Twenty years ago I went to the pool at my apartment complex and noticed this guy and his friend. That day he approached me and asked, “for his friend” if I was single? Eighteen years ago I married him on June 1st, 2001 and the rest is history. Isn’t it crazy? The moments that lead up to some of the most important decisions of our lives are just that simple. I said yes to a date with Greg because I thought he was super handsome. I moved in with him because he made me feel safe and loved. I married him because in his eyes I felt like the most important person in the world while still holding on to my own identity. I had children with him because I wanted to create a family of our own with all the love and the mess that we experienced growing up. And I have stayed with him for a thousand different reasons. But perfect? Not a chance. The happiest years of my life have been spent with Greg Webb and some of the most challenging years too. It has not been perfect, to say the least, but we are still hanging on, still in love and still learning every day how to be good to each other and ourselves.
The first eleven years of marriage for us were fairly smooth sailing. Don’t get me wrong, we had our challenges with infertility, juggling our dual income household with kids, frustrations with careers and the loss of parents, not easy stuff. I do remember feeling some sense of pride that we never went through the seven-year itch. I also remember not relating to my friends who experienced what would be considered “normal” struggle in their marriage early on. Greg and I were super easy going, hard workers, kind, enjoyed home life and our families and still had a very healthy intimate relationship. And we almost never…ever… fought. I can count on one hand in those eleven years how many times we raised our voices to one another. It seemed almost too good to be true. There’s no punch line here, in many ways it was just easy and it was that simple, we were happy. What we weren’t learning was how to communicate about difficult things, tell each other the truth, even when it was hard and this would eventually impact us in years to come.
At ten years of marriage, life took a major turn for Greg and our entire family. In 2011 it was clear that Greg was struggling to maintain his work schedule and performance due to multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed in 2007 but the symptoms were now taking their toll on Greg’s body, he was exhausted all the time and his company was frustrated with him. It was time to step out of the workforce and take care of himself physically and mentally. The good news was that I was enjoying my career with an amazing company and on a good track for progress. Greg could stay home with the kids and I could lean into my career and provide for our family. It was scary but it was workable. This dynamic changed a lot for us and in anticipation for that, we proactively started counseling. We talked openly about how this could impact us and it still felt easy and manageable. We thought we were doing everything right, and at the time I think we were. We were doing the best we could under the circumstances and counting our blessings every day. We had to learn to communicate differently. Now that he was the stay home parent I had to back off and let him manage the home. This was really hard for me and I struggled to release control which made it hard for him to own his part in the family. It took us almost three years to get our rhythm and better understand who owned what role in our new life. For instance, Greg was responsible for all house maintenance and daily tasks related to kids like checking homework, filling out paperwork, making meals, doing laundry and taking kids to the doctors when they were sick. I still managed the more strategic demands like birthday party planning, annual doctor visits, and parent/teacher conferences. We eventually started to settle into our new normal and I found a lot of peace knowing that Greg was home every day with our children. Today this feels like a massive luxury and I believe our kids are the amazing people that they are because of this dynamic. He’s home but he’s hands-off with all of them. He likes to call this “free-range parenting”. It gives them the freedom to be independent with the consistency and safety of having a parent close by ready to support them when needed. Greg is the most amazing father to our children. When I think about their relationships and how he compliments my super deep emotional side with his laughter and simplicity, it’s truly magical.
Appreciating how we complement each other and recognizing our different strengths took me years to get to. I spent many years frustrated and jealous that I was the one that went off to work every day while he got to be at home enjoying the three most important people in our lives. At the time I harbored resentment and didn’t share these feelings, it slowly chipped away at our foundation without me even realizing it was happening. In the earlier years when he was getting around more easily, I had all of these expectations of what I thought he should be doing while he was home. When I’d find out that he hit the gym, got a massage and went tanning I wanted to strangle him. I was traveling all over the country and working until 7pm trying to keep up and climb the corporate ladder. But I was also getting a lot of free time to be with other adults and enjoy dinners out while he was trapped at home with the kids. When I was home I felt the pull from the children for attention and it was hard to commit to time with just Greg. We were both getting sucked into the new roles that we had established and over many years we slowly started to drift apart. We had a routine and the routine did not include real conversation or real feelings of any kind. We were “nice” and we were raising our family in a calm and loving home but we weren’t paying attention to each other’s needs. He wasn’t interacting with other people as much and I was spending less and less time at home, it was inevitable that without an intentional intervention we would find ourselves distant over the years. This happened so slowly that I didn’t even realize it was happening. You go about your day to day lives and take so many things for granted and the drift finally puts you oceans apart on completely different vessels.
When I stopped to really assess the situation I had not only lost my partner, I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore. I felt lost and alone and afraid. I felt more and more out of control so…I prayed. I needed to figure this out, I was very unhappy and disengaged emotionally. I knew that breaking up our family, and not figuring it out, was NOT an option but I was starting to wish it was. See, at some point, things get so hard that fixing them feels like way more work than starting over. But I knew in my heart of hearts that Greg was my forever partner in all things. I never stopped loving him, not once. I was just tired and uncertain about what to do next. So, I did the only thing I knew to do and I buried it all deep down inside…for years. Over this time Greg and I just stopped talking, about anything meaningful. When we did try to talk it would escalate into a defensive argument about who was doing less. We both had valid perspectives, we had both stopped doing our part and the only way out of this was to own that. We would each have to start looking in the mirror to find our way back. I’ve been using a therapist for years and I was going regularly. She’s the same person that Greg and I first went to all those years before and I think of her as a life coach. I finally broke down and told her that I couldn’t keep living in this place anymore. We were not connecting in our relationship and I was not dealing with my unhappiness. I told Greg that if we didn’t start to get help, we wouldn’t make it. It was one of the scariest moments in my life but I was done and ready to surrender.
This moment, this terrifying moment when you lay down the truth and you own the problem feels like getting the wind knocked out of you and holding your breath all at the same time. He had to respond and I was unsure just how unhappy he had become and what he was willing, or not willing, to do. It was at this moment, when I surrendered, that I knew I had made the best decision of my life all those years ago. I had picked a man that would love me through all the crazy and the emotion and the mess. He would not run from the fight and he would not only be there to love me but he would put in the work to grow and change so that we could start working towards a healthy loving relationship again. We started to talk and tell each other the truth, even if it hurt at the moment. We sought help from an expert and began to share, “the stories that we were making up in our own head” so that we could clarify and better understand one other. The love of my life showed up and he keeps showing up every day since.
So for me, this is what a “perfect” marriage looks like. There are so many other details and moments that I could share and many that will always be just between Greg and me. But what I’m starting to understand is that learning and growth will be constant. We will not arrive in some place where we just get to stop paying attention, it takes work and commitment and patience and forgiveness and of course love. It means putting your partner’s needs ahead of your own at times AND stopping to take care of your own needs too. We’ve had 20 years of ups and downs, laughter and tears, chaos and silence, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone other than the man that approached me all those years ago at the pool. We are individually and collectively perfectly imperfect.
Greg, thank you for for being the man that loves me despite all my imperfections, you are the love of my life and the smartest decision I ever made.