Saturday, October 29, 2011

What does it take to make a marriage?

Dear ESB,

How do you know you have what it takes to make a marriage?

My guy and I have been together for a few years, live together, got a kitty, the works. We've recently been through a series of big changes (me graduating, us moving away from my country for my job, him struggling to find work in the new place), and were planning to get engaged when we'd settled in and he found a job.

However, out of nowhere I started having these big doubts. I felt so guilty and scared for a couple of days then did what I always do- I talked to my guy about it, thinking that we'd discuss things, he'd make me feel better and then I'd stop having doubts. I explained where my worries were coming from: that every time something bad happens (I've had a few family deaths early this year) he doesn't know how to support me because he almost always wants me to tell him what to do/say; when we have fights/issues we don't know how to compromise because he gets emotional and irrational, I get angry, and we end up fighting until we get sick of fighting and make up; when my depression is really bad he can't deal with it and gets angry because he does't know what to do. (I know that looks like I bombarded him with all that but I didn't). Anyway, he denied that there were any problems and changed the subject. Then I got angry and he got upset. We did sit down and talk like adults for a while but didn't get anywhere constructive and this morning he's pretending that nothing happened.

Despite all this, I keep telling myself that we've got this far and have been mostly happy, we've got through some really massive fights, so that must mean we have something to build on, right? And when things are good, they're really good. He's sweet and kind and funny. He's so good to me even when I don't deserve it. We have the same sense of humour and fun. My family adore him.

Is that a strong enough foundation to build on? Can we work through those problems or are our personalities when things are bad just never going to work?

I keep swinging between two thoughts: that maybe I'm just having a crisis because of all the big changes in our life recently; or that maybe all the upheaval has woken me up and made me realise we're not right for each other.

I want so much to make this work, I just don't know how (or even if we can) and I've not eaten for days because of all this stress. I really hope you can give me some wise married lady advice.


Hungry and confused.

PS sorry for the terrible grammar/punctuation. I really am very hungry.


There is no magic formula for marriage, lady. You REALLY have to trust your gut.

In this case, I think your poor gut is talking loud and clear.

Photo by Jonathan Levitt


  1. From my experiences making yourself as healthy as possible (meaning work on your issues, make sure you are a good communicator, are secure, address your depression & all the major life changes) helps make the relationship better. I have found with my long-term beau my biggest issues with our relationship come from me feeling insecure, frustrated, depressed and really have little to do with him. I went to therapy and continue to work on myself and it has helped put everything in prospective as well as helped us create a better relationship.

    I don't know your whole situation and maybe it isn't meant to last forever but honestly with that many major changes, and deaths (and that he can't find a job which must be very difficult on his self-esteem and ego) I would give it a bit. I would also find a counselor.

    Best of luck. Wish there were easy answers.

  2. Good picture selection ESB. Not sure your if you meant to do this, but I always think of marriage as a pot of soup. The way you spice said soup, really has an impact on the future flavor.

    Hungry and confused - if the soup tastes bitter, it might be time to start a new batch.

  3. I'd say don't give up yet. Times of transition are the toughest not to mention the deaths in your family and moving to a different country. I made a big move with my partner about 5 years ago and we almost didn't make it through.

    Sounds like you guys have some things you need to work out and some relationships skills to build before you make a lifetime commitment (who doesn't). If you're dealing with depression, I hope you have a therapist you trust. Have you talked with them about this? Maybe they could suggest someone for you and your guy to talk with together.

  4. I used to have periodic melt-downs. My husband (then boyfriend) would call them my "we don't laugh anymore" moments. Sometimes I tell myself that all the doubt is just my way of reminding myself that I'm still an interested party, and not just along for the ride.

    We are happily married now, and our days are not without tumult. But I think it's the madness that keeps us together and keeps everything fresh. I think it's why he likes me.

    None of these are decisions that have to be made over night -- marriage, ending the relationship, etc. However, you should consider seeing an analyst or therapist. It may help you gain some perspective.

  5. But if you want to make a go of it, why not both get therapists and learn how to resolve things, support each other, and make big decisions? All of those things are skills--you have to learn how to do them.

  6. A questionably intelligent man once told me "it's never too soon if you're marrying the right person. If it's the wrong person wait until the day before you die." take it how you will

  7. P.S. ESB, I like how she was hungry so you gave her soup. With a knife in it.

  8. I think if, in general, you're happy and he's happy and being together makes each of you even happier... it's worth working on. My now husband and I went through a horrid phase when were in the "about to be engaged" stage and it lasted until we got married. It's been all sunshiney and rainbows since then. I think it was just us figuring out how to deal with each other on a full time basis. We'd already been living together and I had moved to his country to be with him but marriage makes everything so permanent and all these stupid cultural norms that you thought you were above, start mattering and it's gets confusing. Oh and P.S. Nothing gets my husband more pissed off than when I cry or am sad or depressed whatever. But, in reality, he's just frustrated he can't make it all better.

