Monday, May 08, 2006

No More Mrs. Nice Guy

I knew at some level, had known for years, that my husband found me lacking. In the days leading up to our marriage's "irremedial breakdown" (divorce court terminology), this knowledge became acute. It was clear that he didn't feel like his needs were being met. So I struggled to get him to express more, to ask more of me. I wanted him to be able to feel how much I loved him, to appreciate me and feel thankful for me in the way I felt for him, and I was willing to do whatever I could to achieve that.

All I could get out of him was that he wished I was a better housekeeper, that he felt loved when the house was clean, when I cooked for him. He admitted that he wished I was more soft-spoken, less, shall we say, feisty. He had little courage to speak up for himself in our relationship. So for me to say, "I'm feeling angry" felt like an attack, like abuse. I was not supposed to ever have a negative feeling toward him, or at least not to express it (not that I was actually abusive, though he insisted I was.) Oh yeah, and he wanted me to be happy. My sadness after the first, let alone the second, miscarriage, was not what he wanted in a wife. To really be there for me felt to him like entering a black hole. On the rare instance when he was home and not sleeping or eating while I was feeling down, he hugged me and patted my back and moved on to the television as quickly as possible.

So I scrubbed the sink, I straightened the perpetually askew bath mat (a pet peeve of his), I cooked and I smiled and I coaxed him to talk about his feelings, and at one point I even resolved to give him a ten-minute massage every day (usually this took place while he watched TV). None of these efforts ever produced more than dutiful thank yous. After two weeks time (or four days time), I got discouraged and gave up, but then took a deep breath and tried again.

"How are you?" he'd ask, or, "how was your day?" (I had asked him to do this, it felt too lonely when he didn't.)

"Not very good. I'm really struggling," I'd say, but then I'd do my best to smile, to think of something positive to report, and then change the subject. I felt like a failure and I felt guilty for it, and I wondered, over and over, what was wrong with me.

Perhaps the greatest gift A~ ever gave me was his infidelity, his decision to pursue a relationship with a meek and lovesick woman he'd known three weeks, and to be done with me forever. It felt like a kick in the stomach, but in truth, he was giving me back my power, my determination, my resolve, my self.

The thought that ran through my head at the time, over and over: I deserve so much better than this. And I set out to get it. (Try it sometime, it's a powerful mantra.)

In the intervening four months, I've begun to notice how many of my relationships work in similarly disfunctional ways, where a friend or family member will express their unhappiness with me while I absorb that blame, let it reinforce the image I hold of myself as inconsiderate, selfish, insensitive, etc. I then struggle to make amends, to explain and improve myself, to listen better, to prove how much I care.

Some of these friendships are falling to the wayside, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. I don't love any of these people less (and as painful as it is to say, I don't love A~ any less either). The saddest thing of all is that if any one of them came to me and asked for a hug or some attention or reassurance, an afternoon walk and a dinner out, I would gladly give it. And if any one of them came to me with love to offer, an appreciation of me, I would receive deeply and would probably cry because it would mean so much to me. But I'm done with that old drama of protocol thank yous and apologies and what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys.

Dear readers, I hope you will all give your gifts freely to those who can receive, receive openly from those who have something to offer, and say no whenever and however often you want to. Don't carry anyone else's baggage on your shoulders. Don't struggle to earn anyone's love. Celebrate your glorious self and all the other glorious selves who are capable of celebrating alongside you. Life is too short and excruciatingly achingly beautiful.

Savor the day.


Nico said...

What a great post! I'm so happy that you've realized this about yourself, and that you're doing something about it. I think that what you describe is a trait that a lot of women share - we need to learn not to accept all that blame!

anonymousey said...

I'm an accomplished lurker but felt I had to reply...

My story is so similar to yours! My ex left me for a meek'n'mild Japanese foreign exchange student at his school. Now, after six months of being broken up, he tells me the 'why': I wasn't a good enough housekeeper. He was angry that I was sad all the time. He hated my 'hysterical fits', those times when I'd start to cry and go into the bedroom so I wouldn't disturb him with my tears. (When I pressed him on that and asked how often he thought I did that, he said, "Oh god, at least once a month!" Heh, idiot.)

I guess he never understood depression... How that can rob you of energy as well as happiness and the desire to, you know, roll out of bed in the morning.

Now that he's gone, I'm realizing what a horrible place that was for me. I was sad because he was angry that I was sad. Does that make sense? I'm see now that I *am* beautiful (something he scoffed at), I *am* smart (also laughable, in his eyes), and I *can* find a place inside *myself* where I can be happy.

I've started persuing my doula certification (something he'd never have allowed) and it's only encouraged me to go further.

You're an amazing person with an amazing story. I think I'll probably be lurking here for awhile, if you don't mind.


maarmie said...

Great advice...

Anonymous said...

I am happy for your liberation and empowerment, but you do a disservice to your ex's new parnter by labeling. Why does her "meekness" bother you? Do you really know her? If you are grieving it is understandable to be judgemental. But ultimately, we have to let go of the assumptions and generalizations we make about our ex's new lovers. It does no one any good. She had something he wanted. The way they both handled their attraction was poor, for sure. But ultimately, the relationship is in control of the person who cares the least.

Anonymous said...

Ditto. Your ex husband sounds like my husband. If I had it to do over again I wouldn't marry him. I'm not the type of woman who's going to change to suit him. There are things I know I should do like "clean" but somehow, somehow I just don't feel like it ever.

I wonder if it's ever possible for one to find someone who "accepts them for who they are." If my husband goes away I can most certainly say I will NOT start looking for another one----unless I meet a man who can accept me warts, clutter & all and not complain. There is this small part of me who knows that when someone doesn't really care about you they don't complain about your bad habits....but I don't need to hear about it on a daily, weekely or even yearly basis. I know what I should do. Whether I do it or not is my choice.

Amy said...

thanks for all the great comments!

Nico, I check in on you reguylarly - sounds like everything's going well. Good!!!

anonymousey - glad to have you! And sorry to hear what you've been through. I'm with you, sis! (BTW, I also considered becoming a doula - that's so cool that you're doing it!)

Maarmie - thank you!

anonymous - ouch, but yes, you're right, meekness is in the eye of the beholder.

anonymous 2 - what can I say, I think housekeeping is probably right up there behind money as an area for argument in marriage. Too bad it costs the former to hire someone to take care of the latter!

H.A.Page said...

Wow, your writing is so descriptive of places, feelings, relationships. Your honesty with yourself and your willingness to write about it are admirable and show resiliancy and courage.

Life isn't about housekeeping...


akakarma said...

I have to say- everyone has to justify why a relationship didn't work. From what I read A never fully gave himself to the relationship and you were willing to put up with that for your own reasons ( we all do it, no criticism meant). All the stuff he said is totally what many hubbies say when they are flush with positive affirmation by a new sex partner. He'll have the same issues with her and the next and the next- until he figures out what HE didn't bring to the party!
Hope that's ok to say....
You are a wonderful writer!