Dying A Thousand Deaths

posted in: Life, Marriage 72 comments

Bonbon Break

I don’t have any statistics to back this up (though I could totally Google that), but I think many marriages don’t end with one huge calamitous event. They don’t always end overnight, with one deal breaker.

Marriages die a thousand deaths before they truly end.

Before I go on, I want to say that my marriage is not dead, far from it, but it could use a little life. 

The little deaths that we endure before we can endure no more. Like the time he slept in for the 853rd time, but you got up with the kids again, and again, and again, even on weekends. The dirty clothes that miss the laundry basket by an inch; the coffee cup that sits on the kitchen counter, not the sink; the toilet paper roll not changed. 

The tiny, petty offences committed daily that are cute at first, then annoying, a mild irritant, something you nag about, maybe even make a joke of. A joke that is no longer funny after 7 years of the same shit, and he still does it. 

Maybe it’s the weird, hormonal mood swings she goes through, and not even on a predictable monthly cycle. The mood that strikes for no known or good reason, where she shuts down and doesn’t utter more than two words to you all day. When you ask her a question, she doesn’t even look at you, and you wonder if she heard you. 

What about the evenings you don’t spend together after the children are in bed? You, off in your study, she, in the living room. Your different bed times offer no intimacy, and now, even the evening television watching togetherness appears to be waning. 

Do you remember the last time you talked about something other than the children, schedules or work? Have you recently laughed and joked, and enjoyed each other’s company, remembering the other person as the person you knew before the first few little deaths in your marriage?

Date night. It’s become a myth. Or you bring it up, and the other looks crestfallen because now he or she will be expected to move mountains to make it happen. Hire a babysitter or call upon grandparents. Pump milk so the baby won’t starve. Thinking about it pains you. So it doesn’t happen, or not as often, because it’s too hard. 

How about that score card? Oh, you know you have one. Who did what and when. Who did more of this or not enough of that. The one you bring up and throw into each other’s faces, even if you don’t really mean it.

You may not even fight anymore. It takes too much energy, and all that shouting might wake the kids. So you retreat into passive-aggressiveness, or your cave. Silence over fighting words, because you don’t even care enough to speak your mind, get it out, air the grievances. You may take it out on some furniture, and shit, you break something. Who’s going to fix it now? Goddamnit. 

Ships in the night. No hand holding or touching of any kind. You don’t care what they look like, or you care too much because when the heck did they lose standards of hygiene? And that once svelte waist? 

You don’t talk anymore because you have nothing to talk about. Or when you do, all that comes out are complaints, nags, fighty words, sarcasm and bitterness. All that falls out of your mouth, is toxic. So you shut up. You turn to you computer and talk to other people instead. People who can offer you a virtual shoulder to cry on, virtual ears to listen, and virtual arms to hug you. 

When the real shoulder, ears and arms are just within reach, but feel oceans apart. Tiny little death.

When the kindness you show to strangers and friends, is not shown to your partner. Another tiny little death. 

When you forget to share the photos and moments you post on Facebook and Instagram with your husband/ wife. Yet another tiny little death.

A thousand little deaths. That’s what kills a marriage. 


My husband and I have known each other for over 10 years, married seven years, and have been parents for five of those years.

There have been a few little deaths in our union. Some of it his fault, some are definitely mine. Love is not the problem. Love is NEVER the problem. On the surface, we are good. We ARE good. There is no talk of going our separate ways, but there is no talk of coming together like we used to. 

I have stopped making the effort in some ways. The children consume much of me mentally, emotionally, physically. My poor husband is on the receiving end of a depleted creature, with no idea that I am spent. He tries, I don’t. I let the thousand little things get to me, and I have flares of anger at him, at myself. 

I am letting these tiny fissures develop into cracks. 

I need to turn back to kindness, empathy, and conscious presence to make our marriage better. 

And it will start with the little things that bring life into it.

marriage quote

Image via niamwhan on FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Alison Lee is a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the world’s biggest sports brands, Alison traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison's writing has been featured on Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, and DrGreene.com. She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In 2012, she founded Little Love Media, a social media consultancy specializing in blog book tours, and because she doesn’t sleep, is an editor at BonBon Break, an online magazine. Alison lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).

