The Marriage Masks People Wear: When It’s Just for the Kids


I recently read an eye-opening, thought-provoking and scathingly honest article by a woman who was unhappy in her marriage. Despite not feeling appreciated, or like the marriage was filling her love tank, she persevered, maybe drinking an extra (heaping) glass of wine here and there, or eating an extra bowl of popcorn here and there, just to cope.

She didn’t feel desired. Her husband didn’t want to sleep with her; she had tried for so long to change that, but it never worked. He just didn’t want sex very often, or at all. But SHE did, and the stereotypical image of a man just waiting to jump his woman’s bones was shattered. And she, in turn, was constantly feeling shattered, rejected and twisted inside. He was happy with the family, but chose not to nurture that physical aspect (and in turn, emotional aspect as well) of the marriage. This issue, although to some might appear to be miniscule, was actually huge and festered into all aspects of their “relationship,” which was more like a partnership that involved taking care of the kids and the house.

So, she blogged about it. That was her therapy, and ultimately, she had a decision to stay put and accept/endure that situation–with or without counseling–or to leave. She hesitantly stayed, citing it was “for the children.”

I felt sorry for her, yet I also admired her. She was proclaiming to the world, via her writing, how she was so very unhappy, so indescribably lonely, so self-consciously consumed with nagging thoughts of not being pretty enough, so insanely unsatisfied with her situation, yet, she was staying put for her children. She was putting the kids first before her own needs and wants and desires…and happiness. I respected her mommy instincts and her desire to keep the nucleus together for them; yet, my heart went out to her, knowing that Every. Single. Day she was battling her own demons created by a sexless marriage, a severe lack of intimacy, zero passion and the missing link of an unbreakable connection.

She wore a mask for the world; a “fake it until you make it” type mask, apparently. How many people wear masks?

It really made me wonder, how many individuals, for whatever reason, experience this kind of turmoil every day? How many marriages remain solely for the children? It always seems to be all about the children. Is that ok? Is that the way it should be?

Is it in the couple’s best interests to stay put and accept mediocrity or sub-par happiness? Is it in the children’s best interests to witness these “functional” or “in name only” marriages of individuals (who would probably admit to their counselor or closest friend that if it weren’t for the kids, they probably wouldn’t still be with their spouse)? Is that what the kids will envision as the “normal” or “typical” marriage, or, for their own marriages down the road?

Everyone has their opinions, and obviously not one universal answer exists to any of these questions.

And at what point do some marriages become all about the children, phasing out the previous passion and excitement of the original bond between the wife and husband? Is it five years? Ten years? 15 years? If it weren’t for the kids, would the relationship have transformed or deteriorated in the first place? Will the kids ever actually discern and appreciate the sacrifices made?

What specifically erodes the marriage itself? Is it stress? Balancing work and home and kids and, well, just the pursuit of finding balance in general? Is it just inevitable that nowadays, especially in this technology era, that many relationships just don’t last? Or, is it that they can last, but that it has to be with the totally right person? Do people enter marriages thinking that little kinks will get worked out over time, or that they can possibly change the other person and that everything will be roses and babies and kittens and mint chocolate chip ice cream?

This topic somehow reminds me of a part of Jerry Maguire. Initially, Renee Zellwegger’s character realizes the man she truly loves adores her son, but she doesn’t see where he actually reciprocates and puts her on a pedestal as well. She realizes he may be with her mainly to be with and help out her son. It wasn’t until later that he woke up, realized he could not live without her and ultimately uttered those tear-jerking words of “You complete me” (and she quips, “You had me at hello.”) OH MY GOSH, the cable networks need to stop playing Jerry Maguire six times a week! So many tears…ha ha.

Anyway, it reminded me of how it seems like in many marriages both the wife and husband love their kids, and they “sure do” like each other most of the time. Is that ok? Is that truly healthy? Or does it just need to be ok and accepted, according to society’s standards, because it’s for the children?

What about when the children grow up and leave the proverbial nest to lead their own lives; they are out of the equation, and suddenly the parents, the husband and wife, remain. Together again. But maybe so far apart. Or, maybe not as far apart as they thought? Maybe they can reclaim each other again and ignite whatever passions they used to have?

And do parents want their children to essentially settle if such a situation arises in their own future relationships; to be in a loveless or unsatisfying marriage for their own children? Would parents be sad if their kids didn’t find an amazing partner to share life with each day?

These questions are not easy, but they exist.

I am by no means a love expert or marriage counselor or anything in that arena. I have a journalism degree and also taught high school English for years, so if you want a grammar lesson about you/your/you’re and there/their/they’re, or tips on how to write a kick ass narrative essay, I’m your girl! This arena is just one in which I can relay what I have read and heard, and then incessantly ask a bunch of reflective questions like the pain in the arse I am.

What I can say is that reading that article, reflecting on my marriage and in talking with friends about issues within their own marriages, is that it provokes some questions. To stay, or not to stay, amidst festering issues? For the children, or for you? What is the “right” answer? Life is short. Will couples and individuals ever truly know if they are making the right decisions? When will they know? Would it be too late, or is it never too late?

These are the questions I believe need to be addressed within relationships (such as the original one I referenced earlier on):

1) Can you fix it? Is it a mendable situation?

2) Do you want to fix it? Do you both have the desire and the energy and the passion?

3) Can you picture your life without this person? If so, then maybe it’s time to move on? Maybe not though? If you can’t picture your life without your partner, then it’s obviously not time to move on, and perhaps the need exists to find out how to render reciprocity in the marriage and create happiness.

Parents know that kids change everything. Everything. So we are left with the need to learn how to adapt and embrace the changes, whatever those may be, in all aspects of our lives.

P.S. I had you at mint chocolate chip ice cream, didn’t I?