Disclaimer: I am not giving advice here. Really, I'm crap at advice. I'm sharing experience.
I'm writing this as background for you, because when I try to say this stuff conversationally, I digress and self-interrupt and never get through it.
Our conversation got me thinking, while I was driving somewhere, and adding up.
Out of 22-plus years of marriage, there have been probably seven, maximum nine, that Ms T and I both really count as “happy marriage” years. Ms T's memory agrees pretty much with mine, because I asked her.
You missed much of this “from the outside”, much as I didn't notice what you wanted to tell me, until you hit me over the head with it. So much for appearances. Also, I'm kind of aspie, and apt to miss subtle signals.
Post-natal depression drove quite a chasm between Ms T and I in the mid-1990s. Even when we looked besotted to an outsider. Even though we tried to go everywhere together – we were finding it hard. Communication fell in a hole.
Later, the boys were high-maintenance, and until we got a decent diagnosis and counselling for them, we often got into arguments. Communication of a sort, with an apology at the end as a perverse incentive. When you don't know what's going on, a blame game happens easily.
The counselling was notionally for the boys; but a lot of it ended up being counselling for Ms T and I. And it helped.
Ms T's early menopause, about that time, wasn't a picnic either, she reminded me today.
Our first trip to the UK helped a lot. We'd hit wits'-end a little bit before that – boys difficult, the wind-down of my then-workplace, my first attempt at freelancing, my mother driving us a little nuts!
Then we got to see the boys in a context where we didn't have to worry about what the school would say. They got to go places and respond to them without the hassles of school-appropriate behaviour. We got to see them through eyes like yours, instead of a principal worrying, a head teacher disciplining, etc.
That trip also helped get Ms T and I communicating better, because instead of the talk being “what are we going to try next to settle them down?”, it was “wow, they love The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and instead of fearing them being bored by The Globe, they were entranced, and we talked about that, and so on.
Things went on an upswing for a few years after that: we began bush-walking, came to the UK again, I was making good money, Ms T was still working, there was spare money to start renovating the house (ha!). That good period – call it five years – was absolutely the best of our marriage.
Then Ms T's health began to fail. You know the story from there. Thankfully, Ms T and I managed to wash up on the same shore. Whatever is wrong isn't us. So we cling close.
We got lucky, but it was hardly ever a certainty.
The only thing that is certain is that the times we looked over the abyss of separating, we drew back. I suspect we were mostly too scared to split up.
It never was a special “better” marriage that we had. We nearly didn't have it at all. Neither Ms T nor I really know what the secret sauce was. We know what is working now, but how we got here is a bit of a mystery.
Along the way, we had to farewell some treasures. There are gaps in our relationship where there once were habits, things that were once part of she-and-I. Yeah, I might cry about that from time to time.
So it goes; we're here.
*Not her real name, obviously.