When I write about the difficult years of my marriage, I am mostly reflecting—looking back at how I recall the past, seeing through the lenses of the work I’ve done and the marriage I am in now.
I can analyze, make connections, delve into, and understand in ways I couldn’t at the time. The woman I once was would look at it all and scoff at much of it. She has no idea, I would think. She has it all figured out. She says she was unhappy, but I’m not so sure she really was. She just doesn’t get it.
The woman I am now remembers—but I do have a different point of view than I did then. The process of living pretty much guarantees that.
During the bad year of our marriage, I sometimes wrote out my feelings to my husband. He’s more of a “let’s talk this out” guy, and my letters were never a good sign to him. Because it was when my feelings were most difficult that I most needed to write, getting a letter was an indication that I was expressing things he didn’t want to hear.
In looking for another document recently, I uncovered one of the things I wrote to my husband.
This was four months before the moment I realized I needed to change. I don’t remember much about the conversation we had before I wrote this. It wasn’t much different from countless other conversations we’d had about our marriage and about intimacy.
What I do remember is that my husband asked me if any of it (the conversation) mattered to me and how we even got to where we were in the marriage. I remember saying, “I don’t know”—and then I went to write as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings.
I’ve deleted a few things that are very personal or that would require too much explanation. Some background might be helpful, though:
- I was unhappy with our church, and I resisted going.
- My years of mostly gate-keeping turned into years of mostly refusing about nine years before this, when we moved to where we live now. It was a difficult transition for me. (You can read a bit more here.)
- We had been in pretty serious financial straits for just over a year at this point. We had just been able to get some relief, but the constant financial strain had been quite wearing on us.
Reading what I wrote, four years and another marriage ago, I can see how hurt and lost I was. At the time, that was all I could see.
Now, with the clarity of hindsight, I can also see that this was a time when my heart was softening. What I wrote expresses less anger than I know I had felt for a while. I see confusion, sadness, and loss. Hope was dwindling, but it was still there. My heart was ripening and preparing to open.
I am sharing what I wrote (in May 2010) because it is a snapshot of a time we were at a crossroads—even though I didn’t know it. Other than the places I indicate a deletion, this is me, raw.
Why it matters
- Because you matter.
- Because “us” matters.
- Because I’m an optimist who always believes it can be better.
- Because I’m not happy.
- Because you aren’t happy.
- Because I know there’s still something good between us. On our anniversary, when the kids were in the background being obnoxious and telling us what to do about dinner, we were giggling together. That warmed my heart so much. It was such a shared moment, one like I haven’t felt in a long time with you, but one that could still happen.
- Because I miss you. In so much, I feel like we’ve grown apart. But you’re still the one I want to tell about something funny that happens, and you’re still the person I want to be there when I have a bad dream, and you’re the one I want to worry about in the emergency room.
Why it doesn’t matter
- Because we’re a broken record. I have the feelings and needs that I have. That’s my reality.
- When something doesn’t work for me, I have to make a choice, each time. Do I say something? Do I not say something?
- If I say something, you will respond with one of the following: a sigh, a response that I’m controlling everything, a response that it’s always about me, an assumption that it’s about something you’ve done wrong. No matter what words come out of my mouth, that is what happens.
- If I say nothing, then I have to feel that I am betraying myself, that my feelings—and me—are irrelevant. I need verbal responses to my feelings that are supportive, understanding, and encouraging—even if when you don’t like what I’ve said, something that still says you love me. If I feel like I am irrelevant, then I don’t know how to proceed with sex. We all have needs, and emotional needs are more primary for me than sexual ones. So if I’m not feeling loved and cared about, I become nothing more than a vagina with a pair of boobs. And that makes me feel even less relevant than I did to start with. So why even bother?
What’s the deal with church?
- Every single Saturday night when you ask me that [“I don’t suppose you’ll go to church with me will you?”], I have already decided what to wear to church the next morning. I always intend to go. Always.
- I really don’t like this church. You’re right that I haven’t ever given it a chance, not really, but I have never felt like it was where I was supposed to be. It always feels like I’m settling for a church that doesn’t care about me. It has always felt like I’ve settled—and that my preferences in choosing a church didn’t matter.
Why are we here?
- I know why I’m here, but I don’t know about you. You don’t tell me how you’re feeling unless you’re yelling or we’re fighting. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for me to not try to prevent a fight. It’s the only time I feel like you’re being real with me.
