SOMETIMES YOU'LL DO ANYTHING TO REMEMBER YOU'RE IN LOVE. On the first full day of our relationship challenge, my husband, Shawn, turns to me and says, "Screw it. Let's go to Aspen and eat Mexican food."
We're standing on a ridge that leads to a big rocky peak in central Colorado's Maroon BellsSnowmass Wilderness. Miles of chossy, fall-and-you-die scrambling lies between us and our destination, Conundrum Hot Springs.
Though the skies are clear, I sense a storm building in the distance. A spurt of saltwater erupts from my tear duct, but a stiff gust of wind kicks up, drying it before Shawn can see it.
"Seriously," Shawn says. "You hate this kind of climbing. Let's go back."
"I don't hate this kind of climbing," I snap. But he's right. I can't stand walking across scratchy knife-edge ridges. I always start shaking, which makes it impossible for me to trust my footing. I want to lie down on the iron-oxidized dirt and cry like a baby. But we've come to the Maroon Bells as a matter of our own survival. After 11 years of wedded bliss, we've realized our weddedness isn't so blissful.
The culprits of our decline are both common and predictable: kids, jobs, and the stress of being adults when we both still think of ourselves as Peter Pan and Wendy. At 40 (me) and 37 (Shawn), we're not on the verge of divorce or anything—far from it. But over the years, our roles have been seriously altered. In 2004, when I got a job as an editor at Skiing magazine, Shawn pulled double daddy duty, staying home and raising our sons, Hatcher and Scout. I came and went, following my dream of skiing the world and writing about it. Now our eight- and nine-year-old boys are in school, I'm a freelance writer, and Shawn is beginning to regain his man-in-a-man's-world sense of self. But our once happy, carefree relationship has become stale, unbalanced, and, occasionally, nasty.
There came a time, last summer, when I knew I had to do something drastic. I went to see my therapist, Kathy, who specializes in couples counseling and has known Shawn and me for more than a decade. Shawn is suspicious of Kathy because the one time we went to see her together she told him he wasn't man enough to go "toe-to-toe with me relationally." The last time I saw her, in October, we did "regression therapy," which plunged me into a pitch-black depression. When I told Shawn I was going back, he said, "Don't let her do some reverse memory displacement on you again. No need to get fucked up for a month or two. Or forever."
And yet Kathy seemed to understand us. "The problem with you and Shawn," she said, "is that you want intensity while he wants passivity. You push the problem while he refuses to accept that there is one. Keep it up and you have the perfect recipe for an explosion. Or worse yet ... stable miserable."