Romper

The One Thing We Did To Save Our Marriage Changed Everything

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

When my husband and I first fell in love, it was so new, hopeful, and carefree. Our relationship was fascinating and promising, beautiful and perfect. But eventually the "newness" wore off. It's what happened for us. We were married, had a baby, and once the shine faded away, it felt like we were two strangers living in the same house. But there was one thing we did to keep our marriage solid: we went to marriage counseling instead of to our lawyer's office.

My husband and I have a long history. We've only been married for eight years, but we've already lived two lifetimes together. I met him when we were both 12 years old. We were children, kids who played basketball and baseball outside, who watched cartoons every morning and shows like Friends, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons at night. We were just two kids who bonded at a school dance over a can of Coke and our Halloween costumes. We knew nothing about life or the real world. The only thing we did know was that we liked each other and that we had enough in common to start dating, which, at 12 meant holding hands in the hallways and maybe — maybe — walking through the park after school. We were young and innocent when we met, but things soon changed. My father died and his parents divorced, and then we broke up.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

Years passed and even though we didn't speak again until high school — until he started dating my best friend — I never forgot about the boy at the Halloween dance. The one who held my hand and sweetly shared his snacks and soda with me. And it didn't take us long to reconnect. Before long we were hanging out every day and talking every night. I found myself confiding my deepest, darkest secrets to him — and him  to me. In no time at all, we were inseparable again. He was the "second brother" I never knew I wanted, and I was the "sister" he never had. But then something shifted. I realized I was in love with him.

Counseling gave us a safe space to air our grievances: a no-shame, no-blame environment where we could talk about what had been bothering each of us for 14 years and counting. We had a third-party listener and, at times, peacekeeper; someone who would hear each of us individually but also facilitate a conversation that made us both whole.

We started dating (again) when I was 17. And we moved in together just before my 19 birthday. By the time we were 21, we were engaged. By 24, we were married. And then we had a baby together.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata
By the time we had our daughter, after five years of marriage and 12 years as a couple, I resented him. I couldn't stand him. I wanted to leave him.

One of the biggest problems with knowing someone that long is that you know how to get to them. You know their buttons and triggers, and you know what to say or do (or not do) to make a point. And the other problem is that as you age, you change. The boy I fell in love with became a man that — at times — I hated. Sometimes, I loathed, feared, and even despised him. At times, he became someone I didn't even recognize.

By the time we had our daughter, after five years of marriage and 12 years as a couple, I resented him. I couldn't stand him. I wanted to leave him. I wanted a divorce. But instead of leaving, we asked for help. We got support. And, today, our marriage is solid because we went to marriage counseling — and because we still go.

We first started going to marriage counseling in the spring of 2015, after countless moves and jobs and the birth of our daughter. We were at that period in our lives when all the shoulds of our relationship should've already been set: the foundation for our relationship should have been solid; we should have been happy; and our relationship should have been thriving. Only it wasn’t. And we weren’t. Instead of growing together, we were growing apart. Instead of prospering, we were collapsing.

As the months passed, talking to a counselor helped me understand my husband's alcoholism, and helped him understand the pain I felt as a result of that. She helped him understand my depression, my feelings, and my struggles. And she helped him understand he couldn’t "fix me."
Courtesy of Kim Zapata

But counseling gave us a safe space to air our grievances: a no-shame, no-blame environment where we could talk about what had been bothering each of us for 14 years and counting. We had a third-party listener and, at times, peacekeeper; someone who would hear each of us individually but also facilitate a conversation that made us both whole.

That first session was difficult. My husband sat there with his arms folded for 70 minutes as years of anger and pain poured out of me. Our counselor listened. She interjected, when necessary, and she asked us each how we felt and how the our words made the other feel. Following that first session, she gave us homework. We were supposed to spend at least 20 minutes a day talking to each other and checking in because we both needed to open up and we both needed to listen.

Many couples are fearful that if others find out they are "dysfunctional," they'll be criticized or judged. Hell, I was. My husband and I kept our counseling a secret from everyone we knew for a really long time. But our marriage is stronger because we got help.

As the months passed, talking to a counselor helped me understand my husband's alcoholism, and helped him understand the pain I felt as a result of that. She helped him understand my depression, my feelings, and my struggles. And she helped him understand he couldn’t "fix me." She helped us have conversations (and end arguments) we'd been having for years but never had the context or emotional capacity to resolve on our own.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

There's a stigma surrounding things like therapy and counseling, and a misconception that those who seek it are "crazy" or "weak." Many couples are fearful that if others find out they are "dysfunctional," they'll be criticized or judged. Hell, I was. My husband and I kept our counseling a secret from everyone we knew for a really long time. But our marriage is stronger because we got help. We communicate better because we got help. I can say, honestly say, that I love my husband today because we got help. And we're still together because we got help.

I know that, eventually, the counseling will end and we'll stop going and the burden of having discussions these discussions will be on us. But I also know that counseling taught us one, life-long lesson: my husband and I will never stop working on our partnership. We'll never stop growing and maturing. And even though we'll never stop fighting, we're armed with the knowledge that we're fighting for our marriage, for our partnership, and for each other. The work will never be done, and honestly, that's a really great thing.