Saving My Marriage

When the topic of my job search comes up, people talk like it's the only thing I should be focusing on. A lot of my efforts have been towards preserving the longevity of my relationship with Carrie. She's my best chance at a happy life, and I don't think withdrawing from my already-strained marriage would have served me anyways in the job hunt.

Context. We like to ignore others' circumstances and have our own difficulties considered. We like to judge others harshly and to be judged compassionately. Isn't that the point behind all stories? Hear this person's side because you may feel differently once you've heard all that they're going through. That bully is abusive and menacing because his parents are the same way. The janitor is actually a concert pianist back in his home country. The weirdo that sticks out like a sore thumb isn't so different from everyone else after all. One of the contextual factors keeping me from work is that a lot of my energy goes into making sure my marriage stays healthy and strong. It takes a lot out of me, even as it gives me strength. When people talk with me about how hard my life has been lately, one way I know they're done with the conversation is when they say "At least you have Carrie to help you through all of this." Yes, that is technically true, but it takes a lot of work to keep the marriage going. Plus she's been absent.

A friend told me about someone going through a similar ordeal that I went through last summer. They're being overworked, and their mental health is suffering to the point where they took time off work. I quit before it became dangerous for me, but I could have taken the gamble of going back to work too, health and personal life be damned. I'd be much worse off than I am now. It's even hard for me to imagine now that it's been so long.

When people go through counselling, apparently two years is some sort of magical length of time where they emerge healthier on the other side. It's a period of rapid growth, and a lot of relationships change as a result. The foundation of the person in therapy is broken down and rebuilt, and the bridges they built over the years with other people are affected. Some become stronger and some weaker. Counselling is a safe space where relationship skills are assessed and challenged. Putting new skills to use in their old relationships, dynamics are bound to change, so I've also had to give my friends time to adjust to the new me. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, and that's normal, healthy, and okay. Some of my former friendships were where I was in a super disadvantaged and vulnerable place, and they could mistreat me as much as they wanted with impunity. I'd inconvenience myself greatly so they could be marginally more comfortable. Now I don't bend over backwards as far. I still like to be generous with my close friends, but I don't exhaust myself to do it anymore. Some old friendships have blossomed in unexpected ways, filling in the gaps. I never anticipated these shifts, and as sad as some of those changes have been, I'm healthier overall for it.

Should I save my marriage at all costs? I don't think so. If I entered into an abusive marriage or if it took a dark turn, I would try to work things out, but sometimes people refuse to change. Like with financial decisions, you can afford more things than you realize, but you simply choose not to. I could buy a new car, but I'd probably have to sell the condo. I could afford to be in a lot more relationships right now too, but some of them are too costly to sustain. Some people don't believe in marriage at all. Some prefer polyamorous or open relationships. I've dropped a lot of friends in the past two years. I'll still give some of them the time of day, but a few of them, I just blocked. I've spent a lot of time considering whether the marriage was worth saving or not, especially as my loneliness and pain peaked. In fact, I went to counselling in the first place in order to save my marriage. Before that, I was on a slippery slope, not handling stress very well, and my behaviour was sometimes uncontrollable. A lot of my health and well-being were encouraged and initiated by Carrie since we first met. Would it make sense to outgrow the person who helped me to grow up? I think sometimes it would, but that's not the case for us as far as I can tell right now.

We've had a rough couple months, so what's going to be different moving forward? Well, Carrie just submitted her final assignment for grad school. She still has two final exams for her undergrad courses, but the studio is already cleaner for it. Textbooks and notes are going back into storage, and I can boss her around again. Now it'll be another adjustment period getting used to her presence again. The stress has affected my immune system, so I'm hoping the sniffles I've had since Christmas will finally go away.

I met with someone this week who set some things straight regarding the job search. They even offered to pass on my resume too. It was quite jarring how blunt they were though, as much as I appreciated the insight. I didn't disagree with any of the wisdom they shared, but I didn't know how to tell them that I had no energy for their great advice. I'm trying to save my life and my marriage, so work isn't really high up on my priorities. People here love work. It's understandably a large part of their identity, especially if they're good at it, and it was that way for me too. Nowadays, the job hunt gets the leftover energy, which apparently isn't enough. I'm still quite sensitive, so I don't know if some of my wounds are healed yet. Am I even ready to go back to work?

Had a great chat with a good friend. They were super empathetic and validating, and they remembered a lot of things I had mentioned before. It was great and a breath of fresh air. Two more friends are considering leaving town, and another one has decided not to leave. Should I be moving too?

