I’ve written a lot about my marriage and what I did to save it. Now it’s time to hear from my husband. I interviewed him and asked him to talk about how he viewed what was going on.
My husband’s story….
How was your relationship when you were first married?
I don’t know if there are enough happy adjectives to describe how I felt when we were first married. When I was dating I made myself a mental checklist of attributes I wanted in a wife. I dated girls and when I realized they weren’t what I wanted, I’d break it off. When I was dating Tammy I just kept checking things off my list and realized she was everything I was looking for, so I proposed. We loved being together and our friends nicknamed us the “one seaters” because Tammy was always sitting on my lap. She is very funny and will say whatever she wants just because it’s funny and I loved that about her.
At what point did things start changing in the marriage?
I don’t think there was one moment that changed things, it was just the busyness of life; work, kids, money issues etc.. We didn’t have any major problems like drug use or cheating, we just fought all the time. It was a gradual decline.
A moment that I know changed me was at work. I’m a firefighter and during the first four years on the job we often had calls where people were in cardiac arrest and sometimes we’d save their life. (We have the best cardiac save rate in the U.S.) When my daughter was 6 months old, I left her sleeping at home with my wife and I went to work. That afternoon, I went on a call where we tried to save an infant in cardiac arrest that was the same age and looked just like my daughter. She didn’t make it. That’s when I believe things started to change for me and I started having anger issues and a bad attitude at home.
Over the next several years, I had many kid deaths to deal with. I’ve seen kids hung, neglected, smothered, run over by a truck as well as numerous car accidents. There was a time when I was so sensitive to “kid calls” that other firefighters would talk about the calls and I felt was like I was there, feeling all the emotions, guilt and anger that usually occurs with those calls.
I don’t think the general public understands how a “kid call” affects emergency personnel, but it is devastating, always. I can go on calls for adults that don’t make it and although it’s tragic and sad, they don’t have the innocence or unrealized dreams that are lost with a child.
I didn’t have the ability to deal with this or explain this to my wife so it came out as anger and a bad attitude. The guilt I talk about comes from the what if’s…. What if I drove faster to the call, what if I had gone against policy and driven around drivers on the right instead of waiting for them to pull over, what if I worked harder on the call? Why couldn’t I be a part of the team that saved these children instead of losing them?
All of this just manifested as anger and unhappiness at home.
Tammy didn’t deal with my anger or attitude well. She became very resentful and spiteful. She wasn’t fun to be around anymore.
What part did you play in the problems?
As I talked about earlier, I didn’t know how to handle what I was seeing at work and it caused a lot of anger. I could control my anger most places but I couldn’t or didn’t control it at home. I also started drinking, trying to help myself deal with the pain. I remember at one point going to meet one of our captains to do some charity work and I was trying to hide the alcohol on my breath in the middle of the day.
I would come home from work extremely angry. I was trying to control everything at home because everything else was feeling so out of control. I was very unhappy and no matter what Tammy did it didn’t make me happy. I wanted her to be unhappy too – you know the saying “misery loves company”.
I would also buy things to try to make myself happy. This led to even more problems since we weren’t financially in a position for me to be buying those things.
When did you start to feel there may be hope for your marriage?
We went to three-day marriage retreat which gave me hope. It was an excellent retreat and we learned a lot about how to fight fair and how to communicate. After the retreat we had a short honeymoon period of about 2 weeks, and then things went back to “normal”. The retreat showed me that I could be happy with Tammy so it gave me hope, but we didn’t apply everything we learned.
When things went back to “normal”, what happened next?
For a while we were both miserable again. I was angry and Tammy was walking on eggshells trying not to set me off. But gradually I noticed Tammy was becoming much happier. She was acting different and it kind of made me think she didn’t care about me as much. I know that sounds weird but when we were fighting and she was miserable at least her emotion showed she cared by being upset. I didn’t understand the happiness. So I did things to specifically push her buttons and try to get a reaction from her. The times she did break and get upset with me made me feel like she still cared. I didn’t want her to be so happy while I was miserable. I just kept thinking it wouldn’t last.
I was also looking to Tammy to help me, but she really couldn’t because I needed to help myself. I would get even angrier if I thought she should be doing something to make me happy and she wasn’t. I remember at one point I called Tammy because I needed to talk about a call that I had just gone on with another child. Tammy was driving and couldn’t talk to me. I asked her to pull over she said she couldn’t at the moment. I was very upset that she wasn’t available because I was trying to reach out. When Tammy didn’t respond the way I wanted her to, I took it as a slap in the face and felt rejected. I thought in that moment she should stop whatever she was doing and help me.
After months of Tammy working on herself and being happy I told her I was going to leave. I was trying to get a reaction out of her. Usually when I said I was leaving I got a huge reaction with crying and fighting. But her response was not what I expected, her reaction was very calm and compassionate. She told me it was my decision but she was choosing to be happy. She let me know she didn’t want me to leave but she was very calm about it. I was kind of intrigued by her reaction and I couldn’t figure out what was going on with her. I just knew that I wanted to be the same emotional state she was in. So I came back and asked her what she was doing and how could I do that.
At that moment I think I realized this wasn’t something that was going to change for her. She really was happy and at peace and it didn’t have anything to do with me. I wanted to have that same happiness and peace. I think I made a decision that day (not consciously) to work on being happy.
What were some of the big turning points where you really saw a change in your relationship?
One thing that made a big impact on me was when we saw the movie Fireproof. It’s a movie about a firefighter and the problems he had with his wife which almost ended in divorce. The main character was a hero at work and everywhere else except home. The movie related so much to my life. Everyone else thought I was a hero, but at home I was nothing. The movie helped me see the way I treated my wife and make changes in the way I acted at home. It helped me look at myself through my wife and kids eyes and I decided I want to be a better man at home.
Another turning point was when Tammy finally felt secure in our relationship. We learned in our 3 day marriage retreat that her number one need in the relationship is to feel secure. (Most women say this is their number 1 need) Even though I learned that, I didn’t apply it for months because I was so consumed with my own needs and anger. We agreed that divorce was never going to be an option for us and I was never going to say I was leaving again. (and I never have) When we argue I remind her I’m not going anywhere and let her know our relationship is secure. That was huge and helped her to open up and be more vulnerable with me. As soon as she knew that I wasn’t leaving we really started working on our relationship together.
We also changed the way we fought. We started fighting to understand and not to win. I always hated fighting with Tammy because she always won. She is much better at talking than I am. Every time we fought, I felt defeated and disrespected, mainly because she could just out talk me. When I decided I wasn’t fighting to win, I was fighting to understand, things got better. I didn’t need to win or keep talking I just needed to understand what she was saying. We would even stop in the middle of our fight and pray. We would ask God to intervene and show each of us what we needed to know. That was huge.
What advice would you give other people struggling in their relationship?
The constant in all your relationships is you. If you let this one fail, how is the next one going to be any different? Do everything you can and work on yourself and be the best husband/wife you can be in this relationship. Spend 1 year being the best spouse you can be before you move on.
Don’t rely on your spouse to make you happy.
Look back to when you were first together. Were you happy? If you were, you can get that back. When I was thinking about divorce I was thinking there’s got to be someone better that will treat me better. But as I looked back on our relationship I knew that Tammy was someone I could get along with, she was a good mom, and we were compatible. I looked back at the past and knew that we could be happy, life just got in the way and we needed to figure it out. If you were happy before, you can be happy again.
If you are with someone who isn’t willing or ready to work on your relationship, there is hope… just go first. Take the lead and work on yourself. It may take a while but it will be worth it. Please show my husband some love and encouragement by commenting and letting him know if this has helped you.