Monday Notes: 3 Ways Unresolved Trauma Showed Up In My 25-Year Marriage

Dwight and I met in 1993, four years after my mother died and three years after my father agreed to give up his parental rights. We married three years later. I’ve spent the last seven years deconstructing how these events (and others) impacted how I’ve functioned in relationship. Now, I’m ready to share some of it with you.

#1: I married out of fear. When I married Dwight, I legitimately believed no one else in the world was going to love me. NO ONE! Given my history of abandonment by all primary caregivers (i.e., biological and adoptive parents), this is not strange. I had a sense that if my parents couldn’t even stick around, then why would anyone else? I (unconsciously) thought that if this man, who I perceived as perfect, wanted to marry me, then I’d better say yes and speed to my “happily ever after.” This isn’t to say I didn’t love him. It’s just that I had a feeling that this was my last chance ever at being loved. I entered our marriage as a scared little girl, and I maintained that fear for at least eighteen years.

#2: I thought being married could replace the love I should’ve had for myself. My husband once said, “I love you more than you love yourself.” That’s deep. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. It sounded ridiculous. But he was right. My self-worth was so low that I (unconsciously) thought marrying him would solve my abandonment issues. I thought marriage could save me from that bottom-of-the-barrel feeling. Life doesn’t work that way, though. If you feel sad and dejected, once you get married, then you’ll just feel sad and dejected with a partner alongside you. And even though misery loves company, the company doesn’t love misery, especially when he didn’t ask for it. The only way to improve self-worth is to acknowledge your importance sans external validation. Worth doesn’t have to be earned. Self-worth is a birthright.

#3: I thought being married meant melding identities. I wrote about this here, but it’s worth reiterating. When Dwight and I were first in relationship, I was already dealing with the common identity issues associated with being an adoptee. I’d dissolved this already shaky sense of self and replaced it with his likes and desires. I thought I had to be someone else to maintain my husband’s love. This is unhealthy. It’s important for two people to have a clear sense of who they are and what they like prior to becoming a union. And afterwards, it’s just as important to maintain separate identities. At this point, I remind people that my husband and I are not Bobbsey twins; we do not do everything together. If you see me out and about by myself, it’s because that’s what I preferred at the time. Our separate actions have nothing to do with the love we share or the years we have.

There is a difference between how my personal issues affected our marriage and how much I love Dwight. One has nothing to do with the other. When we first met, there was an undeniable sense that we were supposed to be together. We both felt and still feel it; it’s kind of like a magnetic pull. It’s just that when you don’t resolve trauma prior to marrying, then you end up resolving it while you’re married. It’s not an impossible feat, but there will be negative consequences for one or both people.

Seek therapy. Get to know yourself. Then, commit. In an ideal world, that’s how healthy relationships would be created and maintained. But I also know we’re far from living in an idyllic society. And if we each waited for perfect wholeness in ourselves or another being, we’d probably remain by ourselves forever. Sounds contradictory, right? It is. Ultimately, I’d advise new couples to do their best to be healthy versions of themselves, while holding space for the one another to grow. That’s what we ended up doing, and we’ve been married for twenty-five years.



Post-script: I’ve got 3 more ways, but I gotta leave material for the memoir 💁🏽‍♀️

106 thoughts on “Monday Notes: 3 Ways Unresolved Trauma Showed Up In My 25-Year Marriage

  1. This is a fantastic and self realized post. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. Congratulations on the 25 years!
    Working through trauma with your love of your life beside you may not be ideal, but at least you had the safe place to do so, it sounds?
    I too, met my husband in 1993, and married in 2005 with very similar thought processes and lived experience. I held tight onto him; not realizing the damage leaning that hard could create.
    It still took me another 16 years to wake up to him and his same comment of him loving me more than I loved myself.
    The real work has begun in therapy, we’re filling in the circles, making sense.
    Thank you again 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Siobhan! Can you tell I’ve thought about this for years lol

      I definitely had a safe and trusting space to work through all of the things, both in healthy and unhealthy ways.

      It is very funny how many of us go through this experiences, seemingly alone, yet beside friends and colleagues who are none the wiser.

      I hope you and your husband maintain the love you have between you, while growing stronger each day as individuals ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you feel sad and dejected, once you get married, then you’ll just feel sad and dejected with a partner alongside you – and everything you said after this is so true and brilliantly worded.

