Dear Clementine

Our resident expert offers her sage advice to a reader struggling with her marriage.
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Our resident expert offers her sage advice to a reader struggling with her marriage.
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Image Credit: Erika Rax

Dear Clementine,

I have to be honest, the past year has been tough on my marriage. Between job losses, financial struggles, the loss of a parent and most recently fertility issues - we are hanging on by a thread. The thing is, I do love my husband, but our lives have been bombarded with one stressor after another and we need break (or at the very least a light at the end of the tunnel), or I fear we might break apart.

It is hard to trust things will get better and difficult to focus on improving your relationship (especially when you are exhausted by the aforementioned issues we face daily). I love my husband but right now I don't always like him. I know at some point things will change, this silver lining will appear...at least, I hope. I just don't want my marriage to dissolve in the meantime. Please know I don't take this lightly but think two people can only handle so much as a team.

Have you been there, Clementine? How do you keep a marriage alive, much less afloat, through the thick of it?

Sincerely, Grasping

Dear Grasping,

Yes, I've been there. I would say that every marriage – if it's an honest, not newlywed naive, been around the block twice kind of relationship – has been there. You are not alone, I promise you that.

Every relationship that exists changes with the simple addition of stress. Say your coworker earns a promotion and suddenly becomes your superior. Sure, you'll buy her flowers and say all the words that rhyme with congratulations, but chances are good that your happy hour fueled rants against The Man are a thing of the past. Maybe your good friend's charming husband whispers that he wants to be more than friends, and he now reminds you screamingly of charm's every antonym. Your barista becomes so comfortable with your daily half-caff that she feels wholly free telling you her deepest (but mostly darkest) secrets while your coffee and interest turn ice cold and you're forced to take up tea at the shop around the corner. Or you suddenly find yourself with a wicked step-mother.

With illness and money problems, random arguments and daily annoyances, anything related to life and the loss of it, and all other change imaginable, relationships shift and twist into something unrecognizable. They gain weight or get too skinny, start wearing crazy pants and saying weird stuff, bore you to tears and make you mad until you start hating them as much as you love them, and leave you wondering what in the world you ever saw in that person in the first place.

And yet. All those other relationships probably don't matter half as much as the one you share with your mate, do they?

This disconnect you're feeling in your marriage, somewhere in between love and like, is pretty awful, isn't it? I can only describe it as the ultimate emptiest feeling in the world, so far beyond lonely and much more crushing than sad. When you two are connected and feeling almost like one very great person who can conquer anything, it's pure magic – and it all shatters the moment you turn into two very separate individuals on two very separate couches, with very separate ideas, dreams, and hopes. Sometimes it follows you home after tragedies tall and tiny, sometimes it barges right in after a massive fight, and sometimes it's simply the result of growing up and changing. And I will warn you: It's the disconnect that gradually sneaks in over time that's the most dangerous.

This – everything in your letter – is why affairs and divorce exist, I think. People often want to escape from what they see as a bad relationship, when all it is, really, is a real one. No relationship, no marriage, is immune from the challenges of life. And, gosh, just because I promised in good times and in bad, I didn't actually mean the really, really, really bad! 'Til death? Like, seriously?! I feel like I'm dying of monotony…does that count?! If you think your marriage is going to be all happy hours and amusing appetizers, late night movies and afternoon make-outs, promotions and bonuses, convertibles and cute shoes, you might be really disappointed when it's midnight bottles and stressful deadlines, tragic deaths and Neiman Marcus bills and same-old same-old sex, and "No, I thought YOU were picking her up from day care!"

Listen. Marriage, as I've said a time or two, is hard. It's almost not natural, if you really think about it. Living with the same exact person for the rest of your lives together? Promising in front of 500 of your nearest and dearest to only have sex with this one person for the rest of your lives together? Liking him even when he spends every stinking Saturday in that hideous pair of sweats and his fraternity tee from way too long ago for the rest of your lives together? Wow. Scariest, most mind-numbing, most absolutely wonderful blow-your-mind amazing concept in the entire universe.

I promise you that even the most stress-free marriages get tiresome. Exhausting. Stagnant. Even worse, the rotten flip side of that magical you two against the world feeling…is when the world turns against you two. When it feels like the only answer is to let your love go. Sometimes, we can't help but look at our mate and only see an awful struggle or two. In your case, more. You two have been beaten up by life a little, and I get that you're exhausted and tired of the fight. Who wouldn't be? I understand you love him but don't always like him. It happens to the best of us.

When it happens to me, I always ask myself the same thing. We both do, actually. It's never "Do I want to stay?" (Because that answer is always "Not when he's acting like this!") It always comes down to "Do I want to walk away?" So far, the answer I always choose is no. I can't walk away. Not without taking him with me. Our history has definitely included some wrecking ball moments, but we've chosen to rebuild our relationship every single time, finding new ways to like each other and reinvent our love no matter what the world throws at us.

I think you've got to answer that question, too. I'm not sure you want to stay, but do you really want to walk away? Would you prefer to endure life's unpredictability with someone else? Do you want to write the ending of your history together, and start a whole new story? That's totally your call.

Marriages die all the time. But some of them can come back to life with a lot of mouth-to-mouth and daily check-ups. My advice is to find some way to like him again. Heck, I'd even go so far as to create situations and scenarios in which you're sure to like him. Where he can't possibly fail to make you smile and sigh contentedly again, and remember clear as sunshine what in the world you ever saw in this person in the first place.

I want to be clear: You're definitely not vacationing all by yourself on Marriage-is-hard-and-some-days-damn-near-impossible Island. We all visit, always unexpectedly and without the proper wardrobe to handle the weather. Some of us get burned. And some of us never get back home. And that's the trick, isn't it? As it is in all areas of life, the trick is knowing when to leave.

Because there's a lot waiting for you at 143 Marriage-is-so-lovely-it-hurts Street.

That’s the only way I live my days.

xo-clementine