Challenges of Marriage at Midlife – Part II
Once again I’ve been prodded by a Yogi tea bag to write about marriage at midlife! It is unfortunate that Yogi Tea Company isn’t sponsoring my blog! Here it is, last night’s before bed tea bag message:
“You can run after satisfaction, but satisfaction must come from within.”
~ A Yogi Tea Company Mystic
For the first twenty-five years of marriage I ran after satisfaction. I sought happiness and fulfillment in our relationship and then our children. I sought satisfaction by creating a successful business, by making my yard more beautiful, my flower gardens more plentiful. I sought improvement and perfection of all of the externals of my life. I micro managed my children’s education and their environment trying to ensure that they did not suffer the things that I had suffered and to ensure that they turned into happy adults who knew exactly who they were. However, life has a way of pointing out our faulty thinking and if we refuse to see it, it keeps hitting us over the head until either we do or we are dead.
Here is a snippet of the story:
After I finished graduate school I went to work with the intent of building a career. I was also struggling to get out of a bad relationship and recover from a clinical depression. I managed to do both and somewhere along the way I reconnected with an old high school friend who was doing the same thing. Scott and I had always had a comfortable, easy relationship, without romantic expectations or judgment of any kind. We shared our relationship problems and gave each other advice. Above all else, we had fun together. When we reunited, we quickly picked up where we left off only to wake up one day to discover we were in love and wanted to get married.
I continued to work until the kids were born, but after the birth of my first son, I decided I wanted to be a stay at home Mom. I was their mother and I believed that no one could love them in the way that I could, and love after all is what children really need. Scott and I agreed, so we cut corners and got by on one income until he unexpectedly lost his job. We tried a variety of less than successful solutions and life was just plain hard. We learned early how little we needed to live, preparing us well for the last economic slump.
Left with few alternatives and mouths to feed, he decided to go into business for himself. One of our favorite pastimes was to buy a fixer upper to live in and fix it up! So when he told me he wanted to start a home improvement business I wasn’t surprised and was 110% behind him. Being in business together was a dream of mine, and I was eager to help. A home based business also enabled me to work and be available to the children. I designed and printed flyers, the kids helped deliver them and we were off and running. We had to be! The bills were waiting!
Scott is and always has been a top-notch salesman. He could sell elephants to ants. He’s smart, engaging, funny and very convincing without being pushy or obnoxious. He’s the quintessential teacher and as honest as the day is long. He genuinely wants what is best for his customers and they can sense it. Combined with my marketing abilities work came in steadily. Over the next five years we computerized, raised the level of marketing and hired employees. At our peak, and the peak of the economy I might add, we were carrying eight employees and part-time office help. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Wrong.
Several things went awry. First, unemployment was so low that laborers of any kind were very hard to find, let alone good ones that were affordable. Secondly, my husband’s good nature rendered him ill prepared for the lying, cheating, stealing, drug abusing employees (to put it nicely) that quietly ate up all of his profits and our salary. He could only see desperate, troubled people in need of his help. We went without food so he could pay them on time.
Then, 9/11 hit and the economy tanked. When consumers decide they’d better tighten their belts, one of the first things they cut out are pending home improvements. At the very same time, our foreman left to help his sister run her restaurant.
We had already reached the place where we lived and breathed the business. Now we were financially strapped, exhausted, overwhelmed and felt our backs pressing against the wall. We never knew whether we’d have enough money to pay the bills each month or not. However, we soldiered on, believing that things would turn around, if we just did the right thing and stayed the course. Our difficulties, common to many small businesses, mounted and compounded and we began to fight with each other. There was no one else to blame! When you are in business with your spouse, there is no escape. I tried to tell him what to do and he ignored me. He felt powerless. I felt diminished. We rode the waves, and rode them, and rode them, hoping beyond stupidity that we could navigate back to where we had been.
As the reality of his employee’s betrayal sank in, Scott fired all of them and he and I picked up the hammers and paint brushes and went to work alone. We made more money doing so but it was not what either of us had dreamed of doing or wanted to do, nor were we getting any younger! We were, however, too tired to fight, too tired to think, or to act, or to make changes.
He had a heart attack, then a fifteen foot fall from a ladder and I was left caring for him and the children while taking over some of his responsibilities for the business. Then my oldest son went to college, my father died, my mother began to need care, my youngest was looking for colleges and panic attacks became an everyday occurrence, often erupting as I stood, powerless and unable to watch as my beloved husband dangled from a rooftop . I developed IBS and there aren’t enough antidepressants in the universe to counteract the mood I was experiencing.
I thought I would go crazy if something didn’t change. If he would just get a job, if he would just hire more employees, if he would just listen to me, and let me do more marketing. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t hope. I couldn’t try. I could not obtain the satisfaction I so desperately sought.
Something had to give and finally, not a minute too soon, I realized that I was the one who needed to make a change. I accepted, truly accepted, that I could not change him, nor effectively change our circumstances without his cooperation. It wasn’t a lightning bolt. It was a gradual turning toward myself and turning toward my inner resources. I began to learn bit by bit, day by day, to seek satisfaction within.
Then one day, I found the courage to sit down with him and say, “Scott, I’m not going to work with you and the business anymore”. He looked back at me like I had just told him I was having an affair. Betrayal, anger, fear, disappointment spread across his face and then he said, “You don’t mean it.” But he knew I did. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and I did not know how he would deal with it. We had built the business together but it was destroying us. I knew I could survive financial devastation, I could not survive the senseless loss of our relationship and love. A non-human entity was definitely not worth it.
And so began a period of soul-searching and introspection for both of us. For the first time, maybe in my lifetime, I began to look deep inside myself for direction. That was about five or six years ago. Are we better off today?
I will tell you next time we share a cup of tea.