It was said with a pretty hearty laugh and a dose of sarcasm, but recently a friend joked with me something along these lines…
“Let’s do everyone a favor on their wedding day and instead of normal vows, we can just tell them…Look, you’re going to hurt each other more deeply than you’ve ever been hurt. You’ll likely struggle with codependency. And many days you really won’t even like each other. Each of your insecurities will flare at really inopportune times. And…uh…yeah, it’ll be great. Happy wedding day.”
For us, on a warm winter day in January of 2003, it was really, really easy to be married.
We had a beautiful ceremony. All of our friends and family were with us. My brothers and closest friends stood by my side. My mentor married us. Brooke looked like a million bucks. We were headed to an island for a week.
Real quick side story. I overheard the guy on the other side of Brooke on our flight to St. John, as I was waking from my airplane slumber, say, “So where are you and your little brother headed?”
Sign me up for the For Better part of marriage all day long.
The love. The commitment. The joy. The memories. The kids. The experiences. The trips. The conversations. The understanding. The friendship. The list is endless.
But for a guy like me, who used to avoid pain like the plague, the For Worse part was miserable.
I’m not talking about the kids throwing up. Or the dishes. Or the extended family stuff. Or the other typical and normal life stuff.
I’m talking about the painful, let’s not go there parts.
I mean, no one likes pain and willingly signs up for it, but my subconscious used to think I could outrun pain and any yucky feelings.
And not only that, but I could masterfully twist that emerging yuck into a silver-lined opportunity.
$40,000 in debt? No problem, I got this.
Two miscarriages in a row? 3rd time’s a charm.
Fired from a job halfway across the country? Think about how many opportunities I can pursue now!
I called it optimism for a long time. Brooke called it denial.
She was right.
The unfortunate part is my denial didn’t stop at life circumstances. The service engine soon light was on in our marriage too, and I kept it going 70mph like everything would just work itself out.
Heck, maybe the light will just go off on its own even? That would be nice.
Lucky for me, I didn’t get to keep playing the subconscious game I didn’t know I was playing.
Denial met reality. And her name was Brooke, ha.
Call it intuition, the Holy Ghost, being a mom, I’m not sure what to credit, but that October two years ago, Brooke went on the hunt.
It wasn’t For Better hunting either.
She knew something was off. The connection we once enjoyed so deeply had splintered. Maybe splintered is too optimistic.
It was rotting.
For weeks as she prodded and poked and questioned, I felt like a first-degree murder convict on the witness stand. And although my rap sheet wasn’t full of first-degree transgression, it was full of first-degree hiding and denial.
She’d say, “I just want you to have conviction about something..”
And, “You’re here physically, but you’re not really here…”
And, “I’ve shown you all my cards for decades, but I feel like you’re only showing me two of yours…”
The problem with pain is that it usually gets worse before it gets better.
Exactly why I wanted to run from it for so long.
But the running caught up to me.
Stubbornly, awkwardly and with shitloads of fear, I started answering her questions with more truth than denial.
For Worse became the norm. For Better was long gone.
And I wasn’t sure it would ever come back.
I’ll continue the story over the months here, but I’ll end with this for now.
A good friend from the time we lived in Memphis checked on me one day after I dropped off the face of the social media world.
We talked and texted and then he ended up mailing a handwritten note. Old school move, love it.
I don’t remember every word, but I remember he closed with something like,
“I’m proud of y’all for fighting for your marriage. I’m convinced everyone hits this point, but most throw in the towel and say it’s not worth it to deal with their stuff.”
To be clear, to our divorced friends and family, many times it’s NOT worth it. So there’s no shame in that.
But in our case and in our story, we were in the For Worse season. Not the goodbye season. But there was a period of time there where we didn’t know which season it was.
Like let’s go to the counselor and tell him it’s time to talk divorce kind of season.
But that handwritten note had profound truth in it.
More than fighting for a marriage, we both dug in and realized we need to fight for ourselves first. To identify the broken and mangled parts that merged into some codependent cocktail.
One we enjoyed drinking but didn’t realize the hangover that would show up unexpectedly.
The quest was to find ourselves. And in the process, we’d find a deeper spot of love for each other too.
A wiser man than me said, “It’s impossible to really love someone if you don’t love yourself.”
And when yourself gets lost, forgotten, ignored, denied, hidden or just flat out not known, well…turns out it’s tough to love someone else in ways that are grounded and connected.
I’m not saying my preference is For Worse, it’s not. I’d waaaayyy prefer to always be in For Better.
If given a chance to rewind the tape, it would have been hella awkward but maybe it would have been better to hear…
“Look, you’re going to hurt each other more deeply than you’ve ever been hurt. You’ll likely struggle with codependency. And many days you really won’t even like each other. Each of your insecurities will flare at really inopportune times. And…uh…yeah, it’ll be great. Happy wedding day.”
Because my buddy’s thoughts from the beginning didn’t stop with sarcasm. They continued with,
“Love just loves. Even when it feels like it shouldn’t and even in the face of rejection. It just loves. Even during For Worse.”
More than not, it’s where we’ve been for some time now. And frankly, where we had been before, I just denied we were there.
But I’m starting to see, somewhat dimly still, that the path to the deep, connected, truer For Better only comes after you go through For Worse…