I have started three different posts over the last three weeks and have not finished any of them. With each, I was trying to write about issues that are too close to the heart; issues that are too scarey to write about; issues in my relationship with my husband.
Dan has been my best friend for decades. He came into my life 31 years ago this May. For me, meeting him was like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert; someone I could talk to about anything; emotions, spirituality, politics. We had similar interests (camping and bird-watching) and similar values (personal growth before money). And because he entered the relationship with a 3-year old daughter, we learned quickly that we had similar ideas about raising children (they should have voices; they should feel loved and seen). We were two empaths from broken families that took little care for the emotional well-being of one another. I felt like I had been rescued from a life of loneliness.
Like every couple, we have had many challenges and losses in our lives, but overall, our lives together have been good. We have raised 2.5 children and had a lot of fun doing it. While there have been disagreements and anger at times, the general atmosphere of our home has been supportive and understanding. But that has changed. Over the last few years, Dan who has always been easy-going and quick to laugh, has become cranky and taciturn. He has started snapping at me; he has grown short and defensive. There have been times when I felt that he no longer likes me; times when I have considered leaving my marriage. I feel a profound sense of grief about this. When I try to imagine my life without him, that future feels bleak and empty. At times, that future feels terrifying.
One morning last week, we had an honest talk about an argument we had the night before. When I asked him why he is so angry with me, he said, “Because you have witnessed all of my mistakes”. This was a revelation; for both of us I think. He has projected on to me all of the anger, shame and hatred that he feels for himself about choices he has made that are catching up with him now as we approach our retirement years. I understand that and I can see how I have played into that. I found myself wondering how many couples separate in mid-life to give themselves a fresh start; to give themselves a fresh slate with no history, no mistakes, no poor choices.
The sad thing is that when I see Dan, I see so much more than a few bad choices. I see the man who coached our daughter’s soccer team for 5 summers; the man who coached our son’s hockey team for 8 winters. I see the man who use to dance around the room to Bruce Cockburn with our young son in his arms. I see the man who use to sing Joni Mitchell songs to our young daughter at bed time. I see the man who stood by his young daughter when she said her step-father “touched her in a bad way” in the face of her mother’s denial and mounting legal bills. I see the man who celebrates my victories and grieves my losses. I see a handsome young man walking up the street with a box of strawberries in one hand and a smile on his face. When I see Dan, I see thirty-one years of living and loving. How do I help him to see all those things?
Tell him. Tell him each day something that you appreciate about him right now. In IMAGO couples work (the premise being that our soul chooses who we are with because it recognizes a place where we can give and receive healing) before you start with dialogues or behaviour change requests you start with appreciations. Doesn’t have to be something big- just something true, something located in the here and now, along with things from the past. I think for those of us who received very little verbal recognition or appreciation about who we were as children it can be a real stretch to think of and verbalize our appreciations. It’s not that we dont’ feel them- it just does not occur to us to say them sometimes because it was never part of our experience to hear appreciations. Holding you both in my thoughts and prayers, Oriah xo
Sounds like a good marriage going through a rough spot? The fact that you are talking about it and seeing the positive side of your husband seems hopeful. Take care.
Thanks Ellen…I feel that way as well….Kim
I think you should let him read this <3 It sounds like he is suffering from low self-esteem :( You see something amazing in him. You see that MOST things are amazing in him! Which is much more than most women can say of their husbands after 31 years. I think you have every right to feel taken aback by his poor treatment of you while he's going through this, but maybe he's just dealing with things poorly and not being abusive??? I don't know. I really hope that your positive reinforcement helps him to feel valued and start being nicer. If not…no one deserves to be abused (even verbally and emotionally, which is what his bad temper could lead to if things don't change). I'm hoping you two pull through ;)
Thanks Jet…I think he is going through a difficult time….and I feel hopeful; now that I understand what is going on for him. But I hear you about the nasty exchanges; those little snipes add up and chip away at our sense of well-being. It has been getting to me; it has been hurtful. Kim
This is such an open and honest post, Kim, and I think you’re right on the mark about some people wanting a clean start at mid life. What we lose is what you so eloquently describe: that long, rich history which has so much good along with the mistakes.
I hope you tell that good man of yours all the things you love and appreciate about him, just as you shared on this post. Hugs to you.
Thanks Sally….I am working on that; in little ways every day. Kim
I would expect no less from you, my friend…
Very raw post Kim thank you for your honesty and guts. My husband of 28 years recently told me he feels like he doesn’t belong anymore. I could tell he was suffering and he finally put words to his feelings. We are working through it, devoting more time to our relationship. I have experienced my husband and I falling in and out of love many times over the years. There are times we feel so close and then I feel us drifting apart that is where there is a choice to work at it or give up. I feel there is too much at stake to give up. I wish you and Dan love and patience during this tender time.
Thank you Marsia…it is always comforting to hear from someone who knows exactly what I am talking about. Thank you for your good wishes…and good luck to you as well. Kim