    I am in such awe and appreciation of your sharing and wisdom, resonates with some of my conclusions, affirms and grounds these truths more into my being. I can see myself in the journey of self-worth where the only way it seemed to me to be in a relationship is to give up my sense of self. Thankfully we have now learned the importance of nurturing and supporting individual journeys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you ❤ It's so easy to fall into this line of thinking, especially if we're not taught a different way to begin with, and especially if we don't know how to heal or that we have specific things to heal in the first place.

      I'm glad to hear that you and your mate have also evolved into a different type of couple that honors individuality ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I feel an almost uncontrollable temptation to send this article to my to-be-wedded-next-year-evil-sister. But since I just commented on this while referring to her as evil, I’m going to pass it up. She wouldn’t get the point, anyway, she’s too busy proving another one. Good read, Katherin!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, I’d do it if I knew my parents were safe in seeing their grandchildren, but I fear the consequences of my actions before I take them, so I’ll let it go. For now. Can’t make promises for the future 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t believe I missed this post, it totally resonates with my experiences related to trauma. I was married to my first husband for a day. While jumping the broom I thought about the fact that I had never said “I love you” to him once because I didn’t. he was just a good friend to have around and I got caught up in the planning and the red dress and having family attending the wedding from out of town, smh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Not saying, “I love you” is a huge red flag, right? I mean, I don’t blame us at all…no one talked to us about the difference between marriage and a wedding, well at least, no one told me lol

      Like

  5. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your anniversary!!… “A home that is built with patience, understanding and love will withstand the strongest winds of difficulties and conflict , a home built with a closed mind, insincerity or haste will collapse in a mere breeze of discontent.” (Larry “Dutch” Woller )… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Genuinely (θ‿θ)
        I didn’t have words when I read this blog few days ago , what to write on this !
        But I wanted to comment as to show I really liked this blog (✿^‿^)。◕‿◕。(✷‿✷) so ended up with these emojis 😅

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As always, I love and appreciate you honesty! I think that marrying in order fill some emotional need is more common than we think…people, especially women, marry in order to escape from abusive or neglectful homes, in order to find validation through their spouse’s love, or sometimes simply out of a fear of being alone. But as you say, even the most loving marriage can’t fix those things: we have to validate ourselves, and that’s a process.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Ann ❤

      You said something that gave me a lightbulb moment. My emotional needs were not met throughout childhood in varied ways, and the consequences were great. I mean I knew that, but there's something about that simple phrase that summed it all up for me.

      Like

  7. Congrats Kathy to you and Dwight on your wedding anniversary…25 years is a milestone! ❤

    So many takeaways from your story and honest take at marriage. But I especially like this thought, "And if we each waited for perfect wholeness in ourselves or another being, we’d probably remain by ourselves forever."

    Keep inspiring!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love your honesty, your insight, and your willingness to talk about the work it takes. My experience has been different but the overlap of ‘needing’ to marry at a young age is something I felt strongly. If only I could go back and ask that 21 year old to slow down!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Incredible post. Congratulations on 25 years of marriage. I too married out of fear when my family moved across the country and I found myself on my own in my late teens. I grew up in an alcoholic home and my marriage didn’t survive my efforts at getting my stuff together. It seemed to emphasize our differences in interests and commitment to being a family. Marriage counseling just seemed to show us that we needed to split. I’m like you, I wouldn’t do the whole marriage thing again even though I was just 29 when I divorced. It’s now been 32 years I have not been tempted to revisit marriage. I found it very moving to read about your success at getting through and past your prior pain and having a partner who was willing to be there for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing this Val, especially because you’re right…a lot of times the solution is not to stick it out, depending on all different factors.

      Did we talk about Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More book?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I am impressed by your endurance! Your summing up of the issue at hand is most true to life. I was married twice, to a person with similar issues as you have described. Both relationships were undeniable co-dependent. On the hind side, I think I was holding my partners back from facing up to their own issues. My carer addiction kept me going until my spirit was exhausted and finally found the time to deal with my own psychological problems. We must assume, there are no dream-like relationships; it is all about endurance and commitment. Our stories are typical of the challenges posed by multilayered modern societies.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you!