  9. If we're going for gut feelings here, my gut is saying that you need more time before deciding it's time to end your relationship. That's some stressful shit you're going through- it would be trying on anyone's relationship. And just like we do as individuals, I think relationships take time to mature. My now-husband and I went through some really tough times before getting engaged when I thought we were going to have to end it (one of the toughest actually was moving across the country) and it just took some time before we knew how to handle each other's weirdness.

  10. THANKS, ESB ! i've been wondering how to do that FOREVER.

  11. Life turns out to be pretty hard work for almost everyone. The question is, do you feel that he brings you enough, shoulders enough of life's work, that he's worth the EXTRA work of him:).

  12. @Anon, I don't buy that. There's lots of reasons people chose to get married or not get married. Wanting to take one's time does not mean it's the "wrong person" or you are not committed, and conversely wanting to get married omgrightthisminute does not necessarily mean this is the "right person" and you are more committed to one another.

    Full disclosure: I have a personal stake in this discussion, having been with my partner for 8 years, living together and planning our lives together. We're really, really enjoying this moment in our lives, and want to savor it before moving on to the next step.

    So, in that spirit, OP--you don't have to figure this out tomorrow. You have some concerns and you have some things that make you really happy (and as Dan Savage always says, settling down is always, to some extent, settling for). You've also just been through some major life upheaval. Chew on all of it for a while; give it time, and be patient with him. Maybe he thinks everything is fine, and you just scared the crap out of him with these concerns! Good luck & internet hugs.

  13. Miss K -- I'm with you. We did the same. I don't know what happened btw year 7 and year 8 that pushed us to get married, but we did.

  14. Oh yeah, I got pregnant. I'm such a doofus.

  15. Miss K - I didn't take Anon's comment that way at all. Rather, I think she (he?) meant that, if it is wrong, it's wrong, and no amount of "waiting and seeing" will change that. On the other hand, if it's right, it's right. However, waiting won't HARM that, either.

  16. My fiance and I went through a lot of very hard times during our relationship -- At first, we dealt with things horribly. We would grate on each others' nerves and fight until we were tired of fighting also... But we learned from the fights and (slowly) improved... And we're a much stronger, happier couple now than we've ever been. I don't think the problem is that you two have different ways of dealing with stressful events -- the problem will be if you don't think he's ever going to change or be there for you in a better way.

  17. My boyfriend and I went through his father's death a few months ago - we're still going through it, because the effects on him are still ringing through both our lives. I noticed immediately that he was quicker to anger, more irritable, less interested in spelling things out in his communication, and more likely to assume that I was mad or upset. It was, and is, intensely frustrating, because we love each other but getting through the day-to-day is hard sometimes.

    Sometimes, when things out of our control get lost or ruined, we want to go ahead and ruin something just so I can say I've done the ruining, not some capricious outside force. Give yourself time to heal from the deaths before you add the death of a relationship onto the pile. Give yourself, and your partner, a break. Try to lessen the pressure and just enjoy being together. Maybe take a little time away. Get a counselor in your life, someone who can give you tools to help when your depression is bad and he's not getting it.

    And by all means, if you can't do it, or get through all that and wake up one morning and think to yourself, "I hate the way you never listen" when you look at your beloved, then he ain't your beloved no more.

  18. This is the part that stood out as a big red flag to me:

    "we've got through some really massive fights, so that must mean we have something to build on, right?"

    I've been in relationships in the past where it felt like breaking up was giving up, that it was a huge failure on my part because if i had just worked that little bit harder, then I could have made it work. That whole mentality was a huge, huge trap for me - it was a black hole that sucked me down into an unhappy relationship for years. I should stress that it wasn't universally unhappy - we still had great times, but it just wasn't worth the bad times.

    It's accepted wisdom that happy relationships are often hard and do require work, but I think people often abuse that sentiment to keep bad relationships going for longer. I worry that you're stubbornly trying to ram a square peg into a round hole.

  19. Okay so the options are:

    a. you could be going through a rough time that is compromising your personal ability to be okay in your relationship right now, even though the relationship is actually a good one.

    b. You are in the wrong relationship and these tough times have shown you that there is a pattern when things get tough that your relationship isn't up to carrying its weight and never will be.

    c. You are in a fixable moment right now. Your relationship could go either way, and it's working on fixing it that determines it.

    I'm going to skip over option A. I think that appraoch is something people often tell women, "oh don't worry dear, some external force is clouding your judgement, just wait till life evens out, you will be better soon and love him again." Even if your move and your losses are causing how you feel, that you feel it makes it 100% real and 100% necessary to address.

