My five year Anniversary was June 8th… I’ve spent some time editing this piece and battling with courage to share my perspective. Courage won. I’m not editing anymore. I hope you enjoy :
As I begin to write this, I feel a small amount of shame that my initial feelings aren’t of butterflies and rainbows. This is after all, a celebration of five years of marriage. But the truth is, as a I reflect on the last five years, I feel a little bit tired, a little bit hurt and a lot of gratitude.
I’ve read that when climbing some of the highest mountains in the world, climbers need to take their time acclimating their bodies to the thin air that is inevitable when reaching higher altitudes. Consequently, what could technically be a week-long climb can turn into 6-8 weeks. This is called the acclimation period and it consists of ascending and descending a mountain by going in and out of different camps. By doing this, the climber’s lungs can adjust and prepare for the summit. The first five years of our marriage have absolutely been our acclimation period.
We didn’t grow up with the healthiest examples of marriages. My father didn’t give my mother the love she wanted. I knew this because she often shared her feelings with me. She had bipolar disorder, so I took on the role of a protector and at times confidant. Despite the disease, she was also my hero. My father who provided , shielded his children from my mother’s episodes and cared for a son that struggled behaviorally… did the best he could, but due to shouldering all of that responsibility was emotionally distant. As a child, I processed my mother’s pain by making a vow to never let a man be in a position to hurt me. In addition to this, I was sexually abused by a family friend, which cemented the parameters I would set in my life.
I became fiercely independent, living in a self-imposed bubble in the name of protection from things that made me uncomfortable, especially men. If I am completely honest with myself; fear was another impetus for my repellence towards discomfort. For these reasons, I never dreamed of a wedding, or a family for that matter. Instead I dreamed about traveling the world, writing and doing humanitarian work. In fact, I was so guarded when it came to men that I barely had any male friends and for the few boyfriends I had, they abided by strict boundaries.
Then I met Rocky and quite simply, he was the only person that convinced me to let my guard down. We talked for hours. Spending time with him was also filled with laughter and ease. I felt safe with him. Rocky felt like a second skin, I could be myself around him and he soon became integrated into the details and special moments of my life. He was then and still is someone who represented home to me.
Rocky was raised by beautiful, strong women. Yet even in their glorious strength, he witnessed them withstand pain from the men they loved. His father wasn’t present in the beginning of his life, so he didn’t have an example of how to affirm and be gentle with a woman. He also experienced sexual trauma and developed his own coping mechanisms to survive.
We knew that building a marriage without healthy examples of any would be a challenge. That understanding fueled us. During our engagement it felt like it was Rocky and Sam against the world (think OTR tour minus the fishnets and millions). We were determined to break “generational curses” and create something new. Something that our proverbial children and grandchildren could be proud of and look to as an example.
When we were finally married, it felt beautiful. We couldn’t believe that we were “adulting” together. We were married in June. I’m a teacher, so I had my summers off and would wake up in the morning and have his clothes ironed, breakfast made, and dinner cooked when he came home. I was killing it in the wife department, at least in terms of who I thought the idyllic wife was. But being her wasn’t authentic to me and after a couple of months I began to feel like I was giving away too much of who I was. If he ever voiced dissatisfaction over my “performance” as a wife I would be even more angry and grow resentment. Healthy adults would reassess the roles we played in the early months of our marriage and rebuild with authenticity at the center. This wasn’t the case for us, our childhood trauma began to show.
Communication was difficult for both of us. I internalized everything and didn’t voice my hurts except when they flooded out in passive aggression and anger. Any walls of fear that Rocky helped me knock down during our courtship were now replaced with fresh ones. New monuments of distrust were built in the name of self-preservation that only wedged distance between us. Our words to each other bore the heaviness of overinterpretation when they landed. We heard everything through the lens of past hurt. What did you mean? What are you really saying? We both wanted respect but felt like we weren’t getting it. The ease that I felt in the beginning of our relationship seemed so distant as we entered a season of descending our mountain.
This was just our mess; our internal friction didn’t include the normal lows that life would surely present themselves. In year three to five of our marriage we faced multiple deaths, family members in a coma, grief, depression, anxiety and financial distress. We’ve been through some ish. When you live life with someone, you are bound to go through the worst of loss. However, it clarifies your perspective. At my lowest, the rightness of our union has repeatedly been confirmed because Rocky was by my side holding me up when I literally could not stand.
I’ve had to summon that gratitude since, to remember who we are. So, at this fifth year, we’ve decided to burn the unhealthy parts of the foundation we’ve built. What does that mean? Practically, we call out triggers that tempt us to rehearse unhealthy emotional habits. We have committed to going to therapy individually (I literally just did, Rocky been on it). It is difficult to love someone when you don’t love yourself, to accept someone when you don’t accept yourself and you definitely can’t give grace to someone when you don’t give it to yourself. We pray. We honor the beautiful things that make us who we are as a unit; our strength, resilience, power, humor and commitment to one another. And we vow to rebuild what was missing.
I am thankful that I have a partner that is willing to light a fire to our mistakes and start over with me. Reaching the summit of our mountain isn’t reaching a marriage benchmark, it is stopping to notice the beauty of the climb.
It hasn’t been easy my love, but I know that I know that I was meant to climb and rebuild with you. Thank you for being my home and never giving up on us. I love you forever.