Even though I won't be going back for further counselling after my last session later this month, it doesn't mean that all my problems have gone away. It just means that I feel ready to tackle them with the tools and skills that I've built up through therapy. I no longer have to lean on friends so hard for companionship because Carrie is back in my life now. It's like we just finished being in a long distance relationship all over again. We made some friends the other day who started a widow's club, where their partners are mostly absent due to school or work, so they hang out together instead. Why didn't I hear about this type of club before? Dammit. I still feel a big void of love, a need to give and receive it, so that will fade away as Carrie and I resume our marriage again. The big monsters are still there, but I'm well-equipped to take them on. Zelda and Link are back together again.

Sacrificing longevity for survival. Isn't that the whole experience of youthful defiance? I eat terrible things that taste delicious even though it's unhealthy for me long term. Some people smoke, others shop too much, others get tattoos when they're drunk. We have at least two sources of energy: our daily bread and long term stamina. I still have energy every day when I wake up, but I'm quite low on the long term stuff. A lot of times I'll commit to doing something and then discover that my soul has insufficient funds. It's embarrassing enough when it happens when you're trying to pay for an item in the store and don't have the cash/credit, but it's a special type of embarrassment when it happens in your life. Applying for a job requires both daily energy and long term stamina. Lots of trial and error these days, discovering what I'm capable of handling. I can go to the gym three to four times a week, meet up with friends a few times a week, and clean up the studio. When it comes to looking for work, I don't really have the emotional funds to care about my lack of monetary funds anymore. Maybe things will change in the next few weeks as Carrie officially finishes school.

We usually average one crisis a year, but this one wasn't a single event. It's been a war of attrition. Who can last the longest: me or my struggles?

Open and closed. I spent a good portion of my life in the closed position. Stewing in my unhappiness. Being sour and sarcastic. I used to be really bitter inside, generally unable to move on from hurtful memories. I later discovered that I was traumatized as a child, and I kept getting re-traumatized over the years as a result. Experiencing the kind of pain I've seen since last summer would be the part in the movie where we see the origin story of the villain. They were this happy-go-lucky, free spirited and positive person that was hurt so badly that they flipped inside out. Wasn't that how Darth Vader came to be? I've spent years in that place, and I don't like living that way. This mean mug didn't develop overnight. I frowned so much as a kid that I just always look angry now. I want to be open and free moving forward, and that takes a lot of effort.

To conclude a long-running saga, the car needed a new alternator. It was replaced a few years back and I had read online that replacing it didn't help for some people, so that's why I assumed it wasn't the problem. It only cost $700 to fix, no big deal. Ugh. Maybe I'm not cut out to own and maintain a car. Only Uber, bikes, and car2go moving forward. What's the lesson here? It takes two, baby. Instead of half-assing it on my own, we can now use two whole asses for our challenges. It's basically quadruple the ass. This is just one example of how much and how quickly I've benefitted from Carrie's return.

I'm not one to try to hit certain milestones by a particular age. I didn't get married just because it was due in my life plan. We didn't buy our condo because we were getting older. In reality, we were planning on not buying any real estate that year, but the offer was too good to turn down. We take things as they come, and when the timing feels right, we go for it. Some people live by a roadmap that they planned when they were kids, and that can turn them into status-driven and judgemental people. They don't like when you describe reality in a way that conflicts with their childhood indoctrination. I used to be this way, but I'm trying to be less of a dick now that my worldview has been shattered. Alas, if we're going to be judged on that scale, Carrie and I have it all right now. The only thing we're missing currently is probably kids and a second income. We had actually talked about having kids around 29 or 30, but we're putting that on hold until we party our asses off for a while longer. I don't like to be defensive in this way about not working, but people cut me down pretty frequently because I'm unemployed. Most of the oilpatch workers are still looking for work, and even though most people in Alberta are either affected directly by the layoffs or know someone who was laid off, there are those that still lack basic empathy and compassion about the topic. If we look at the rat race, I have my P.Eng.; I've been married for almost 5 years; we own a condo in the award-winning neighbourhood of Inglewood; I have a great circle of friends after removing some unhealthy ones and adding some healthy ones; we own a car with a functioning alternator; Carrie is finishing up her Masters in preparation to register as a psychologist; we're well traveled; and I'm only 28. I'm taking the reins back in my life even though I endured various forms of abuse for years in my early life. I quit my job in a bad economy to preserve my mental health. People tell me quitting was brave, so even though courage doesn't pay the bills, if you zoom out to the bigger picture, I'm doing alright so far. I don't have a detailed life plan with a strict timeline anymore, but if people want to put me down when I don't keep up to theirs right now, they probably don't realize I'm already beating them in their own game.

I'm drained from saving my marriage. I don't have much leftover for finding a job, and in some ways, I don't exactly feel ready. Carrie is unofficially done school and I'm unofficially finished counselling, so our relationship will finally have two people in it again. It's human to ignore contextual factors, but it's a little slimy to put me down because I don't have a job right now. Meh. I still have lots of things to be happy about, and the tide is turning my way as Carrie picks up the slack in the marriage. Consider it saved for now.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le