Category Archives: Marriage

Teaching love

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What is she teaching them? What will they grow up to believe about love and happiness?

On one hand, they never see her kissing their dad. They never see her touch him voluntarily, and sometimes they notice that she has a hard time maintaining eye contact with him. They see that she can be patient and kind. But they also see that she can be tense and distant. Selfish even. Lately, her oldest daughter pauses on pictures of them together, studying the photographs and wanting her to look at them too. The puzzle pieces don’t all fit together, but she does not say the words aloud.

On the other hand, both parents are there. The girls have a home they know and love, and they never fear that they will go without a meal, or a parent to tuck them in at night. Someone is always coming home. Everything looks the way it looks at other people’s houses. Their parents sleep in the same room, they share the money, and they both do the household chores. They are united, usually, in decisions that involve them and sometimes they do seem to like each other. They still take trips together, and they still go out with their friends. On the surface, it all looks normal. So maybe it is.

But the girls are smart. Maybe smarter than she is. Do they understand longing and regret? Do they know what it means to be restless? Does staying teach them resilience and commitment and partnership? How will they learn about passion?

More and more, she wonders what she is teaching herself about love.

 

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All due respect

sleeping

The weight of his hand disturbs her sleep. She rolls over, out of his reach, and his hand slips off. She is in her subconscious mind now, floating up from a deeper place. Not entirely comfortable on her side, she is near the edge of the bed, but she lays still and maintains an even breathing pattern, hoping he won’t reach again, hoping she’ll slip back into a forgiving slumber. It’s better if they don’t talk about it. She has nothing new to say.

You never let me touch you anymore, Jake will say a few days later. It’s true. And she knows it goes against the Gottman-esque science about marriage stability and the Huffington Post-promoted philosophies about maintaining intimacy, currently in vogue. She just doesn’t want to pretend. The more space she creates, the more distance she gets, the stronger she feels. All due respect to science.

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Settling

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I cut my hair yesterday. I knew I would feel like Samson losing his locks, the length having represented confidence and a freedom from conformity. But I was weary of caring for that long-haired person’s ego. I felt like she was higher maintenance than she needed to be. 

I thought I would be brave and go short, sassy and stylish, dialing up yet another side of the new, fearless me. But I let my hairdresser talk me into a mid-length cut, a safe cut (her words), one that wouldn’t freak me out (still her words.) I realize now that she was talking to the other me, the one she’s known for almost 20 years. And that me responded in meek agreement.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain momentum. It requires more calories than I can take in, and more space than I can consistently fill. As the barometer drops, dialing back the winds of change, I find that my bravery is dissipating. Never mind being more authentic, or feeling more alive. Complacency is settling back in.

Is my midlife crisis done with me? This settling feels like wind dying down, after a tornado has swept through and lifted the house from its foundation. Everything is dropping back into place, leaving little evidence of the seriousness of the storm.

After all this, will I be unchanged?

 

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Strong enough

break through

Tucked into the corner of her therapist’s loveseat, watching a float plane take off from the busy lake outside the window, she feels for a moment the vicarious lift and joy of being airborne.  The relief of being above the question before her.

Why aren’t you attracted to Jake?

She turns, and the room comes back into focus.

It’s taken such a long time just to get to this place, to this room, where she can admit the truth, the not-being-attracted-to-her-husband kind of truth. But this question challenges her. Why is harder to put her finger on.

Jake is a good man. Gentle, honest, and giving. Resiliently committed. He snaps back like a rubber band, never stretched to the point of breaking, never pushed past the point of no return. He is a caring and engaged father, a supportive partner, and he wants to take care of her.

Her therapist waits.

But he is vulnerable. And she hates that.

How is he vulnerable?

She thinks back to when their daughters were small. Jake agreed to be the breadwinner so that she could be the stay-at-home parent. This had been a brave decision, cutting their income dramatically at a time when expenses were going up. And for almost two years, they’d played their roles perfectly—Jake, the provider, and she, the caregiver. The girls had thrived, and Jake’s business had been busy and profitable.

Then the economy failed. A two year recession set in, and Jake’s confidence faltered.

She hadn’t known how bad it was at first. Her depression. His despair. The vacillating mood swings that were unsettling and hard to predict, with moments of extreme optimism and pessimism. He wanted her to join him, to be high when he was high, to share in the low, but she resisted. He wanted her to own the weight and responsibility of it with him. She wanted him to fix it.

At some point, she’d grown angry. And then desperate.