      Codependent is the absolute right word. I blogged about it all last year :-/

      It makes sense that you may have held them up in healing because codependent folks need someone to be codependent with, right?

      That last part is the absolute truth! Modern societies and modern ideas of what marriage and love are “supposed to be.”

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I understand your post from 1-to-10 and from ABCD to WXYZ
    and from 100% to-360-f’ but I just like to educationally academically tease you into humor!
    You post is marriage top notch from the top shelf!:

    *Marriage in like a mousetrap, those who are in want to get out *&* those who are out want to get in!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Sometimes I shake my head and wonder how the h-e-double-regulation hockey-sticks we made it as my partner and I’ve been married for 27 years, we were just babes in the woods, met at another one of the state universities, not too far from you and Dwight at Western (sheesh, when I went to my sister’s graduation at WMU, you might’ve been there). Occasionally i ponder that no wonder our various family members howled, objected, were so frantic at first. They thought surely we were heading to our everlasting doom, my mom was beside herself! We knew nothing, we were so young, I was 19. Big family cultural differences, too.

    It turned out we were maybe just right for each other, we’ve stayed that way over the years through ups and downs. But deep down, over the years I’ve cringed and pondered at that nagging thought that I married out of of fear, too. I feel a profound sense of relief, astonishment and gratitude that things turned out, although I always feel like my partner deserved/deserves more but she gets pretty ticked off when I say things like that so that’s between me and you

    Turning this back to you: All this is to say that your account above is beautifully, personally woven as for some definite therapeutic reading for this reader. thanks for sharing, K.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Aw man you’re welcome ❤ I appreciate you saying that at the end.

      Was it December 95? If so, I was there lol

      I hear you about the self-worth thing. I used to say that all the time, too, and that's what it ended up being…a self-worth issue. Of course, you're mutually right for each other ❤

      Like

  13. KE, this was a particularly difficult post for me to read, but you know I love your writing! If doing the wrong thing were a person, that would be me. I married my first husband out of fear of my mother. I married him a second time from a place of fear as well. That time, it was fear that I would never find the man who loved me that I also loved. It’s taken my 26-year-old daughter facing that trauma from her childhood that motivated me to look at mine and see how it has affected the decisions I’ve made, and, unfortunately, keep making. Thank God we never are too old to grow and learn. Congratulations on 25 years!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I apologize if this was triggering LaCharmine! Sending you a virtual hug ❤

      Children are a great reflection of all of our sh*t, like for real, especially daughters. It's like looking in a mirror, girl. I'm glad you are reflecting and processing and becoming a healthier version of yourself.

      Thank you for the well wishes!

      Like

  14. Kathy you are very courageous to open up about your abandonment issues and your marriage. Thank you for sharing .
    I think for women in general, especially decades ago, thought getting married was synonymous with giving up a part of themselves since so often, if you wanted or had a career, you weren’t allowed to get married at all. So many of our work choices as a female were defined by staying single. (Male bosses assumed that married women instantly had babies and started raising a family so their job would suffer. As a divorced mom in the mid 70’s, the majority of public schools wouldn’t hire me because I was divorced! It was not considered proper. So is it any wonder that society trained women to think we were supposed to consider our husbands and children before ourselves.

    I too assumed I’d be doing everything with my husband.
    Add to that each of our own specific traumas and insecurities, it’s amazing any of us have successful relationships.
    What I wish I had learned was that I should have had my own bank account, my own savings, etc. I combined everything never thinking I’d have to be an independent person on my own.
    I’d make sure young women, no matter how madly in love they are, take care of themselves first. Nobody can give you love and self confidence like yourself. Ultimately you have to depend on You!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Leslie ❤

      I agree. We could probably talk alllllll day about the ways women bend toward men's wills just because that's how society was set up. I remember a widower (is that the right term?) describing to me how she wished she would've also known about finances. She'd left everything for her husband to do, and he died before her. She had to learn all of the things in a short amount of time, even how to access certain monies.

      On a separate note, my Intro to Ed students are always surprised when I go over the history of education in the United States and how men were teachers first, and then women, especially when they found out they could pay us much less :-/ They're also super surprised by the long list of rules women had to abide by, but I didn't know they reached far into the 20th century!!! Thanks for sharing that.

