I recently had lunch with an acquaintance who has been married for just over a year. I didn’t know much about her marriage aside from the beautiful photos of her and her husband I’d seen on online. For years I’d caught glimpses on Facebook of their romance – blissful scenes of dating that lead to professional engagement shots and later albums of a picture-perfect wedding and honeymoon. On the surface, she seemed to have it all: a great career, a vast circle of friends, a gorgeous husband. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that things were not so shiny beneath the surface.
It turns out that lately she has been going to bed alone, waking up in the middle of the night to find her husband playing video games alone on the couch. When she comes home from work, more of the same. With every passing day, he has become increasingly disconnected from life and their relationship, and is completely unresponsive and unwilling to talk about it.
As I sat there listening to this attractive, intelligent and kind woman, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for what she was going through, and I told her I could relate. I had been through it before. Snuggling that turns into uncomfortable distance. Date nights that turn into video games with the boys. The pain of watching the man you love seemingly stop caring, and the emotional exhaustion of trying to resuscitate his apathy back into affection.
And that’s when she said it: “Yes, but Alison, you weren’t married.”
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She said there were lots of red flags throughout their relationship, signals she cast aside in the excitement of engagement and wedding planning. Many of her friends were getting engaged, and although she never put pressure on her husband to get married, it was the next step for her too. She candidly admitted the weight she felt the first time she put on her ring. It was no longer about cake frosting and flowers. This was real life.
We all have our own red flags. Whether it’s lying, punctuality, cheating, condescension or anger, they are very real warning signs that need to be addressed as they arise – and the first person you need to address them with is yourself. I've learned that this kind of honesty is imperative to the success of any relationship, especially when your idea of someone doesn’t stack up to who they actually are. I am always trying to be conscious of how certain behaviors or personality traits in my partner actually make me feel. While some behaviors can be discussed and modified, everyone knows you can’t change the person himself. (And let’s be real here: If you’ve made it to that tough conclusion, it is usually best to do just that.)
It takes a great deal of strength and self awareness to face realizations like these in any relationship, and it only compounds once you have that ring on your finger. I am proud of my friend for finding that strength and am honored she chose to share it with me. I haven't stopped thinking about her since our chat, and I know there are countless other women out there going through the same thing. Sometimes life wants us to slow down and assess before we move forward. Don’t be the bride who drives through life, pedal to the floor, throwing every red flag along the way in the backseat. They’re still going to be there when you cross the finish line.