This is where it broke down, she says, relishing the clarity. This was the point at which she had no longer felt safe, where she was no longer able to pretend that everything was okay, or that this was the life she wanted. This was where attraction had withered. This is where the “we” had reverted back to “I”.

She pauses. She knows how this sounds. Unsupportive. Ungrateful. But there is a big part of her that finds his desire to lean on her unappealing, unattractive, and downright needy. She wants him to be strong and independent. She wants to know he has things handled, that their family is taken care of. She doesn’t want to be responsible for his self confidence. She wants him to take what he wants from the world, without hesitating.

She’s on to something. It makes her sound selfish. It makes her seem unkind. She feels sad, and embarrassed, and deeply flawed. But in this room, it takes shape. And the contradiction of the guilt and the empathy she feels, the respect she has and the distance she needs, it all suddenly makes sense.

There is a long silence. But her therapist is smiling and nodding her head.

Photo credit: http://www.health00.com

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Have you?

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You haven’t left your husband, he types.

How the hell would you know?

Have you?

Its not that easy. This is not you and Paula. This is me and Jake and two kids and a house we own and private middle school and two car payments and all of my friends who will become half of my friends and all of our family who will become half of our family and custody hearings and this city and your city and my lousy paycheck and his slow, rainy months and his hurt looks and my guilt, and all of it so much bigger than you packing a couple of bags and renting a place across town and getting a dog.

E, you know I can’t.

D, it shouldn’t matter.

How can you be so irrational?

(The cursor hesitates.)

You mean honest?

 

Photo credit: http://www.johnson-family-chiropractic.com

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Relief

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As reality began to take shape, guilt rising like a curtain, trying to close off the parts of her that were splintering, she began to notice something else. Relief. It was small at first, like a breeze coming through a cracked window.

There were little glimpses of what it might be like to be on her own. A quiet house. The kids absorbed in their activities, not keeping an active eye on her, worried about what she might say next. Less stuff around her. A blue/green candle the color of the ocean. A fireplace.

She had so many worries. She worried she might be depressed, that she might lose custody of the girls or that they might not feel safe going back and forth, that they might interpret her move as a punishment of some sort. She feared she might not eat another home-cooked meal for a long time, that she might not be able to take another vacation, that she might not be able to afford their life and hers. Mostly, she worried that Jake would hate her, that he would retaliate, that he might never be able to be her friend. She worried that his perception of the separation would overcome all its possibilities.

But it was also dawning on her that this thing she kept calling self destruction, this burning down the barn to see the moon, was also a realignment, a recognition of who she really was and what she’d done to herself, something so benign on the surface that it had taken this many years to recognize. She had always been afraid. Now she tried to see how this separation might actually be a positive thing for Jake and the girls, how this space she was growing into might give them all another chance to experience real joy, not the carefully cultivated happiness none of them really understood.

She was coming alive underneath, like a green layer beneath a scabbed over brown one, buried but wick.

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The reality of silence

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Silence is heavy, and not quiet at all. At rare moments, when she is home on her own, almost afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the spell, there is a welcome stillness. But it is not silent. There is a tinny buzz in her ears, and the ticking of the clock is the heartbeat of a house that creaks and groans, as if stretching cramped limbs. The sound of a descending airplane is overhead, the crunch of tires on loose gravel is in the alley, a child is calling from a backyard somewhere down the street. The rain taps the window and dances on the roof, rivulets finding their way into the bathroom upstairs, steadily dripping onto the marmoleum floor. When it stops, the birds are so cheerful, she wishes she could join them, landing lightly on the branch outside her window, simultaneously eyeing the earth and the sky.

There is a steady stream of chatter in her head, a radio channel she wishes she could turn off. She tries not to think of Drew, she tries not to think of Jake. Nothing seems right, everything is off balance, the road ahead looks empty and grey, like the sky. How not to curl up into a ball and close her eyes, tuning the world out, keeping everyone at bay? How not to give in to the uncertainty and lose her drive, her determination to live fully, to live better? This is the anti-depressant zone, where she can choose to numb herself and force her body and mind to level out, the way her friends do with their knock-off, covered-by-insurance-if-you’re-willing-to-accept-the-diagnosis drugs. Or its the place where she gives up, where she gives in to the pain and despair that make her feel alive and alone, alert and yet emotionally unavailable, where she makes herself small on the couch and watches the rain fall, tucking the stillness in around her like a quilt.

The silence is welcome. But she doesn’t know what to do with it.

Photo credit: redbubble.com

 

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