A Giant Burden
By Kendra Kruckenberg
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” my boyfriend, David says, leaning forward to play with my hair.
He sits on his worn, hand-me-down couch while I sit in front of him on the cheap apartment carpet, my back resting against his shins. My stomach sinks, already knowing the topic.
“I made my decision about law school,” he continues. I wince as my mind starts to race, certain his answer will change our relationship.
David shared his desire to go to law school a few weeks after we started dating and I helped him work toward his goal, researching schools and encouraging him through LSAT preparation. As the months pass, we start to hope the future we envisioned would be our future—together. We dance around the idea of marriage, but I ask him to wait a full year to discuss it seriously.
He intends to attend a local law school’s part-time program so he can work during the day and take classes at night. It will take a year longer than the traditional route, but it has the bonus of ensuring we can continue to sneak in mid-afternoon coffee dates at the California State Capitol, where we both work. I love a good plan, and this one seems perfect—until multiple people suggest he consider a full-time program instead. It’s wise advice that sets him up better for his future career. But, it changes everything. David quickly secures an acceptance from one of the few full-time law schools still taking applications. Unfortunately, it’s several hours away in a city where I cannot continue my fledgling government career. We had not considered a long-distance relationship before this, and the prospect terrifies me.
This new plan feels rushed, and I doubt our relationship’s ability to survive a sudden, unexpected move. I suggest David postpone his studies and take more time to consider the advice he received. I point out the high-ranking full-time law school twenty minutes up the freeway that he could apply to next year. However, I stop short of asking him to stay. I don’t want to ask him to defer his dream any more than he wants to ask me to give up mine. My life without David’s daily presence doesn’t make sense anymore, but I don’t want to be a burden. Instead, I pray he will choose to wait on his own.
David clears his throat, pulling me out of my stupor. I turn toward the couch to face him, hoping my calm demeanor hides the churning in my gut. I brace myself for disappointing news.
He looks down at me and smiles. “I choose you,” he says.
The room spins; I’m not sure I understand him correctly.
“Wait. What?” I ask, excitement rising in my voice.
“You are more important to me than starting law school this year,” he says, his smile growing wider. “I choose you.”
David and I stand on opposite ends of the dining room, the tension between us palpable.
“Why would you accuse me of being mean?” he asks. His eyes narrow in defensive anger. “When have I ever been mean to you?”
“You’re being mean right now!” I say, waving my hands in exasperation. “Lately, it’s all the time.” My voice drops to a whisper, “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Our daughter’s cry comes over the baby monitor, signaling the end of nap time. David gets the baby without saying a word while I walk over to the couch and prepare to nurse. He hands her to me and I visibly relax when she latches. David sits down next to us, reaching out to touch my arm. “We’ll figure this out,” he says, trying to reassure me. Undiagnosed postpartum anxiety wreaks havoc on my body, unrecognizable from my traumatic birth and slow recovery. A combination of David’s long days at work and long nights with the baby makes it hard for him to communicate with me, and when he does talk he always sounds angry.
After postponing his studies a year, David enrolled in a great law school close to where we both lived. We got married a month before he started. Our transition from dating into marriage flowed effortlessly. I felt at home, like my life was finally the way it was always meant to be. David studied all day, I worked crazy hours, and in our downtime, we devoted our energy to each other. When law school ended, David started clocking twelve-hour days as a junior associate and I traded my career for stay-at-home motherhood.
He travels up and down California for hearings. I spend nearly every waking moment in our house with our infant daughter, too terrified to go anywhere with her on my own. I don’t know how to be a wife and mother at the same time.
In turn, I blame myself for every issue and inconvenience we face—both big and small.
My postpartum anxiety wanes and our daughter starts sleeping through the night, but we remain stuck in a terrible, delicate cycle. The blame I placed on myself in those early days of motherhood morphs into an intense desire to take care of everyone else’s needs.
When our daughter’s nursing schedule makes it impossible to have dinner ready by the time David comes home from work, I blame my poor time management. When I reach my limit during a middle of the night feeding and need David’s help, I feel guilty for causing him to lose sleep.
Finally, I admit one evening, “I feel like a giant burden, like I can’t handle everything I’m supposed to, and you would be so much happier being married to someone else.”
I sit on our bed, my eyes focused on the floor. David is at my side in an instant. “Kendra, that could not be further from the truth,” he says. His voice has such an earnest tone that I can’t help but lift my eyes to his face. He looks heartbroken and confused. I can see the wheels in his head turning as he tries to figure out why I feel this way. He pauses for a moment, then says, “I think we should find someone to talk to.”
A week later we leave our daughter with a babysitter and meet our pastor for a counseling session. “In my own marriage, I try to remember that my wife can be mad at our circumstances without being mad at me,” our pastor says. “It helps when I’m tempted to take things personally.”
I stare at him, unable to verbalize how much clarity he has just given me. I think of all the ways I center myself in our problems when most of them are caused by external forces. I realize how much my self-imposed blame hurts our relationship. Our pastor’s offhand comment feels like a soothing balm, a small moment of understanding to kickstart my healing.
“Hey,” I say to David in the parking lot afterward, grabbing his hand. “We’re going to be alright.”
“I mean it; I choose you,” David says. “You believe me, right?”
We sit together on the couch in deep conversation. I can hear our five-year-old and two-year-old giggling in their beds and the quiet, peaceful hum of our three-month-old’s baby monitor. There are many parallels between this third postpartum season and our first one. We are facing a deluge of difficult circumstances that threaten to pull us under, but they don’t. Our situation is similar, but we are different—we’ve grown.
I sigh and snuggle deeper into his shoulder. “You always choose me,” I reply.
“Not always,” he frowns, beginning to play with my hair. “But I try really hard.”
“I love you,” I say, “and I believe you.”
My therapist often reminds me that my job isn’t to save David from hardship but to love him through it. She taught me to ask: “Given what just happened, how are you feeling and how can I support you?” It frees me from my old, unrealistic compulsion to fix everything.
David frequently tells me I am his priority. I smile each time he does, remembering the first time he said it and recognizing how far we’ve come. Together we are making something beautiful.
He chooses me, and I choose him, too.
A lifelong Californian, Kendra currently lives in the capital city of Sacramento. She is married to her best friend, David, and together they have three young children. In a former life she worked as the Communications Director for a State Senator, but she now happily spends her time at home with her kids where she squeezes writing into the margins of her day. You can find more of her words on her blog or Instagram.