During the in-denial early years of my marriage irrevocably falling apart, I saw a movie called Hope Springs. It was about a couple in their 50s – played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones – who’ve forgotten how to touch, love or connect with each other.
I was quite devastated by Meryl Streep’s abject unhappiness in her marriage.
At one point, she told her therapist: “I’m really lonely. And to be with someone, when you’re not really with him can… it’s… I think I might be less lonely… alone.”
I wrote a wrote a blog about how the movie made me laugh and cry. It also scared me because I could see how easily it could happen.
Well, as much as someone who’s in denial about the state of their marriage can “see”.
My husband and I had been together 22 years at that point, we’d been married for 12 of them. That’s a looooooong time to spend with one person.
I noted in the blog how easy it is to start taking your partner for granted: “You stop communicating about anything other than the general mechanics of life. You no longer stay up all night chatting, fascinated by each other’s views and opinions. The constant touching and glazed adoration is gone. There is no mystery. There are no surprises.”
I recalled the first time I fell out of love with my husband, pre-kids. We went on a holiday to Europe and fought the entire time … mainly about getting lost and ham sandwiches (I’m not great with maps, he’s not great with pork, a lethal combo in rural Spain).
I can’t believe I revealed that in a post when he was still reading the blog at that point. I even admitted to disliking him intensely by the end of the trip: “I didn’t love him again for a whole year afterwards. Strangely, I didn’t say a word. I stayed in the relationship because I was scared of the alternative and didn’t want to hurt him. I pretended everything was fine, but I was miserable.”
I look back now and think Was I trying to send some sort of message to him with those words?
I grew to love with him again after that miserable year. We got married, had two kids … and then fell out of love again.
I noted in my Hope Springs blog – written back in 2013 – that I was worried “he was fed up with me and my infuriating insecurities and silences”. I wondered if he was the one “pretending everything was fine, but was secretly miserable, just hanging in there hoping the love will return.”
It’s freaky and makes me feel faintly nauseous when I read those words, because he WAS secretly miserable, just hanging in there.
And, if I’m to be honest with myself, I was too.
I often joked back then that he couldn’t divorce me because he loved our kids too much to leave. I think that’s what kept him in the marriage for so long. Giving up seeing them every day was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do.
I can’t imagine how he found the courage to do it.
Three years later, I can see how much we’d become like Meryl and Tommy’s emotionally stunted characters Hope Springs.
But couples’ therapy couldn’t solve it for us. It was too late – and my husband had moved on too far emotionally – to fix something so badly broken. Maybe I had too.
I think what happened to our marriage is very, very common. There are A LOT of unhappy middle-aged couples out there, trudging through life hoping the love will return.
Being with the same person for decades is hard. Complacency is easy.
I’m awed by long-term couples who keep the love alive, whose faces still light up when they see each other.
Song of the day: Van Morrison “Moondance”