or your own example of feeling very hopeless and frustrated, or, what do you want from your partner that you’re not getting–whatever resonates for you.
Guest blogger Julie Geen discusses the book Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage when the Fairytale Falters with author Alisa Bowman. Part memoir, part self-help book, Bowman spills every ugly detail of her marriage struggles, including secretly planning her perfectly healthy husband’s funeral (the wake included all of his favorite beers, butternut squash soup, and lamb on a stick). She gives a ten-step plan addressing everything from communication to sex, offering hope for “divorce daydreamers” everywhere.
Julie: You wrote something that cut me to the core. You said, “Now that I’ve allowed myself to love him again, the misunderstandings and disagreements are excruciating.” And you talked about fighting not being the end of the world. That was really powerful for me, because I realized when I read this that that is my biggest fear. If I really love this man and open up to him and let him know what I want and need, what I like and how to please me and he doesn’t respond, I’m going to be…well, I’m going to have to go far far away and never ever love again, or something.
Alisa: I think there is a leap of faith that you take. And part of it is the faith that your partner is not going to leave you, no matter who you become. And no matter how you fight. You never have one hundred percent certainty. We always have some fear in our souls. You have to try not to focus on that and have faith that as long as I’m being a good me, he will be a good him, and everything will move to a better place. There’s no guarantees, and it does require vulnerability. It’s like taking off armor. You feel like you’re walking around naked for awhile.
Julie: Yeah. I’m definitely getting that feeling.
Alisa: You share intimately, back and forth. And you did that when you first met. But you did it naturally then, because you were newly in love.
Julie: Worst case scenario, if it doesn’t work, I at least gave it my best. I would live through it if it didn’t work out.
Alisa: Women go on after they are divorced, for sure. And you’re definitely going to get divorced if you don’t try. So you might as well try, and then you’re a stronger person if you end up going there anyway, right?
Julie: Exactly. I have nothing to lose. I might as well try. You also mentioned in your book that even if your marriage hadn’t worked out, that this was a good process for you because you ended up working on yourself. You clarified who you were through this process, whether or not he followed you.
Alisa: I did. You learn how to be a leader in your marriage, and then you learn how to be a leader in life. And so the rest of my life really came together after working on my marriage. I changed my career, I improved a lot of my friendships and got rid of others. I was able to identify toxic things I didn’t need in my life anymore. There’s a certain amount of self confidence that comes from it. I even improved my relationship with my mother. I learned how to communicate, I learned how to forgive, I learned how to be assertive. That will take you anywhere in life you need to go.
Julie: That’s true. The first marriage counselor my husband and I went to said that marriage brings your greatest wound to you for healing. I hated it when he said that. But it turned out to be very true. It just feels to me like this is really spiritual work of a sort. I feel like every wound that I have in my being has been exposed in this relationship. This is a lot harder work than demanding yoga poses.
Alisa: So true.
Julie: This kind of work means scouring your insides and giving up pride.
Alisa: Exactly. Pride is probably the biggest one.
Julie: That’s the one that’s tripping me up right about now. You also talked about guilt versus anger. I have such a hard time admitting that I have any needs at all. Somehow it’s just ingrained in me that I’m John Wayne-I’m tough, I don’t need anything from anybody. And the truth is, I do have needs. Ugh. When I stand up for myself, and when I ask for what I need, if it inconveniences anyone in the slightest, I feel dreadful guilt, and if I don’t ask, I feel anger. And none of this was a huge problem until I became a mother. You mentioned something that I don’t think is talked about very much, which is that we as women are more emotionally and physically dependent upon our partner, if we have one, when we give birth. And for me, that was so difficult.
Alisa: You didn’t know how to deal with it because you weren’t used to asking for help. Some women become financially dependent, too. So they are dependent in every way on their spouse. And that’s a devastating thing if you don’t know how to communicate. One thing I’ve tried recently is thinking about how when you help others, it makes you feel good.
Remember that and then say you’re giving someone else a gift by letting them help. I found with my husband (and this may not be true in every marriage) that he loves being appreciated and helping me as long as I make a fuss about whatever he’s done for me. And his heart’s desire is to be adored. You can kind of think of it that way and it helps. It is hard when you want to be independent and strong and tough …you do feel really vulnerable when you lean on other people around you and allow them to help you.
Julie: That makes good sense. Where is your marriage now? How’s it going?
Alisa: I would say it just constantly gets better. When I wrote the end of the book, I’d rated it an eight, and that was three years ago. I guess I’d have to rate it a fifteen, even though it’s only a ten point scale. You take two steps forward and one step back. I’m never going to be the person who tries to be the poster child for a happy marriage, because there are definitely moments where it’s a challenge.
Saving your marriage is not like running a marathon. You never really cross the finish line. It’s a lifelong process. You have to keep yourself aware and address the issues and never sweep them under the rug or wait for them to go away or for the magical genie to fix them for you. Your marriage will keep getting better and better. At least that’s my experience.
Julie: You really helped me see that marriage is a process, rather than a place you arrive. Your last sentence in the Bonus Section is “ A marriage is never cured. It’s a lifelong project. Get over it.” That’s what I needed to hear.
Alisa: We want to believe in the soul mate myth. I call it a myth. Some people argue with me. But I really do feel like it’s a myth. You meet someone who is basically compatible with you and you marry them. And then you have these ideas like, wow, I was wrong. I didn’t marry the person I was compatible with. I must have been young or on crack. You create all these reasons about why you were wrong and you screwed up.
But what happens, I think, for most of us–not including the people in abusive relationships or relationships where there are addiction issues–I feel for most of us that if we left our marriages and went back out there, what we would find is someone else that we were basically compatible with and we would start all over again. We might work it out with that next person, we might not, but we would encounter all the same problems or at least a different set of problems.
Living with somebody and having children with them and growing old isn’t easy. Can you imagine if you had to spend the rest of your life with your sibling or your college roommate? Living with someone for life isn’t easy, even though we expect it to be. We believe in the soul mate myth.
Julie: When you put it that way, it’s damn unnatural thing to do.
Alisa: I think it’s beautiful that we manage it at all, isn’t it?
To enter the giveaway of Project Happily Ever After, please leave a comment below–with your own Happily Ever After tip, or your own example of feeling very hopeless and frustrated, or, what do you want from your partner that you’re not getting–whatever resonates for you.
Julie Geen is a freelance writer, mother of two and still married, despite being published in Ask Me About My Divorce. Look for her in Tarnished: True Stories of Innocence Lost by Pinchback Press, to be published in spring of 2011, and on her new blog at www.juliegeen.com.
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