In the years since my separation and reconciliation with my husband, I’ve been pretty vocal about the issues we had in our marriage. In fact, I have a book coming out in the Fall of 2024 that discusses that journey and how we overcame it. There were many, many things that contributed to our problems. We had some external circumstances that made our marriage hard from day one. My husband was doing battle with Crohn’s Disease. We had two children back to back, which, as any parent knows, takes a toll. In the midst of all that, we also had numerous “little-t traumas” happen to us as the years went on.
But of all those the things that led to our eventual separation, the one that I believe put the nail in the coffin was our lack of communication.
It’s hard to explain to someone that something as simple as communication can undo a marriage. Especially when there were so many other big issues that we had going on—issues that anyone would objectively agree would be hard for a marriage to overcome. But the further I get from those difficult years, the more I realize that most of those big issues could have been successfully navigated if we had just been able to communicate about them.
My husband and I both settled into a very uncomfortable state of avoidance when it came to the issues in our marriage. For the first few years, we tried to discuss the things that made us unhappy. But over time, we learned that we just couldn’t seem to communicate clearly when we were upset. We’d both become dysregulated, volatile, and sometimes cruel. We would say things we didn’t mean just to make the other person hurt the way we were hurting. It became so toxic that eventually we stopped trying to talk altogether.
Years went by and feelings festered. Nothing could heal because we spent all our time oscillating between stuffing and exploding.
Eventually, we forgot how to communicate even about positive and neutral things. I’ll never forget being at my parents’ house for a family dinner and my dad asking us a question about our finances (if you bristle at that, I get it, but my family and I have the kind of relationship where these questions are safe and positive). Charlie and I didn’t know how to answer the question because we didn’t even communicate about our money—our financial future for ourselves and our kids. My dad looked at us like an alien just popped out of both of our foreheads. “Don’t you two talk about these things?” he asked. When we shrugged our shoulders, he said, “It’s like you two don’t even live in the same house.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Our lack of communication pervaded everything in our marriage. It broke down our ability to operate as a team, to parent our children, to run our household, and to maintain our sex life. We were unraveling, and it all came down to our unwillingness to talk things out.
Now, two years after our separation and reconciliation, I find that communication is the healthiest thing about our relationship. We discuss everything, almost to a sickening point (if you’re reading this, Charlie, I love you, and I’m totally kidding). This morning, my husband handed me a print out of an article he’d read about the housing market and asked me to read it. We are making plans to move out of our loft apartment next year and buy a home. So, he asked if I would read this article and gather my thoughts so that, this weekend, we can sit down and start working on a plan.
Our willingness to discuss anything and everything has born fruit in every aspect of our relationship. We are parenting our kids better than ever, having now discussed which parts of parenting we both seem to thrive and find joy in, and which ones we don’t. We can step in for each other and provide support when we know the other person is getting overwhelmed because for the first time in our marriage we understand each other’s triggers. We have found a beautiful cadence with the housework, splitting it up fairly according to how much time and bandwidth we both have when our jobs and parenting roles are accounted for. And, it’s my great pleasure to say that our sex life is better than ever.
Communication is one of those things that it seems like we talk about in relationship discourse online, but that we really don’t. We talk about it like it’s a BandAid—something to slap on the problems after they’ve already created wounds so deep that a BandAid can’t even begin to stop the bleeding. Instead, I believe we need to talk about communication as the thing we do before the marriage is in trouble. Communication isn’t the BandAid, it’s the bridge. It’s the thing that can get the two of you over troubled waters and back on the same side.
And that bridge must be built before you end up on opposite banks.
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.