My partner and I have been married for 6 years and we have been going through a rough patch. We got to talking about things yesterday and she said to me that even though things are hard she ‘still wakes up and chooses to be with me each day.’ I was shocked. We are married… I didn’t realize that being together was a choice or that not being together was even on the table.
I’m not even sure what to think.
–The Chosen One (♂ Nelson)
I can imagine how upsetting it must be to discover that you and your wife of so many years could potentially have vastly different viewpoints on marriage. Before we move onto discussing marriage itself, I want to offer that maybe she didn’t mean that breaking up is necessarily ‘on the table’ but more that her relationship with you is one that she recommits to each day. Intentionally recommitting each day is very different from being on the edge between breaking up and enduring a relationship with you.
With regards to marriage there is a whole spectrum of viewpoints bookended by two extreme ideals on either end. At one end, marriage is a sacred eternal contract that cannot be broken; that you are together forever and ever regardless of anything that happens to you or around you (possibly even after death). At the opposite end, marriage is a symbol of a choice; both the choice you made to be together in the moment of union AND the choice to continually recommit to each other in every moment thereafter with the understanding that the commitment could be reconsidered at some point. These two seemingly opposite ideas and everything in between them are equally valid and can (and do) coexist. I say seemingly here because the level of committment seems opposite – eternal versus temporary – which seems to me to be the crux of the discord in your conversation with your wife.
For my clients who desire to formalize their commitment through marriage, I help them to establish some ‘ground rules’ so that there aren’t any big surprises later on down the road. This conversation gets hidden expectations, hopes, dreams and fears out on the table before you, and out of the space between you as a couple. Having a conversation like this after you are marriage is harder, as there is even more of both of you tied into the resulting conclusion, but in your case, it must be done.
I recommend that you begin by mentioning to her that you feel unresolved after your last conversation and would like to sit down for a heart to heart to clear things up. Find a time and a place where you can both focus on each other. Start your conversation by mentioning what you thought you heard her say, and what thoughts and feelings it brought up for you. Ask her if you are correct in your assumptions, and if you aren’t, what she really meant. Make sure that you clarify asking questions like ‘okay, so what you mean by that is…’ or ‘so, what you’re saying is that…’ until you are able to clearly articulate and understand her words back to her. Then, if there are any parts of her view that differ from yours, bring those up, let her fully understand and see if you can come to a higher truth between the two of you. The bottom line is that you and your wife made a commitment to be together for the long haul on your wedding day, knowing full well that you could change, she could change or the world around you could change, bringing the duration of your commitment into question. That time has arrived, and it is important to take it seriously.
Something to remember about whichever viewpoint you choose for your own is that a viewpoint at its core is just an ideal; an aim or desired outcome. The fact is no covenant of marriage is going to save your relationship, or keep it from falling apart in the challenging times; only you and your partner, and the choices you both make will decide it’s fate.
If you come to an impasse, I recommend setting up an appointment to have me mediate. Often it only takes one or two sessions with a third party to sort out some sort of truth between your two viewpoints.
Let me know how it goes,