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  • January 26, 2015 Kerstin Auer

    I don’t even know where to begin. And I know it won’t help if I tell you that I’ve been there – but I really have. It did not get better for me until the kids were bigger – but you have the chance to make it better right now! I never saw all those little deaths and somehow we made it through, when just a touch or a small gesture would have made such a difference. So great that you realize it and can make a difference. xox
    Kerstin Auer recently wrote…A Day In HaikusMy Profile

    • February 8, 2015 Alison

      Yes, I think realization is the first step to fixing things, before they get worse. I’m glad you’ve found your forever, Kerstin!

  • January 26, 2015 Tonya

    I could not agree with you more, tiny deaths over the course of the marriage are finally what put the nail in the coffin and send many couples to divorce court. My marriage, too is not without its flaws, in the over 10 years my husband and I have been together, there have been many tiny deaths!! But we don’t keep track we don’t keep score and try to do the best we can because the the love, respect and mutual admiration is great. And we’re worth it!

    Great insight.

    I need to read this and be reminded how important my marriage is, so I thank you.
    Tonya recently wrote…13 More Things I Know For SureMy Profile

    • February 8, 2015 Alison

      Not keeping score is a good thing. There are more important things to focus on in marriage. And thank you, Tonya!

  • January 26, 2015 Allie

    Oh I can nod my head in agreement to SO much of what you have written here. For me, it always comes down to ‘marriage is hard work’ and you have to do the work. Kids make this work infinitely harder. Just yesterday I was running with an older friend of mine and bitching about my husband and the kids, etc. She now has two in college and said the years with her husband, when the kids were young, were the absolute hardest. I believe it.
    Allie recently wrote…The Rundown: ReunitedMy Profile

    • February 8, 2015 Alison

      It is hard. And it is work. Every single minute.

  • January 26, 2015 Liza

    Great reminders, and you’re absolutely right about the slow death!

    • February 8, 2015 Alison

      Thank you, Liza!

  • January 26, 2015 KeAnne

    Oh, wow, this is an honest post that speaks a lot of truth. The tiny deaths. Yes, that is it exactly. So hard to juggle everything when you have small children too. One thing we do is binge watch TV together at night. We just finished rewatching The Office and have started 30 Rock. We eat dinner together sans 5-year-old too. It’s not ideal because obviously a family dinner would be better, but it’s nice to have that time just the two of us.
    KeAnne recently wrote…Wrestling with ControlMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Eating together is so important, I feel. It’s an opportunity to talk, catch up, just be together. That’s a great thing!

  • January 26, 2015 Leila

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. Things changed today. They took a very a ugly turn. Now there is silence. And hope that we both work on things we need to work on. You are so right, it does take a thousand little deaths to kill a marriage, and they accumulate so much faster than we think.
    Leila recently wrote…The Very Inspiring Blogger Award and NominationsMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Leila, I hope you have worked things out, or at least take the first step. Good luck and good thoughts.

  • January 26, 2015 Elaine A.

    I feel kind of bad for nodding through this entire post. But, you nailed it.

    I think we have to remember that even in the times when things are more like this, we have to come back around to LOVE and the commitment we made to each other. Otherwise, yes, all could be lost…

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Yes! We need to get back to where we start, to where we are strongest, to get us through the little deaths.

  • January 27, 2015 Julia

    I think so many married people can relate to this, I know I can. I know I’ve made mistakes, some big ones. And I know the little things eat away at a marriage, the sentence about the laundry and the coffee cups, I wanted to jump up and shout it’s not just me. Love this Alison.
    Julia recently wrote…Anatomy of a Snow DayMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      It’s all of us! 🙂

  • January 27, 2015 Natalie

    This post…so true in every way. It’s something you don’t notice until it’s there. With kids and all the time and energy into them it’s hard to put focus on what made those crazy kids. I try to not keep score but you know as well as I do you just can’t help it. DATE NIGHT is a must…and time away from the kids as a couple and not as mom and dad is so important but hard to come by!
    Natalie recently wrote…Capturing the Small MomentsMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      I think you and your husband do couple time so well! 🙂

  • January 27, 2015 alexandra

    So odd you should write this. I had a dream last night that my husband and I were newly in love and my post up at Purple Clover (went up yesterday– not hawking!) is all about that new love. I think it starts with our frame of mind. If we’re lucky, our partners are there with us. but it takes two, doesn’t it? I love what you say, A, a thousand deaths first.

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Serendipity? I think so.

