I was the reason my wife of 14 years and I separated. I could try to convince you otherwise, and probably do a good job (I’m a writer), but I will be honest and say that I was a jerk for most of those 14 years. We got married the day after I turned 18 and were determined to beat the stats on young marriages that end up in divorce.
Throughout most of those 14 years, I struggled with many personal demons. I had an unhealthy love of eating and gained 170 pounds. I was horrible with money and got our family into major (read: $180,000) debt. I woke up every day to work a job I hated with every fiber of my being. All of these circumstances were my own doing, but I took them out on my wife.
I told you I was a jerk.
In 2011, my wife told me that she had had enough, and we separated. I moved in with a friend and was still too selfish to realize the most precious thing in my life was slipping away. It took me the entire rest of that year to realize this, but after a year of separation, I ultimately knew that I had to wake up. I had to stop making excuses.
When I initially had the sense that I needed to change several months into our separation, I called my wife and begged her to come home. She wasn’t convinced. We did end up reconciling at the end of one year, but only after I learned these three lessons:
1. Ignoring my problems would not make them any less acute.
Year after year I tried to pretend life was good or that at some other point in my life, I would “get it together.” That day never seemed to come, and the problems got bigger. The first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging the problem exists. In relationships, a lot of times the problem is with us, not our partner.
We had real financial struggles: we couldn’t open a bank account in our name because of so many levies. My weight had a devastating effect on our sex life. My job brought stress into our home daily. These problems weren't subtle by any means, and yet I never wanted to confront them.
I didn't know how to fix the problems, but ignoring them made everything worse ... until the relationship imploded. Then, when we separated, I was forced to admit all of the things I had control over that I was deliberately denying to myself. I was then able to sit down and figure out how I could make changes to myself, and then to our relationship.
This all took time, but I created a plan and found a way. Denial of major problems in your life will only make them fester beneath the surface.
2. Voicing an intention to change doesn't make that change into a reality.
I spent hours trying to convince my wife to reconcile, but she had heard all the empty promises too many times before. No matter how well crafted my rationalizations were, I finally realized that words are moot if there's no action behind them. And when I started to make changes, my wife noticed without me saying a word. Those changes were the first step in our reconciliation.
Let's face it: talk is cheap. If you’re trying to reconcile with a love lost or grow a relationship, your actions will be what helps you both. Real change might start with words, but the main component of its success is the daily actions. You wake up every day and do whatever it takes to better the situation — especially in relationships.
3. Love is not just a feeling, but a decision.
The most important lesson I learned is that love is a decision. I learned that my feelings will come and go, and attraction can change shape and manifest itself at certain times more than others.
But love is a decision you make when you wake up and commit to the person you made vows to. When you decide to choose love over lust, that is a decision. When you choose to prioritize your partner's needs over yours at a moment they are struggling — that's another everyday example of deciding to love.
It took three years, but I was able to pay off all the debt and quit the job I hated. My wife and I are lucky to say that we're celebrating 17 years of marriage this year. Does the story always end this way? No. Sometimes there are circumstances that break a marriage beyond repair — such as abusive behavior or infidelity.
If you are not in one of those situations, use these lessons that helped my wife and me. Choose love every day and continue to work on improving yourself, which affects your relationship. Each of our situations is different, but love is a beautiful that can stand the test of time and trials.
What have you learned in your relationship?