Where there is love, there is hope.
I am always interested in learning more about couples – what keeps them together, what makes them turn and walk away, and all the nuances in between. I decided that since February is the month of love, now would be a perfect time to interview one such couple – one couple that despite their challenges, came ‘back from the brink’ and saved their marriage. They agreed to open up, share their relationship struggles, how they were able to overcome them, and stay together.
And with all the problems in the world, who doesn’t love a good story – especially one that has a happy ending? Everyone. It makes us feel that we are going to be ok and we are in this together.
Here is their story.
This is the story of Matt*, 38 and Ellen, 36* who have been together since 2000 and married since 2003. They have two children, 15 and 11 (Narrated by Ellen).
There were many issues from the beginning of our marriage that put us on a rocky beginning and that eventually lead to our potential demise of our marriage. But, in a nutshell, it was ultimately drugs, alcohol, and infidelity.
We were young when we started to date. I was 19 and Matt was 20. Our relationship was rocky from the start because we had no idea how to be present in a relationship or even understand the first thing about how to communicate effectively and in healthy ways. If there was a disagreement (and this happened often), there was a lot of screaming and yelling. We also liked to keep score of who did the dishes more or who did the laundry last. Looking back, it was so juvenile and childish. But we were so young and had no clue what it really took to be in a relationship.
When we moved in together, we had only been dating for about 2 weeks. However, that’s one part of our relationship that I will never regret. I knew that I was going to marry Matt and I knew we would grow old together. What I didn’t know – and what no one ever told me – was how difficult, crazy, and frustrating being in a relationship was going to be. I/we had no idea how much work this was and how vulnerable we would need to be to make this all work. Six months after we started dating and living with each other I got pregnant. Shocker!
Despite that, our relationship was going well. We were both working hard to get our own place and not have roommates. We eventually did find our own home and had our first child, Katie. Looking back, life was ok but I struggled being a stay-at-home mom while Matt worked. There were times he would be gone for weeks at a time for work. That was challenging for me because I had no friends or family that lived close by. He was also going out and partying a lot while I was stuck at home. When Katie was about 10 months old, we split up (we had not married yet at this time). We didn’t know how to communicate, much less identify our feelings, about anything – even about the simple things in life, let alone our relationship. Our relationship would usually reach mass capacity and we just thought that because we argue and yell at each other all the time, there was no fixing it and it needed to end. So, we decided to split up.
However that only lasted about for two weeks and then got back together. We had a nice, long, 3-year stretch of some arguing without any break-ups or even talk of separation. During that time we were married in 2003. In 2004 I was pregnant again with our son, Michael. In the spring of 2006, Matt and I reached yet another difficult time in our marriage and found that our solution was to split up. I took our children to my mother’s home one night and, when I woke up the next morning, I just knew I had made a mistake. We tried counseling once but at that time we didn’t make much money and neither of us had any health insurance, so trying to find a counselor on a sliding scale was a joke. I cannot remember why we only went to one counseling session, but it was probably a money issue.
In the summer of 2006, Matt got a job with a large manufacturing plant and we moved to western Washington. This was a big move because we were back in a place where neither of us knew anyone. Once again, Matt was working 12 hour days while I stayed at home with our children. About 6 months later, he confessed to having slept with another woman. I felt like I lost my mind and didn’t know how to deal with it. Somehow I made it through the work week and, as soon as the weekend hit, I went out with another man and ended up having a 3 week affair. No, not the greatest or smartest decision, but what’s done is done. However, shortly after that, we started marriage counseling. I will also say that those 3 weeks were simply the worst part of my life. When I look back on that time, I have many regrets. I try not to think about it for too long, because its just makes me really sad.
I felt incredibly lost in life and I thought that because we cheated on each other our marriage was over and there was no fixing it. I was also very out of control, as I was going out and drinking all the time – and drinking too much. I was so depressed that death was a consistent thought of mine. Matt struggled with a drug addiction. The only thing keeping me from not completely losing my mind was my children. Looking back, we both believe that if we would have not been so wreckless there would have been not cheating or crazy fighing.
But, Matt never gave up on me or our relationship. He was so loving and forgiving and I truly think that is what saved our marriage.
How did we resolve this marital problem of ours? Well it took time, a lot of time, recommitment, lots of counseling (both individual and marriage), trust, faith and church. After we recovered from our almost-divorce and horrific time in our marriage, we both agree that we continue to grow stronger as a couple and as individuals everyday. We also choose each other. Everyday.
We also both want the same thing from our marriage: to love each and work on growing as individuals and as a couple. Do issues still come up? Yes, of course they do. But we now have the ability to work through our issues in healthier ways. For me individually, I still harbor regret over my affair and do spend some time thinking about it – especially around the time it happened – but I have learned how to move past it to a large degree. Doing this makes me feel stronger for our relationship, our marriage, and our family.
We are still going strong.
Do you have a story of how your marriage came ‘back from the brink?’ Would love to hear from you!!
*Names and identifying information have been changed to protect privacy.