a new study:
I had a laugh this morning. I was reading a newspaper on my iPad when the headline caught my eye: “Marriage can cause depression, study finds.” You think? It was a genuine belly laugh. The image of a study being funded, explored and written up on a subject I could have told about for nothing was absurd. The depression they identified in the process accounted for years of my life. Fortunately I am decades beyond tears following chuckles. It no longer hurts enough to cry.
Here’s the headline: “After years of advice from experts telling us that marriage helps keep us happy, healthy and longer-lived, a study has found that it can also lead to depression. Being nagged or criticized or feeling let down by your other half are just some of the triggers for dissatisfaction with marriage found by psychologists.”
Fifty years ago I aspired to a happy marriage, given the good example of my parents. Thirty years ago at least I read social studies about the happiest conditions concerning marriage. Married men were the happiest, followed by single women, then single men, and the unhappiest end of the scale was occupied by married women. By then that seemed to fit.
In the same newspaper this morning I also read how women have not benefited from greater equality; that women raising children in the seventies were happier than women today who have jobs, good salaries, and are still not happy. Hmm. Define “happy”, explain “equality”, do another study before you make these assumptions. Live it.
In the first ten years I was married I spent three of them pregnant, despite birth control that came along just in time to help me, when it worked. Please note, I am not complaining now about having a large family, they all turned out wonderful and I feel blessed, but at the time it was burdensome because my husband was not interested in children and as breadwinner he controlled all the finances. We didn’t have a joint bank account, which modern married couples rightly take for granted. He decided on budgets and was strict with my housekeeping allowance to the point where, if one of the children had a hole in his only pair of shoes, he had to wait for a new pair until next month’s payment. I didn’t argue about clothes coming out of the housekeeping budget because I knew it was a waste of breath. The budget was so tight, I had to wait one month to buy a tin of shoe polish from the next allowance. Meanwhile he put away a sizeable chunk of his income every month towards his next new car.
I would have said we were happily married (by the standards of our day) until the last child was born. We established a nice house and grew our own vegetables before it was fashionable to do so. Within a few months of the birth my spouse confessed that he was in love with a woman in his office. It relieved his conscience then and several times over the years, to confide in me. I can still feel the way my heart sank when he gave me the news. With so many children I couldn’t go out to work. Even if I had, I couldn’t afford to pay a mortgage or even rent a place big enough to house us. How would I feed my hungry offspring, never mind shoe them? When your heart sinks the pain is in your solar plexus, I found. There is still the ghost of an ache detectable when I think about it. So I don’t.
Terrified that he would leave me, I didn’t argue. I tried to make him happy. (Note well any spouse, male or female, reading this: if you have to work hard at making someone happy you are on a losing streak. He or she perceives your weakness and increases the pressure.) Things got worse. Nothing pleased him in the light of my acquiescence. Knowing what I do now, I should have challenged and stood up to him but with a brood to protect, a hen crouches over her chicks and doesn’t confront the cockerel.
You don’t live happily on eggshells 24/7 with a discontented, reproachful partner and neither do the children. It’s not called “nagging” when it’s the man, but it should be. When a bully spots a weakness and exploits it, the victim is diminished and ultimately depressed. I have seen husbands demoralized by wives just as deeply as the opposite. Several times I resorted to anti-depressant medication, which made it look like my weakness.
I waited for the youngest child to reach high school before I got a full time job and a divorce. The last straw was when he had an affair with the woman who was my boss, a serial poacher and he was game. After years of fearing his defection, he didn’t want to go. Apparently none of the women he had turned to, offered the level of comfort and good cooking to which he was accustomed. “Why do you want to leave now when the children are nearly grown?” he asked. It was because they were nearly grown that I felt able to leave. I was middle aged and longing to live without the stress. I read that studies showed: anger swallowed equals depression. I’m not ungrateful to the psychologists but I could have told them that too.
This story has a happy ending. Although a few trials and tribulations followed, so did enterprise and triumph. I flourished when my energy was not drained and so did the children. I was successful in my work, found a new love or two, was energetic and venturesome in retirement and traveled widely. Alone again ultimately I found contentment in myself. New interests came along, I embraced life with confidence and zest, transitioned into old age and came to terms with old sorrows.
You could say I had the last laugh.