The 5 stages of grief… and marriage

Last weekend while playing around with my husband, he did something that drives me nuts… but for the first time ever, I just laughed.  “He’s a nut.”

Acceptance!  The word popped into my head and I couldn’t help but wonder: are the five stages of grief applicable to good things, too?

Marriage has been rough but wonderful.  I’ve been reading this book where the author waxes rather judgmentally about how so many of her friends seemed to believe that you “got” marriage when you realized how hard it is.  I don’t agree.  I think you “get” marriage when you recognize it for what it is: a formal relationship between two people with expectations and difficulties and benefits, often in the same minute.  And I do believe it’s hard, especially for women like me who grew up believing they could — and should — be independent and successful and not need a husband to fulfill them.

Needing, then, feels like failing.  Paradoxically, Needing is what people do when they have relationships in their lives.  Needing is human.  As much as any other thing I know is right for me, I often love and hate Needing equally.

I think I’m at stage five of the grief cycle, a rather odd thought to have when talking about the best relationship I’ve been in.  Yet, I suddenly have a different perspective on some of the difficulties I’ve had being married: my old single self died, to be replaced by this new married self.

First there was DenialSurely he can’t be like that.  There’s no way it can be this hard.  I must have misunderstood him/ he must have misunderstood me/ if only we have more understanding we’ll find we agree.  I don’t have to be any different than I was as a single person.

Then Anger.  Ooh, boy, was there ANGER.  If my NQBC blog was still up, I’d point you to entire months as proof.  How dare he take me for granted!  I’ll show him who he’s messing with!  There is no way I’m putting up with that!

BargainingMaybe if I ask with just the right tone of voice and the perfect set of words, he’ll _____.  “If you agree to _____, I’ll agree to ______.”  “God, I promise I’ll never again ____ if you can just help me never have to deal with this again.”

DepressionPer Wikipedia, “This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection.”  I’ll never remarry so I’m stuck.  And I screwed up that relationship with that other guy already, so I’m definitely out of second chances.  I’ll just get used to not getting what I need, have good friendships, and face the fact that this is how we are.  Remember how awesome I was when I was single?  *sigh*

Finally, FINALLY, Acceptance, but unlike I thought it would be. Fine, I accept my lot in life and will just deal, I thought I’d think.  Instead, though: This is who he is; this is who I am; we are this way.  We don’t have to be this way, but we might be, and that’s okay.  I’m not here to raise him, nor he me, and if we never change, we’ll be okay.  He can be silly and not deal with grown-up things, and I can be joyless and easily frustrated, and we’ll still be fine.  We don’t have to be, but we can.  I’m different than I was, and that’s okay.  I’m different every year as I learn and grow, and being married is a big learning and growth experience.

Acceptance feels more like freedom.

Anyone else feeling like any of this?

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7 thoughts on “The 5 stages of grief… and marriage

  1. Wanted to comment yesterday…but now that I can I’m frantically getting ready to go out of town for a few days. Let’s just say I totally agree and only wish I were at Acceptance. You have a few months on me re: this marriage thing so I feel hopeful!

  2. I think the acceptance is what’s lost on many couples who (like you and me) have ended a marriage when the going got tough. To me, finding the acceptance has been what maturity is all about. Realizing that we’re in this bond together, and not having that realization feel like a prison sentence. Understanding — as you said — that change is mutual. I change, he changes, sometimes we change together, and sometimes we don’t change (or we change in what the other perceives to be ‘the wrong way’). But the calm (and yes, freedom) that comes with acceptance makes it all OK. That isn’t to say that the other four stages don’t ever rear their heads.Under the umbrella of acceptance though, it’s short-lived and not so serious after all. Does that make sense?

    • @Nodakademic, Yes, exactly. Accepting that marriage can be hard is important, but accepting that the person you’re married to has just as much right to choose or not choose, be or not be, grow or not grow (nevermind the actual timing) is a new epiphany.

      So he’s a little ____. So was I, once, and I grew out of it. And he might not; he might always be like that. It’s okay. It’s not my job to raise him, help him become the best version of himself. That’s his job. My job is to accept who he is at any given time, whether I prefer him that way or not. He can be whomever — or however – he wants. And I’m not granting him that permission. He had it all along. I’m finally (finally!) realizing it.

      Much easier, then, to ignore the fact that he’ll step over cat puke and point it out later. Not my job to teach (though it is my responsibility to honor my annoyance and say something, like “Dude, if you see it, please pick it up”).

  3. I think you are right to liken those early stages to grief– the mourning of the passing of your single independent self (I’m remembering Seinfeld “Independent George” and “Relationship George). But, I think when you come to acceptance, you have to sort of let those other stages pass, really let them go. To really live in the acceptance stage, it has to be more than accepting your mutual faults but instead realizing your combined power. To go from acceptance in other words to contentment, security, joy. I don’t say this as a lecture. I lived through these same stages. We have been in a relationship for 8 years– 2 of them married, and just yesterday my husband said to me– isn’t it great what we are? It wasn’t always great, and the “we” in that statement didn’t always come easy. It’s an awareness that in times of trouble you’re willing to sacrifice for the good of the greater whole that is matched by your confidence that he will do the same. For us, this stage came right after acceptance– and when I look at the idea of getting to live a lifetime in this stage, it makes those other stages seem like blips on the radar.

  4. Wow… you wrote what I was never able to put down on paper but was feeling myself. I’ve been married for a little over a year, and I have to say that the first year of marriage was SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than I ever thought it would be. Part of the problem is that many people think that marriage is like a fairytale- once you get married, it’s all lovey dovey.
    I remember my first real argument with my husband after we got married. I was so mad, and I thought to myself “What do I do now? I can’t threaten to leave. I can’t consider leaving. Do I stay mad for a day? Or do I just let it go now that we are married and in this for the long haul? But if I just let it go, he won’t understand that this is really serious.” It was so silly, but I thought I lost all of my negotiating power in an argument. It took us about 8 or 9 months to really figure out how this marriage thing was going to work for us. And boy was that hard!
    We are still working on it, and I must say that the last 6 months or so have been easier than the first… but marriage is a crazy dynamic that really changed things for me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

    And you’re so right about the acceptance part. You HAVE to accept who he is and understand that you are not there to change him or teach him. You have to love him for who he is, and accept it. Very well put!

  5. I just found you! I tried going to your blog when I was catching up after a few months and it was gone so thought you’d stopped. But I clicked on your blogger profile via your comment on my blog yesterday and found you again. Glad that you’re not really gone! Anyway back to the post. You’re very right about the acceptance. What I’ve also learnt a lot of is dropping it. Especially over the last four months which have been the most exhausting upsetting and stressful of our lives as well as the most wonderful too (birth of our baby, who was then very poorly). I used to hold onto the bad points or the arguments. Point pointless things out, stay mad after a fight out of anger and stubbornness. It’s not worth the energy the silly arguments. Of course deeper stuff would be, but so much of it is either pointless or not going to change anything, him or I.

  6. I am so glad the comments are fixed now. I tried to comment here the other day, but I thought the prob way with my phone (from whence I was reading). Your writing is always thoughtful, but I especially love this entry. Thank you.

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