  • January 27, 2015 jamie

    I have a good friend who often says we are in the “business part” of our marriage. Work, child rearing, getting the bills paid. But you are so right. Things do slip away slowly. Sometimes I’m sooo tired when I slip into bed the last thing I want is another person to touch me/to want something. I all want is to escape for a few minutes into a good book then collapse into a coma. We were going through a very difficult spell with our children this time last year. I went to my internist because I was having a difficultly coping. After hearing my talk for a while, she looked at me and said — how is your marriage? Are y’all taking time to be together. She said I learned the hard way that is to be protected. She and her husband are separated. Living in different towns. They have two boys. From observation and advice, it’s much better to work on keeping connected with a spouse. Even when we are exhausted. The result of a break up from neglect is so much worse. We’ve all been there. Just turn your attention to each other. 🙂
    jamie recently wrote…Hanging out in a car on a Sunday morning.My Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Business is a good and accurate way to describe this stage of marriage! Yes, giving each other attention, even a few minutes a day, is essential.

  • January 27, 2015 lisacng

    Very open & honest of you to write & share with us! I completely agree that marriages don’t just end overnight. Those that end started with the little fissures that turned into cracks, that turned into canyons. I have the perfect marriage in the sense that we have LOTS of fissures, and some fissures are bigger than others, and sometimes there are more fissures in certain days or weeks, but we can work together (sometimes while speaking loudly, haha) to mend them and not just put a band-aid on them.
    lisacng recently wrote…My 5 All-Time Favorite Books on Book DelightMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Acknowledging the hard, and working towards making things better is definitely a good way to approach a relationship. Good on you, Lisa!

  • January 27, 2015 Elaine Griffin

    Good luck to you! As someone who’s marriage did suffer a slow death, this stuck out to me. “The children consume much of me mentally, emotionally, and physically. My poor husband is on the receiving end of a depleted creature with no idea I am spent. He tries, I don’t.” I remember feeling this way, and I really do hope you are able to hang on to those little things that will bring your marriage back to life. <3

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      I’m so sorry that your marriage didn’t, couldn’t, survive those deaths, Elaine. I want you to know that I acknowledge your courage in doing what you needed to do for your sanity, your children’s well-being.

  • January 27, 2015 Charlotte

    Love this, love the quote and accompanying image, but most of all, I love your words. They resonate with me, too. I think this is a totally natural cycle in all relationships that sadly we just have to get through. And it’s like you said–there is never just ONE deciding factor. It’s the little things that fester that come out in an awful explosion when neither of us expect it. I am trying to repair and mend my relationship, too. It requires so much work and I can’t even imagine the added pressure of having kids thrown into the mix.

    XOXO and always always thinking of you. You are never alone, my sweet.
    Charlotte recently wrote…Beach, Bahamas, and BlizzardsMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      Wishing you the best of luck, Charlotte!

  • January 27, 2015 My Inner Chick

    1000 deaths.
    What a superb way to describe marriage.
    How complex it is. How much work one needs to put into it.
    Mr. L and I have def. had 1000 deaths.
    And we will have 1000 more.
    He is worth every death…
    Until the End.
    xxxxx KISS
    My Inner Chick recently wrote…In The Beginning, There Was YouMy Profile

    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      You inspire me, Kim!

  • January 27, 2015 tracy

    An important reminder. We’ve been there many times over our 17 years together. Things are so good right now – and we feel more prepared for the bad. Because we know it can happen.
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    • February 10, 2015 Alison

      I’m so glad that things are good now, Tracy. xoxo

  • January 27, 2015 Amanda

    You know I love this subject. Rebecca Woolf wrote the other day that with children we cherish every milestone, jotting moments down in sketch books and with marriage we tear pages out and leave them in a flurry behind us, barely to be revisited. It was sobering to read, but revelatory as well. I am so grateful that you wrote about this, I think the quiet, fading into the night death of marriages is inexplicably sad. Wishing you light and laughter with your husband. xo

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      I am fascinated with this topic, and I absolutely enjoy when you and Sean write about your individual perspectives on marriage.

  • January 27, 2015 Leigh Ann

    Maintaining a marriage with little kids – and twins no less – is HARD. I know a few people who almost lost their marriages to the little deaths: the mom doing all the care taking, the dad being too distant, etc. So hard. This is lovely.
    Leigh Ann recently wrote…some stuff: USE YOUR WORDS editionMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      It is terribly hard. I think that needs to be acknowledged by both parties, so we can work on avoiding those little deaths.

