My Marriage: In The Eye of the Storm

The holidays were not particularly fun for me. My marriage went through some heavy turbulence and was headed for the rocks. Amazingly, I pulled out of the nose dive and things have stabilized to the point that I feel comfortable writing about it.

I encourage anyone who is experiencing marriage conflict to look deep inside themselves and make the necessary steps to internalize permanent change. When I looked at the research, I saw that my marriage had multiple statistical risk factors for divorce. Basically, I was living in the eye of the storm.

On an upcoming episode of Parenting Within Reason, I will interview marriage expert Stephanie Coontz. Her book A Strange Stirring contained a science-based chapter that really reflected the problems I was experiencing. I thought I’d share these warning signs (borrowed straight from Stephanie’s book) as a cautionary tale.

  • Marital quality suffers when wives who do not want to work are forced into employment.
  • Marital quality suffers when either spouse is not satisfied with their job.
  • Couples in which the wife works solely because of financial constraints but would rather stay at home have experienced declining marital satisfaction since the 1980s.
  • When wives hold high standards for equality of housework and their husbands do not meet their expectations, they report worse than average marital satisfaction.
  • Marriages in which one partner earns all the income and the other stays home are now more likely to split up than marriages where each partner works.

It was really depressing to read those risk factors for low marriage satisfaction and to realize that circumstances had put me on the path to danger, but I also saw some hope in the science. It dawned on me that I could recover from my situation if I were willing to commit to lasting change. So, I weathered the storm, put in the effort to find a job (after five years of being an at-home parent), made it my duty to be a better house husband, and uncharacteristically crossed my fingers that my marriage would stay intact.

It speaks a lot to our progress that I’m willing to even write this article. I understand that it’s difficult to make fundamental permanent changes in behavior, and I acknowledge that, despite our apparent progress, my wife and I will need to work on recovery. But for now, I feel like the storm has passed and that sunnier skies are in our future.

6 Responses to My Marriage: In The Eye of the Storm

  1. Julia says:

    My husband and I have had some serious “in the middle of the tornado” experiences in our marriage. Who hasn’t, I guess!

    What helped me sounds horrible in today’s society probably – and probably anti-feminist (even though I didn’t mean for it to). But one day when I was at my wit’s end, after talking to a friend who is very wise and kept reiterating “you can only change yourself” I decided to go by this phrase “ask not what I can do for me, but what I can do for my spouse”. And I switched my focus to how I could work to be more independent within myself (in case I had to leave – which at the time I was convinced I would have to) and while I was doing that, instead of thinking of all the things my spouse didn’t do for me, I would focus on changing what I wasn’t doing for him.

    I was sure that it would end up with me being a martyr and him being a spoiled unappreciative jerk. But what happened was we started to get along much better and *he* started to change too.

    I don’t think my method would work for everyone – especially if their spouse is abusive or prone to taking advantage of people. But I’m very grateful it has helped us a lot. We still get in arguments and sometimes drive each other crazy, but we are back to being a team again … albeit kind of a messy team :)

    Good luck to you and your marriage. It is hard work, isn’t it? I had no idea … but it’s worth it too when things are going smoothly.

    • I have experienced a similar result. The disclaimer about abuse (including emotional abuse) is an important one, THIS WILL NOT WORK IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP. But in a nonabusive relationship between simply stubborn, selfish people (let’s face it, that’s most of us), generally when partners focus on improving their role in the relationship, the relationship improves as the other partner feels less pressure to improve –and counterintuitively responds by being less of a jerk.

      It also helps to get mental and physical health issues treated.

  2. slagell says:

    Not that it helps the reality of your situation, but I think that these issues are surprisingly common. Most people with whom I am close enough to to share things like this, have told similar stories of near separations or divorces. I think people feel more alone in marriage troubles than they should; so good for you for sharing in a public way that others can learn from.

    I will also say that there is this odd statistic, purely anecdotally on my part, that this happens around year 7 in marriages. I would really like to see research on that to know if it is a frequent time of challenges for marriages.

    I was just thinking, doesn’t #5 in your list kind of seem at odds with #1 and #3.

  3. Ticktock says:

    While points 1 and 3 seem to be at odds with point 5, there are independent factors that go into each. Marital happiness is dependent on the husband and the wife’s happiness. Changing one variable may have an effect on another variable, negating the intended benefit. If that makes any sense.

  4. Julie says:

    Colin, I want to do that interview with you!

    I wonder how many couples have experienced trouble as a result of the economic collapse. I know this was the case for us. We had our baby in 2008, and at that time, my husband’s freelance movie and TV work was going great, and I was a part time teacher / administrator (that’s the easiest description of what I did). And I had a few scripts that were picking up heat.

    Then it all fell apart. Economy collapsed, work stopped for him, my pay was cut, my script heat cooled, and then to top it all off, my mom became critically ill and we suddenly were just buried in the crap of life. But especially me. I bore the brunt, since I was the only one (literally in my entire extended family–Mom’s on disability now) working!

    Now, work is just picking up again for my husband, and I am leaving education after eleven years to go into real estate. The crazy budget cuts were just too much for me. And finally, another script is picking up heat, so fingers crossed.

    Along the way, there were stretches where I was supporting us, but the husband wasn’t looking hard enough for work, and it got very dicey. It was all such a shock to our systems, and we had a new baby as well. It was a tough time, and somehow we got through it, but not before we had one of those conversations where I had to lay it on the line. Supporting us financially was tough on me. I could deal with all our goals (owning a home–ha!) being put off, and I could deal with my partner’s job loss. I couldn’t deal with coming home day after day to find he had taken our kid to daycare and then surfed the internet all day. Not working seems to be really tough for some personalities. It’s hard to look for work, I guess. I don’t know. Luckily I haven’t really been unemployed like that for a long time (knock on wood).

    Honestly, even after he started working, I harbored resentment for months, because I felt like I had to be the catalyst for all change in our family. And I made it no secret that I would absolutely leave in a hot minute if anything like that ever happened again.

    So I get it!

  5. Chris says:

    So many of these points hit home to me. I grew up with a working mother in an age where most mothers stayed home. My mother was more sane as when she worked, she hated it when she had to be at home (which happened when my dad was stationed overseas).

    I am torn. I did not have much of a say since I had a baby with several medical issues (which are still a concern). And as I say elsewhere “I used to be intelligent, but then I had kids.”

    I have battled the inertia of being a stay-at-home mother after being an engineer by going back to school. But even with taking just one class per quarter there was a strain on the household when things did not get done. After dealing with the stress of my last class in probability, hubby is not that enthusiastic about me going to school and work.

    I still need the mental stimulation that does not get satisfied with making sure one child gets all of his medical needs taken care of, or that the daughter gets her needed classes or other son has enough money to pay his rent (or gets to his job on time, since he called me last week when the bus did not show up on time). I really want to spend time solving multi-variable second order non-linear differential equations… but that must wait. Until then, I find other ways to deal. Like listening to intelligent people talk on podcasts while I tinker in the garden or put up shelves, or read a good book while waiting in a doctor’s waiting room.

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