    So on to option B and C. Seeing that you DID bring up how you feel, and how that feeling is a sort of persistent feeling, I think it's really troubling that he's willing to talk about it in only a one time finite way. He should be working with you, to figure out what needs to change- because it's probably the case that you both need to adjust together. I strongly believe State of the Relationship talks should happen pretty regularly (twice a year maybe?) no matter what- to make sure everyone is comfy with how things are going.

    For things to be fixable, they need to be openly worked at, by both partners. If he's not willing to be open to thinking about that then he's leaving you all alone to shoulder these choices, and that's incredibly unfair. Basically I think any relationship you enter into can be either a B or a C (I don't believe that there is a single person with someone for a long time who just magically WORKS together), but type C is the romantic thing you should be looking for- a partnership so open to each other that you are both willing to look honestly at how you work together and change when things need changing.

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  21. my husband does something similar. he just doesn't have the same sense of how to nurture that women often do, so doesn't know how to comfort/help me if i'm upset. it doesn't mean he's a bad guy or he is missing the part of his brain that generates sympathy, he just doesn't know what to do. if i bring the issue up, he panics and thinks i am criticizing him as a whole, saying he is the worst, our relationship sucks, etc. this has been the case with any guy i've ever been with. if i'm upset, i wind up comforting them.

    i've just learned to ask for what i need. if i am sick, i ask him to make me soup if i want it. i say "i feel bad, will you give me a hug?" i think guys often need to be given an idea of what they're supposed to do in these situations. the tough thing is that women often want their guys to do what they want without them having to ask for it. a quandary!

    leading by example, or being more direct about your needs might be a way to give him an idea about what he needs to do in difficult situations so that he can eventually start doing them without being prompted (and without having to have "a talk”).

    but it is important to have “a talk” sometimes. if you want to stay with him, but can't have objective conversations about your relationship on your own, you should go to a counselor together so that you can be in a neutral space with a 3rd party helping. It sounds like your guy needs to understand that 1 problem with your relationship is just one piece of bad in a whole lot of good, and it’s something that can be worked out if he is open to it. he might not even realize that he’s being defensive.

  22. i feel compelled to comment because your situation sounds like what i went through - 6 years of fighting and reconciling, lots of good times, but lots of conversations about constantly working on communication and patience and every other little thing under the sun. I have to second what danae said - "where it felt like breaking up was giving up, that it was a huge failure on my part because if i had just worked that little bit harder, then I could have made it work."

    the fact that you feel like he doesn't know how to support you and you both can't compromise doesn't make him a bad person (or YOU a bad person), it just means that maybe you aren't the right people for each other. i'm not suggesting you break things off, but i feel like being yourself should be enough, and the fights about communication should be few and far between.

    when you question whether things are right or not, chances are, they're probably not. when things ARE right, you don't question... you just know.

  23. I think beginning to consider commitment will bring up all those doubts about the other person you've shelved because they're too hard/painful to deal with and you don't want to hurt the other person by talking about them or get rejected in the process. It happens to everyone.

    But you have to work through them, and in the process you'll get closer. Far from this being a warning sign for the end, I'd say you're just taking a next step and you need to clear the shit out of the way first.

    Yes get a therapist for your own problems. And learn to communicate your emotions in a way he can hear them. Discover new ways of saying 'listen to me, this is important', without scaring him. He needs to know you'll be ok again, and the emotions will pass, so tell him. I found that reading 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' with my boy helped no end for both of us(as cheesy as the title sounds).

    Suggested phrase when you're upset etc
    "I know you don't know what to say, but please will you cuddle me and just listen without talking while I have a cry/rant/tell you why I feel so bad, it will help me so much and I will feel better afterwards."

    The if he does it and it works, thank him and give him a cookie. He won't realise he's done anything useful otherwise. Sounds like he feels helpless and scared.

  24. Such a tough one. I had a long-term boyfriend that did love me, but just not quite the way that I wanted or needed him to. I was riddled by doubts. We could've been married and been fine...but we split up instead. Fast forward another six years and I'm getting married to my soul mate (that was a term I never used to believe in). He's everything that I need and more, and I strive to be that to him as well. I've never had any doubts about him. I wish I could tell you that that same experience awaits you, but endings aren't all rainbows and Care Bears and not everyone ends up with their perfect someone. I realize that I'm a lucky mother f*cker. But make some quiet time for yourself and listen to that goddamn gut, and be strong. And don't think too much while you're on a blood sugar low - eat something first.

  25. Thanks for all the kind comments, ladies <3. ESB is right, I know in my gut that we're not right for each other, it just took me a while to realise it.