      Anywho, cheers to resiliency…and love ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m so glad you are letting your students know about the injustices in the educational system in our country. I used to make a point of teaching that to my students too. But, what they didn’t realize was how bigoted things were even in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Kathy, I graduated the school of education at the University of Miami in 1971. Women could only wear dresses to teach then. By 1975 I was a divorced mom and in the South divorcees were not hired in the public school system. Also, the school board was allowed to discriminate if they didn’t like a teacher’s religion or race. There was sexual harassment around like crazy. Up until the late 80’s and early 90’s did women in Florida start to have more of a voice. I became a Union Rep wherever I taught in order to make sure teachers had their rights/ needs met. We educators have worked long and hard for change. Thank you for enlightening those new to profession.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Congrats on an amazing 25! I totally relate to everything you’re saying and see so much value in your words! I too believe I married in part bc of fear of never being loved, thinking I found the best, thinking I better accept this bc there’s no one else out there (I love my husband dearly, but we did and still do have our issues).. I didn’t love myself as much as I should have /could have when we married… If I could go back, there are some things I’d change and once you change one thing, that could be a domino effect on the rest of the journey…. Very important reflective work for sure…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you ❤

      So, what you said here is really important to me because I've thought about a million different scenarios that would've ended differently. But we can't do that, right? The best thing I've done is to heal everything as much as possible, while being honest with my husband along the way, and then kind of re-creating a new relationship with him based on my present self. I hope this makes sense and I also hope it's a little helpful for you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  16. ‘Seek therapy. Get to know yourself. Then, commit.” Amen Dr. G! You manage to weave so many life AND relationship lessons into all your posts. And once again, I can relate on MANY levels.

    Commitment wraps around all of these points. A level of GROUNDING and REALITY required especially now with all the “fantasy posts” of what marriage is on TikTok and instagram.

    25 Years takes work and LOVE. A dedication to MARRIAGE. A concept that is bigger than both you and Dwight (and John and I) individually. Humbling and levitating all at once.

    Thank you for this post!! Monday Motivation for Marriage. Have a wonderful week Dr. G! 🥂 ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks Dr D! I can’t even begin to talk about the deceiving social media posts floating around en masse :-/

      But yes…what you said is so true. The concept is bigger than either of us, right? Being committed to someone means really being invested in that person and his or her wellbeing and growth (I think).

      Liked by 3 people

  17. Wow, this is a deep and wise post. I can see why it’s been 25 years in the making and 7 years in the unpacking although I think you are rare and brave to do that work. Thank you for sharing this amazing wisdom, Kathy! And congratulations on 25 years of marriage!

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Yes, I hear you about HAVING to do the work. It’s a gut-wrenching path but the freedom on the other side is so worth it! Kudos to Dwight and your marriage for the ability to grow with you. Really inspirational and I love your writing about it. Sign me up to read that memoir!

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Spot on! I really relate to EACH POINT in this post!

        I too married out of fear in my first marriage, but didn’t realize it until much later! I was trying so hard to put up a façade of being so “normal” that I really didn’t realize how damaged I actually was from the abusive relationship with my mother. I was in strong denial of it having affected me, yet, it had affected EVERYTHING! I married an addict and became a DEVOTED enabler, stepping into the role of being the parent, much the same way I had done with my mother, so it was only years later as I was working on my healing and teaching myself to LIKE myself that I was able to unpack how it had affected me!

        “I thought being married could replace the love I should’ve had for myself.” really rang true! I felt inspired by this, to use it as a jumping off point into a post of my own, which resonates with the messaging I focus on!

        The post is called “Teaching ourselves to like, even to love ourselves is the best gift we can give ourselves!” and should be published tomorrow morning!

        Blessings!
        Tamara

        Liked by 3 people

      3. I’m glad this resonated with you Tamara! Have you read Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More? It is really helpful.

        Also, I saw the pingback! I’ll read it soon. Thanks for linking to my post 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I think I read a couple of excerpts a few years ago, or from someone else who wrote about it, I don’t remember! During those days I had a hard time getting through a whole book so I’d graze, and glean a point here and there that I could put into place in my life before catching my next tidbit to chew on!

        I know that from an academic standpoint that may be frowned upon, but literary grazing is very useful for folks who may feel very overwhelmed with reading a whole book of deep thoughts! 😬😬

        Liked by 1 person

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