- I don’t care how long ago it was or whether I should have gotten over it by now. The reality is, I haven’t. I had so many difficulties when we moved here. I have never been able to talk with you about them. Early on, whenever I would express concerns or say I was having a hard time, you told me I was blaming you for my problems—so I stopped wanting to share anything with you. Later, you would tell me I should be over it by now. But somehow, my heart is still waiting for you to care about the feelings I had then. It was so hard for me to get the house on the market, keep it cleaned every single day in case someone would want to see it, take care of three young kids, deal with all their feelings and anxieties about moving, let go of a good-paying job that I loved and where I was valued and had status, move into a job that paid less and involved a diminished professional status, and help the kids try to get settled in here—all when you had an unpredictable schedule and we didn’t know anyone here. I’ve never needed you more than I needed you then. I didn’t feel you were there for me, and since then, I think my mind has been giving you one chance after another to prove that you can be there for me.
- I try every day to feel we’re part of the same team. Every single time I ask you to do something, that’s what I’m asking. It isn’t usually about having the job done; it’s about knowing that you’re part of my life. It’s like in The Princess Bride, when the “as you wish” part was the same as “I love you.” Only in my ears, “I’ll get to it” or “kids, you do this” is the same as “I don’t care about being part of your life.”
- I don’t know who I am any more. [Deleted some specific information about my professional life.] But still, I wonder. And the kids are growing up. I don’t know what they need from me anymore, and I feel like they are slipping away through my fingers and be left with an empty place in my heart. And my body? Oy. My hormones are changing how everything feels, sexually and otherwise. I’m a middle-aged woman and I don’t know how that happened.
- I don’t hate sex. I truly don’t. I’ve just had so many problems with it over the past few years that it takes real effort to remind myself that my responses don’t have to be what became a habit out of necessity. But I don’t know how we figure out how to change our interactions, how to “rewrite the script.”
Speaking of the kids . . .
- [Deleted comments about his observations of my parenting and my observations of his. Suffice it to say that we were both good at blaming each other for things we didn’t like seeing in our kids.]
- I’m scared of what will be left of us after the kids are gone.
So now what?
- I have no idea. We’re both unhappy. Look at all of our escapism—the computer for both of us, the television for you, trashy romance novels for me. Have you ever wondered what I see in those books? The heroes pay attention to their women. The heroes notice when the women are sad or angry. They try to figure out why. And even though they’re still trying to solve it for them, the woman is always more important than the sex.
- I don’t know how to communicate with you anymore. I rarely feel like I can say what I’m truly thinking without you interpreting it as a judgment of you. I assume that you feel like you can’t communicate with me, either.
- Neither one of us is at our best right now. The past several years have been hard, and this past year and the past several months have been so overwhelming. The fact that we’re still here together says something. I think there are quite a few couples who wouldn’t have made it this far.
- I really do miss you. I want my best friend back.
As for tonight, I don’t know what happened. I have been feeling desire a lot more frequently recently. I think the medication changes [this was when I switched from Zoloft to Wellbutrin] have made a difference in that regard. It’s the initial arousal that is still so difficult for me. I do need help getting to that point. There isn’t a formula, and I wish there was. Generally, I know that in order to have the arousal start, I need to feel some romance and some non-sexual love. I don’t know how to explain it. When your response is to sigh or to snap at me, I just feel like it’s pointless to try to be aroused. That doesn’t mean it’s your fault. My feelings are the problem. I just want you to know. I need help figuring it out, but I think you’ve given up on me so I feel like it’s all on me. I would like support with that.
I love you, and I’m glad I married you. I can’t say that I’m happily married right now, and I don’t think you can, either. But I want to be, to you. I just feel so lost in our marriage right now. Tonight, for the first time, I truly wondered if we are going to make it. That scares me so much. There’ve been lots of times when it’s been difficult and we’ve hit a rough patch. But I always knew it was something we would get through. At this moment, I don’t know if that’s true.
I love you.
I look back at this, and my heart hurts for the hurting woman I was then. I had no idea what was to come. I didn’t know what emotional journey I was about to undertake. I didn’t know the hard work I was about to do on myself. I didn’t know that my husband was about to embark on his own journey. It never occurred to me that our marriage would actually become better.
Sometimes in life we are very aware when we are at a crossroads. We have a conversation that is somehow new or clarifying. We realize that our reaction to something is suddenly different than it’s been for years. Somehow, we just know that something is in the process of change. We know that going forward will be different from what came before.
But there are times when we have no idea. We have a conversation that is no different than dozens of others. Our reaction is just the same as it always has been. We know that going forward will be pretty much what came before.
It is only when we look back that we see that there was another direction our journey could have taken us.
My prayers today are for wives who are at a crossroads in their marriages, whether or not they know that is where they are–in the raw, without the perspective of hindsight.
Image credit sasha7/morgueFile.com