This one might be a little controversial. I want to say upfront that this is my story, my life. I am sharing something I have done to heal my marriage in hopes that perhaps it could be useful to someone else. But please remember that this isn’t advice; it’s not a suggestion that you do the same. Take what resonates, and leave the rest.
Here we go.
I absolutely love roller skating. It’s one of my most favorite hobbies. While my husband and I were separated, I used roller skating as a way to heal and cope. I went skating every day. Sometimes to the trails, sometimes through my neighborhood, sometimes at the skating rink, and other times at the skate park. It was how I felt the most free.
I got injured. Badly injured. I made new friends, some who were good for me and some who weren’t. I became more interested in skating than just about anything else. And for my husband Charlie, that time of my life was very hard. It represented my freedom, my mental and emotional separation from him in addition to the physical separation. Now that we are back together, my roller skates are still a bit of a trigger item for him. They bring him back to what he considers to be the darkest and hardest time of his life.
So what do we do when something we love creates deep triggers and pain for someone we love?
First and foremost, one thing that needs to be done is for the triggered partner to go to therapy and work on those feelings. That is a given. If therapy isn’t accessible, then journaling, self-reflection, and talking to trusted friends and family will have to do. Ultimately, no one can use their triggers to control another person. It’s important to say that up front. Charlie agreed to do that difficult work, and he has followed through.
But healing takes time. Triggers can be deep; they take us to emotionally difficult places. They link an emotionally neutral item (like roller skates) to a very emotionally charged memory (the pain of a marriage separation). They don’t always make sense, and they’re not always in the triggered person’s control. Because I love my husband, I want to avoid saying, doing, and partaking in things that hurt him. I am not obligated to do that, because again, his triggers are his responsibility. But because I love him, I choose to act in loving ways toward him — ways that hopefully do not trigger pain.
Therefore, I’ve shelved my roller skates.
I haven’t thrown them away. Haven’t forgotten about them. Simply, shelved them until another time. I trust that one day my husband will have done the work to unlink my roller skates from his emotional pain, and when that time comes, I’ll dust them off and go for a roll.
Until then, I’m riding my bike. I love bike riding. I used to ride to work almost every day. My obsession with roller skating caused me to set the bike aside for awhile and, frankly, to forget about it. I’ll always need to do something outdoors that exhilarates me. Now, instead of roller skating, which always scratched that itch, I have chosen to bike ride instead.
I shared this plan with my husband. As soon as he heard my plan, he retrieved my bike from storage and gave it a full tune-up: pumped the tires back up, cleaned it off, greased the chain, and re-attached my saddle bags. He ordered me a new bike lock since the old one had rusted shut. He did this beautiful act of love for me because he saw me acting through love toward him.
And this, I think, is the true beauty of healing a marriage. My husband and I spent the first 7 years of our marriage being so selfish, so inwardly focused. It caused incredible damage to our relationship. In fact, it led to our separation and almost a divorce. I love that, as a community, we are finally talking about self-love, self-care, putting ourselves first, and setting boundaries. It’s necessary and so important. That said, I hope that in the midst of all that self-directed intention we don’t forget to love with intention the people who matter to us. I hope we remember that their feelings matter, too. I hope we don’t lose the ability to compromise, to think creatively about how to meet each other’s needs.
Relationships are bound to be hurtful and unfulfilling if we forget those critical skills. Loving ourselves means loving ourselves and others well.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.