When I met my husband, I was just coming off of a ten year relationship, four of which were spent married. And, when I say just coming off of, I mean the month after. I absolutely wasn't looking for anything serious, and wasn't sure I ever wanted to be married again, but was still fresh in the headspace of operating as a committed, married person. Being in something resembling that felt natural. I made it clear to my now husband, from the onset, that this wasn't going to turn into anything permanent and internally resolved the same.
He was easy to talk to, understanding, we communicated similarly. Our conversations had depth. He was patient, and he really wanted our relationship to have a legitimate future. This left me with the upper hand, and that's not ever an optimal start. I was selfish, and I felt completely entitled to be so. I was in the process of healing and self discovery, trying to figure out where my blame lay in the dissolution of my marriage, and on a mission to reclaim my confidence and self worth. I couldn't risk failing again. It's easy to get lost in the minutiae when you're in the midst of an emotional battlefield. It's convoluted, and at the end, no one really wants to take the blame or sit around dissecting the ins and outs of something on the verge of being lost.
I was fragile, but it presented as a lack of empathy and self involvement. Call it self preservation and protection. My now husband was compassionate enough to allow that and maybe a touch naive at the time. He was four years younger than me, idealistic, and inexperienced enough to accept my transgressions in the name of potential love. Pure good.
It's incredibly difficult to start off on one side and then switch teams, especially when you were your team's biggest fan and greatest advocate. I fought hard to stay on that team. The dynamic of our relationship felt concreted, as did my mindset. I wasn't going to let him in, I couldn't allow myself to be vulnerable. It was too soon, and it didn't feel safe. Little did I know what was to come of our future and how damaging this subconscious choice, for lack of a better word, would become.
Seven months later, I was pregnant. One would think that may have shifted things, but it didn't. How to drop your emotional stance when you'd spent the entire relationship defending and honing it.
Then there's the issue of believing your own bullshit.
Don't think that things were ugly. I'm a nurterer by nature. I play the part of wife well. I'm not sure that my now husband even really knew that anything was amiss. I'd been going the motions for years prior, in a dysfunctional marriage, I was pretty adept at it. We married when our son was a year and a half. I knew, in my heart, that something was missing. I would tell myself that he wasn't right for me, we just weren't meant to be, arcane excuses from an ambiguous mind. In reality, he was doing everything right, and by all standards, I should've been madly in love. It took a long while before I was able to acknowledge that the only person who was lacking was me.
I wasn't checked in. This manifested in a multitude of ways. It's still difficult for me to believe that he allowed it, but his desire to spare the loss of our family trumped his own needs, and if I'm being honest, my position in the relationship had slowly whittled away at him. I was hard on him, often quick to be dismissive of his needs and opinions. I tried to take charge of things I had no business being a part of, creating a mother/child dynamic around certain issues. I was feisty, always ready with a snide come back. I'd call it a subtle form of depracating, subdued and inconsistent enough to just toe the line, to keep from being completely found out, to keep from having to concede to myself what was happening. All this for the sake of maintaining my upper hand, insulating myself from the pain that true attachment can bring. I didn't want to have to leave someone that I loved again, because we just couldn't work. It was the most difficult, gut wrenching thing I'd ever done. So, in my disjointed emotional brain, the best protection was to not allow that level of attachment. Nonsensical and stupid, at best, and a devastating waste of time, years of potentially meaningful connection squandered. But, as Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better," and I just didn't know any better, yet.
I can't berate myself for the human action of avoiding pain. I wasn't consciously making the decision to act out these behaviors. That's how powerful the mind is, how immense the influence that fear has on the words coming out of our mouths, fooling us into believing false assumptions. I really didn't see any of it with clarity, and it's hard to share that I didn't begin to until much later.
I don't want to be dismissive of my responsibility, cavalier about the pain that my husband endured while I meandered through the relationship with blinders on and mercurial emotions. I was aware, on an intuitive level, that I was an asshole, but I didn't know why, and I wasn't sure how to change it, because if I did, I knew, on a deeper level, that I might WANT to check in. I'm not even sure exactly when the realization occurred that I was manifesting the very thing I was most afraid of, a marriage destined to fail.
The epiphany was the easy part. How to change something that was years in the making, how to turn an entire relational dynamic on its head, now that felt incredibly daunting. The task at hand involved retraining my brain, changing ME. The only tactic that seemed appropriate was deceptively basic; "fake it til you make it". This was hard because it required, what felt like, a condition of inauthenticity. It also required me to know what the hell a healthy, madly in love wife looked like. From my husband's end, it called for him to endure what resembled a newfangled wife pretending. It all felt, somewhat, like a giant joke, but he's an outstanding human, and we have built an incredible little family, well worth every ounce of effort and temporary make believe. And, let's face it, the prize, unencumbered love... yeah, we're in.
A metamorphosis of this caliber, demanded acting in extremes, in an attempt to find a reasonable middle, but it was still easier than I thought it would be. I owe most of that to Sean, for never making me feel like a fool, and for always indulging my unremitting need to talk about it, to beat the damn dead horse to smithereens.
The hard part, as in breaking any habit, is sticking with it. I fell off the wagon any time a stressor entered the picture, a sick kid, a sleepless night, a disagreement. It didn't take much, and I never got back in the saddle as fast as I should have, but I did get back on the horse, and I still get back on that horse. Each time I stay on a little longer. Let me tell you, riding this horse feels pretty damn good, too. Being vulnerable with Sean doesn't scare me. I trust him implicitly. It's more about retraining my brain, breaking that habit of self protection. It has nothing to do with the context of our relationship or my faith in my husband, it never has. It was always me and my stuff, my fears. I can honestly say that I fall in love with him more each day.
Sharing this isn't just about a fear of vulnerability. We all have ineffective ways of relating to others. Maybe they started in childhood. My vulnerability issues didn't exist solely because of a faulty first marriage. They were there for the duration of the first marriage, and we couldn't work through them. We both struggled with the same fears and personal feelings of inadequacy, and it was just too much for us to recognize and ultimately mend, at that time in our lives. Choosing to acknowledge where you're selling yourself short is daunting, but it's also incredibly liberating and reaps powerful rewards. Retraining the brain is a slow and difficult process that requires constant motivation, awareness, and accountability, over and over again, until the job is done.
We've got this one life, and we owe it to ourselves to give all that we have to the pursuit of love and connection, because that's what it's all about. Taking a long hard look at our relationships, with a critical eye, and owning our own flawed processes, that prevent true and continued connection, is a journey well worth embarking upon. It's the journey your soul exists for.