  • January 27, 2015 Christine Organ

    Such brave and beautiful truth in this. Thank you for saying what so many of us are too afraid to say, Alison.
    Christine Organ recently wrote…No WordsMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      Thank you so much for reading, Christine.

  • January 28, 2015 Jack

    I can tell you from experience when you walk in the door and you know your wife has had a long day you do try to do your best to support her and make her feel loved/validated/respected.

    But there is a point at which you wonder why it doesn’t feel like it is being reciprocated and ask if it always has to feel like someone is keeping score of who did what with whom and how long.

    I think the score keeping is where those 1000 deaths are most prominent because when you try to figure out who is working harder you stop working together.

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      I like that last line in your comment, Jack. So very true.

  • Your honesty and courage are amazing.
    As one who has been with her husband since she was 16 (yup) I can relate. There are ups, downs and there have been deaths. But as long as we can still laugh together we are good.
    I hope you can mend the cracks.♡

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      A shared sense of humour is so important!
      There aren’t any cracks yet. Hoping it’d never come to that. 🙂

  • January 28, 2015 Sisters From Another Mister

    This recognition.
    That right there – a sign of a rebirth <3
    Sisters From Another Mister recently wrote…Keeping a journalMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      It absolutely is, Nicole. xo

  • January 28, 2015 LINDSAY KLEIN

    Love this and it is sooo true in any relationship, especially marriage. Thanks for this though. Getting married later I have seen alot more then I would’ve ten years ago so I consciously know what to expect, hoping to connect the subconscious to that too and keep the love strong for many years xo

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      May your new marriage remain strong, and strengthen through the years!

  • January 29, 2015 Lisa Sadikman

    This is so true for me too Alison. We’ve been married almost 15 years and have been parenting 13 of those years (kids are almost 13, 10, 3). The tiny deaths you talk about — we do blow those off at the time but then they add up. We know the love is there, but marriage is HARD. This reminds me to get to work and to ask him to do the same. It’s good to know we’re not alone. Great piece.

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      It’s a cycle that I think we all go through, when we come to the slogging/ work/ business part of marriage. Good luck to all of us!

  • January 29, 2015 Rorybore

    I don’t know if it will help to say, that you are so not alone. I think all of our marriages encounter this time and place. That’s why our wedding vows say “for better and for worse.” This, is just the worst phase – which can be good in the sense of that word “phase;” meaning it passes. Or, at least there is hope that it will. but not without work of course. And I think the first step is absolutely Awareness: which you clearly have. The second part is Will; which it also seems you have.
    And it’s true: the little things. They can grow so big, and they can work against you, or for you. It all depends on What You Feed. Because what you feed: Will Grow. Having little ways you take care of one another (so important) and little acts of kindness to show your appreciation, it’s so crucial.

    The other part is feeling Connected. So much more than just sex; real intimacy. I don’t know if this helps: but date nights are often a hard thing to make happen here too. So, my hubby and I will sometimes just lie down on our bed and curl around one another. And just…. sssshhhhh. No words. None of “that” kind of touching. I feel his heart, his breathing and it pulls me into him. feel his warmth invade all those places I allowed to grow cold. I just breathe him in because in that stillness and quiet space: he allows it. He takes me in too: craves it actually. And I realize something about men: they NEED us too. They need that soft and quiet place that we can bring. They need to know that we can just be still and be quiet and take them as they are. And then I think, oh yes: they will move any mountain. We can do this.
    Hope you can find that quiet and soft place again.
    Rorybore recently wrote…Tuesday Coffee Chat: All By MyselfMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      What a great way for you both to connect – physically, emotionally, mentally. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and advice as always.

  • January 29, 2015 Janice

    I shared this post with my husband. He agrees that we need to stop dying and start living again. You know what I mean? Our 4 kids consume our every second. And although that’s not entirely bad – to be there for the kids – I was reminded that my husband needs me too.
    Janice recently wrote…Photography :: How To Ride A CarMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      Yes, exactly. Because kids voice their needs in more obvious ways, it’s so easy to forget our partner’s needs in the daily chaos.

  • January 29, 2015 Tricia

    Your honesty here inspires me. I’ve been there too. My marriage has been there too and those are dark days that with all of those little deaths can lead to darker ones. But there is a light and you can walk towards it and these are deaths it is possible to come back from. But oh it is so hard with small children. Wishing you light and laughter and a few moments to recover together.
    Tricia recently wrote…This strange January feelingMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      Wishing you much light and laughter too, Tricia. xo

  • January 29, 2015 Kim

    Yes. It is a thousand little deaths, not just a sudden fracture. Little things compound and weaken and multiply until they are a burden. I think there are phases to these things too, a natural cycle of moving away from each other and coming back together. And hopefully, when two people do move back together again, they are closer because of the space before.
    Kim recently wrote…Tub TraumaMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      I love that Kim – moving away, and coming back together closer.

