By Annie Gebel
Everyone has a story. Some tales are heartbreaking, others inspiring. There are great action-adventures, romances, or comedies out there. Many of us simply get by day-to-day, but it all adds up. It’s your life – your story and it’s worth sharing. Please send in nominations for those (yourself or someone you know) whose stories you would like us to share with our HaveHeart readers. Your story may let someone know they’re not alone, give someone a reason to make some changes, or provide a good belly-laugh. Regardless, every story is one we should hear. Email your story to: YourStory@haveheartmagazine.com
There are many ideas of what marriage can and should be. We grow up with visions of happily ever after playing in our day dreams. We often cling to those ideas as we begin our own couplings. But what is the reality? In actuality, marriage is a struggle, a journey of peaks and valleys. For some people, when their eyes are opened to that truth, it’s too much. But for others, they hold out, keep fighting, and work through their marriage day by day. That’s what Sara’s story is about – leaving behind fantasies about what marriage is supposed to look like and honestly embracing what her marriage is – a struggle worth having.
As high school sweethearts with their whole lives ahead of them, Sara and Mark (who have asked to remain anonymous) married young and moved where the military sent them to start their lives together. Right from the beginning, little doubts crept in.
As newlyweds who saved their virginity until their wedding night, the frequency of sexual contacts after their vows was not what Sara had anticipated. And, as is the case with many women when the bedroom isn’t as hot as they’d like, Sara wondered if there was something wrong with her. This self-doubt plagued the early years of their marriage and still impacts their interactions now, over a dozen years later.
Frequency of intercourse wasn’t the only problem for Sara and Mark early on, either. Within the first few years, Mark tended to his computer more than his relationship with his wife. He would come home from work and start gaming and switch to internet porn later in the evening, choosing to stay there even as Sara went to the bedroom for the night. Eventually he sought therapy and some changes stuck – he no longer has a problem with pornography. However, a decade after that initial counseling, gaming is still something the couple argues about at length. Sara told me that she sometimes can’t get him to tend to her or the family when he’s playing games. “He zones in,” she said or blames his diagnoses of adult ADHD for not being able to focus on things she’d like him too. He also seems unwilling to discuss their futures. Part of Sara’s frustration seems to be the inconsistency in Mark’s behavior. “With the practical, day to day workings we work well and calmly together,” but if she wants to engage him in deeper conversations he won’t make eye contact and small disagreements quickly turn to arguments, with both Mark and Sara tending to fight dirty.
Sara claims that Mark calls her names, pokes at her self-doubt, deflects her complaints, and emphasizes things she feels guilty about. She admits to similar behavior, “but only after he has started it,” as a way to defend herself. Only once has their dirty fighting turned physical, when Mark held her with a hand on either side of her face to yell at her. She left and sought help through the military and he attended anger management classes, which made the difference as far as placing his hands on her, but nothing changed with their verbal fighting.
After these loud arguments, Sara lets him know she wants out of their marriage and Mark apologizes. He breaks down and, “knows what to say and do.” His behavior will change for a few days or a few weeks but then the same frustrating behaviors will creep back in.
This is the cycle Mark and Sara have been living in throughout their marriage. It is exasperated by the stresses of being a military family. “It’s a double edged sword. There’s the stability of having a pay check but there’s a lot of stress in the unknowns.” Work schedules are always changing, the possibility of moving looms overhead every few years, and you’re away from your family – who might be your support when trying to fight for your marriage. However, Sara points out that having family close by to run to might have made it easier to leave their marriage too.
Sara knows that Mark is only one half of their marriage and when I asked if she added anything to their marital issues, she freely admitted her short-comings as well. “I had two dads and don’t talk to either. I told him before we ever had kids that he was going to have to be amazeballs if he wanted to be a father to my kids.” Along with her high expectations for his behavior, she also acknowledges she has a lot of guilt, sensitivities, and biases that probably add to Mark’s chances of setting her off easily.
Throughout the years, Sara and Mark have tried counseling a number of times and in different ways, either Mark on his own or the couple together. Sara felt that Mark was going just for appearances and when they were home he’d have excuses for not doing homework given by the therapist. So, she didn’t put much stock in therapy and doesn’t know what else to do to try to fix whatever is broken in her long struggling marriage. That is until recently. Mark has been attending therapy again and has been asking for Sara to join him, but she’s been reluctant, based on past experiences. This time, though, something felt different. So on the day we sat down for the interview for this article, Sara went to counseling with her husband and felt heard by the counselor and Mark. She’s cautiously hopeful again.
That hope is part of what’s kept Sara in their marriage this long. I asked her why she’d never left, with all the times she’s threatened to or expressed wanting to. “Three reasons – First, I still love him. The whole time – I love him. Second, I’ve always believed in his potential to be more. And, honestly, I’ve felt a little stuck. I haven’t had a job since I was 16 years old and we have four kids together.” These are the reasons Sara has leaned on to find the strength to stay in a frustrating, often lonely place. And they’re why she’s agreed to continue seeing Mark’s therapist together.
With our conversation taking place on a good day in Sara’s marriage, I asked her why she wanted to share her story. “I want there to be a true story of what marriage is. I want people to know it’s not easy. I’d like there to be a positive spin in our story, but I just don’t know yet.” I think that’s fair and sums it up well – marriage is not a destination.
“More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” – Doug Larson