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Challenge: Digging Deep

The Meatball that Saved our Marriage.

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At the end of each year, I like to reflect back on the moments that shaped it for me. These may be highs, they may be lows, they may be moments I’d love to relive or, perhaps, moments I’d rather forget.

It is rare that a blip in an entire year can hit more than one of those categories, let alone all four. 2022 said, “Yes, please! I can do that!” The event I’d love to forget yet am so glad happened? A moment, a blip in a moment where so many “things” collided and fate had its way with me. Incredibly low? Check! Incredibly high? Check! Well, eventually. It was a moment that was shocking in the short term and rewarding in the long term as it helped transition me to a better version of, well, me.

We call it the moment that a frozen meatball saved our marriage.

A meatball? Yes. Launched by my own hand at a time that we would rate as in the top five suckiest points of our marriage (and by God, we’ve had sucky points). Today, we rate it as a top five biggest win. The perfect shot. A swish, if you will.

Well. Maybe I’m the only one who talks about that meatball in such positive terms. My husband just rolls his eyes as if offering a reminder of what might have been a better option (just, like, roll the meatball across the floor next time, rather than winging it with the incredibly bad aim that caused it to become an accidental meat missile).

It has been nearly six months since that moment. And don’t take this tone as me not taking that flying froze fare seriously. I take it very seriously. I’m just also really glad that it happened.

The reality is: Perfect, well-oiled marriages do not exist.

Anywhere.

Certainly not in our home. Probably not in yours either but I’m the one with a blog, so …

The flying meatball was the beef that broke the cow’s back following a particularly difficult span of months. Was it months? Longer? Shortly after, my husband did request that I write about it, for therapeutic purposes only. His did not include going public but as we know, that is not my style. My style is that if we are going through something sucky, then chances are someone else is as well and maybe this meatball will save them as well.

Marriage is hard y’all.

Our marriage has always had extra underlying stress due to the steps and exes and seconds of it all. I suppose adding in “2020 Pandemic” pushed our cortisol levels into silent overdrive and we continued collecting pain points straight through the tail end of 2021. I doubt we are the only family still uncovering the fallout of those difficult years. I doubt we are the only couple still discovering just how many feelings were stuffed down for the good of the tribe during those months of isolation.

We came into 2022 exhausted, snarky, short-tempered, and with no understanding of what one another was experiencing mentally as individuals, let alone in the picture of that tribe. There was an incredibly dark cloud sitting directly over our marriage that we mostly weren’t even aware of as it had grown so slowly. We had been regular visitors to a counselor, in the name of Marriage Maintenance, but those visits dwindled to zero courtesy of COVID and a counselor who often forgot our virtual appointments but still wanted the money for them.

I suppose we deferred our relationship stress to being the counselor’s fault as we were never sure if he would show or if his video would be working or if he would start the session with requests for a check. Our go-to method for difficult conversations had always been to save any tricky conversations for our relationship referee. It still is our favorite method. We’ve debated making our own Delay of Discussion flag, used to table sensitive topics until we were back in session.

Because we went so quickly to zero support, we were stripped of our ability to see that light at the end of the relationship horizon.

I wanted to find another counselor quickly as I was driving the struggle bus at a very unsafe speed. My husband dragged his feet stating that we should be able to manage our marriage by that time. The road got bumpier. We know now that we were likely dealing with (at least) low-level PTSD (thank you, pandemic) while also dealing with the everyday stuff like imploding children, aging parents, (bio)mom shenanigans, weird work vibes, and, well, the list goes on.

We needed help but we didn’t have the energy to find it. Neither of us wanted to start from scratch. Side note: Mental Health Industry, for the love of God, create a system where you can share cases from practice to practice to enable easy patient transfers.

All of the above? Let’s call it track one.

On a second track, I was also physically diminished thanks to a tennis mishap. While doing an amazing crosscourt backhand mid-2022, I split my side open. Inside my side. It wasn’t gross or anything. It just hurt like a bitch and throbbed warnings of “something is not right here” 24/7. I knew I’d probably just been put on the exercise bench indefinitely, removing my most successful way to release anxiety. I was miserable.

I’m not sure how much time passed between the injury and the meatball. I just know that, one day, I came home from errands, hip to chest throbbing, and walked into a kitchen that very clearly did not smell of my request to “get dinner started while I’m gone.

Code Red had been activated.

Do you ever have moments where you feel outside of your body? Where you know that what is happening is not right but you also cannot stop it? The train has left the station with no brakes?

I was halfway through the ensuing argument before my husband even walked into the kitchen. As he tried to decipher what was happening, I went fully feral and launched a plate of very frozen meatballs across the kitchen as the volcano finally gave up on minor gurgles. One of those meatballs did make contact with that poor deer in headlights.

This was not my proudest moment.

Fast forward to today (I know, that was rude, right? Not to give away all the in-between details?). We are a better team than we have ever been. Okay, yes, some of the details.

I knew as soon as that meatball launched that I had a problem. I knew that I had to get my anger in check. I knew that my husband was likely going to walk out the door (he did) and that I wouldn’t know when he might return (hours). I knew that our kids were feeling the full weight of that black cloud as it lowered itself the rest of the way onto our house. I knew that our future would go in one of two directions and, at the time, I honestly wasn’t even sure which direction I wanted.

I knew that I had just unlocked the door to a lot of work.

We have done a lot of work.

My husband found a counselor that would see us almost immediately. We showed up to our first three sessions full of rage - screaming, crying - each standing up for what we believed had gone wrong while our new counselor hid beneath the couch. Per my husband’s request, I joined an online Anger Management group. Per my request back, my husband sat with me weekly while I dove deep into what was causing the Code Reds.

None of it was easy. We both had to tear off a lot of bandaids and expose parts of ourselves that we’d kept well hidden for the last ten years. It makes sense now, of course, much of the first decade of our relationship was dedicated to damage control related to divorce and children adapting to this new world that included a (step)mom and two homes.

Perhaps as we were finally seeing the light at the end of that emotional tunnel all the other items in our griefcases opted to pop out.

I did realize fairly quickly which direction I wanted our marriage to go - the good one. I wanted to be a part of the forever. We both knew that we had work to do if we were going to right the ship. We thought we had been vulnerable in all of those counseling sessions prior but it turned out those were only a warmup for what we would be diving into this time.

We have done a lot of work.

As I write this, I can not believe that the meatball missile was fired only six months ago. We are a completely different couple today. We are completely different than we were in the years prior to the meatball. Back then, we naively thought we were nailing marriage, practically high-fiving each other for being such mature adults. After, we had a crash course in how far we really had to go to be successful. This crash course required every weakness to bubble up, be addressed, be studied, and be altered.

We could not be in a more different space than we were then.

Today, our once-new counselor no longer hides under the couch. He welcomes us and is excited to hear about our progress and knows that it is now safe to ask difficult questions. I have no doubt that the first note in our file was “holy shit, these people are doomed!” but today, he often ends our sessions with words of pride - both for us and for the work we have all done together. It is well-deserved.

We have done a lot of work.

All because of that dang meatball.

Notes: This is like the message at the end of a television show with a traumatic plot line. “If you or someone you know has ever thrown a meat missile … “ But seriously. Here’s the link to the workbook that we worked through together: Anger Management Workbook. Don’t get too excited, I took out my answers.

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