  • January 29, 2015 Rudri Bhatt Patel

    Unless we pay attention to the fissures as they occur, there is a high probability that cracks will appear while we concentrate on other aspects of our life. Great reminder, Alison, about a subject that very few discuss. Thank you.
    Rudri Bhatt Patel recently wrote…Have Courage to Start AgainMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      It’s such a touchy subject, isn’t it? That when we write about it, we have a tiny fear that our partner reads it and misreads it. Thank you for reading, Rudri.

  • January 29, 2015 sarah reinhart

    Alison, this is such a lovely, raw post. It’s so, so true. The cracks do turn into fissures unless you consciously work to repair them. Lots of love to you on this one. I really identify with it right now. xo

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      I always look at your marriage, Sarah, and aspire to get to the point where we know we can survive something as big as building a forever home from ground up, and growing the family at the same time. Kudos to you two!

  • January 30, 2015 Rebecca

    “I am letting these tiny fissures develop into cracks.”
    I love that line so much. I can relate to everything, the sarcasm, the shutting down, the lack of effort…I have had to shake myself down and take responsibility for the cracks I’ve contributed. Ten years and one kid later.
    Rebecca recently wrote…Putting Toddlers to WorkMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      Taking responsibility is a wonderful step to take towards repairing those fissures and cracks!

  • January 30, 2015 Maureen Wallace

    Wow. Alison. This is so true and so poignantly shared. Thank you for the reminder.
    Maureen Wallace recently wrote…The horror of discovering Mommy instead of DaddyMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      Thank you so much for reading, Maureen.

  • January 30, 2015 Tamara

    I think I had so much to say, but then I read Rorybore’s comment and sort of drifted away..
    I think I relate to every part of this post, PLUS every comment on this post. 1,000 deaths. The kids. The lack of date nights. The lack of good conversation and alone time. The fact that he works all day and I work at night.
    There is a lot of darkness. I have certainly fantasized about having boyfriends.. not even for sex, but for great conversation. I don’t think he thinks the way I do, but I could be wrong. There is a lot of light too.
    Tamara recently wrote…Slow Cooker Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Recipe.My Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      I look at your marriage with Cassidy, Tamara, and can’t imagine the darkness. But we don’t really know about other people’s business, do we? As much as we like to think so. But I think I can see the love, the light, the abundant magic in your relationship, that will see you through the hard. xoxo

  • January 30, 2015 Christine

    A 1000 deaths. That’s such a great way to put it. And I’m not quite sure what to say except that I’m right there with you. We’ve been together almost 15 and married 11 and those little things and the lack of effort have this way of piling up over and over. It is hard but I think you’re absolutely right that it starts with letting kindness and empathy back in. So beautifully written.
    Christine recently wrote…Friday Round-Up: Snowy DaysMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      It seems easier to practice kindness and empathy with everyone else, right? But the people who need them most from us are those right next to us.

  • January 31, 2015 Maureen

    I read this and I weep inside Alison as I remembered the death of my marriage and now the death of my relationship. Sigh…being aware is wonderful and this post shows how you are aware of those tiny deaths and how you and your husband can work to fix them together. You have a beautiful family, Alison.
    Maureen recently wrote…Wellness Wednesday: Confession of a Former Diet QueenMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      Maureen, I’m so sorry about your relationship. I truly believe that we find love when we’re meant to, and you found it when you needed that exact relationship in your life, even though it’s ended now. It just means that your path to forever love is still going, and one day, you will find it. xo

  • February 4, 2015 Adrienne

    This is timely. In 16 yrs together (almost 12 married), we’ve suffered some of these deaths. This is really a perfect reminder for me. It’s been on my heart to be more mindful about the wife I’m offering to my husband. The line about showing more kindness to friends or even strangers…yeah. that. We take our loved ones for granted, don’t we?
    Adrienne recently wrote…How to Make Starfruit Starfish StampsMy Profile

    • February 12, 2015 Alison

      We do! There’s a Maya Angelou quote that goes something like this – why say good morning to strangers, when you should save that for your family?

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