I have a very positive relationship with my husband. We both had very controlling partners in our first marriages, and that is probably why we give each other a lot of space to be our authentic selves. We don’t fuss at each other. We let the little things go. We look for opportunities to be nice to each other. I’m incredibly lucky to have stumbled into this relationship, because when we first met, I certainly wasn’t in any kind of emotional space to make wise, intentional decisions about a partner. Finding him was a random kindness of the universe.
Keeping him has also been good luck. While I’m not mean to him, I never really learned how to do intimate relationships. I didn’t know what it felt like to trust. Small example: for a long time I never used to tell him what I spent on clothes or shoes, especially if I splurged a little. My ex-husband used to yell at me and shame me for buying things for myself (while also complaining that I didn’t dress nicely enough), so I’m sure that was the reason, even though I didn’t even think about it consciously. I’d been in my second marriage for years before I really believed him when my husband said, “You should buy what you need and like. I know you are very sensible about money. Don’t worry about it.”
I never talked to him about my depression. A lot of the times I was seeing a therapist, either I didn’t even tell him I was going, or I didn’t talk about it. Or maybe I talked about it in a vague way, “Just trying to get some ideas about how to deal with [whatever].” Again, leftovers from my first marriage. I started in therapy when that marriage was falling apart and I was really depressed. M (evil husband) used that to say I was crazy, that he would take the kids away from me and have me locked up forever.
My husband has complained to me upon occasion, “You never tell me what you like or don’t like sexually.” “Oh, I like everything,” I’d say. Let’s not even talk about where in my past that comes from.
I could go on, but the point is, I love this man but I keep a lot of my thoughts and feelings tucked away, unspoken. I haven’t trusted that he could see all parts of me and not be repulsed.
Over the past year, I have taken baby steps to change this. I started last spring to tell him just how depressed I was. This was scary. It scared him, too, when I admitted to suicidal thoughts. And it saddened him to think that he hadn’t been able to see it on me, “I feel so blind,” he told me. “How could you feel so terrible and I didn’t even know it?”
Easy, I think. I have so much practice hiding things.
It’s made him pay closer attention to my moods. I think he didn’t really see mood as a problem before, because he’s very even-keeled and doesn’t get depressed himself. He started reading about depression online a bit. Now he sometimes asks me how I’m doing, but in a gentle way. It feels caring, not like he’s checking up on me.
With great difficulty, I told him about having experienced abuse and my difficulties “believing the girl” (i.e. trusting in my own fragmented memories of abuse). Again, he went online and did some research on the long-term impact of childhood sexual abuse. He was tender. He encouraged me to believe the girl. He told me none of it was my fault. He said he was willing to hear more, but only if I felt like talking about it. Really, the ideal response.
But I haven’t been able to tell him much more. A little about a friend of my dad who molested me when I was twelve, maybe thirteen, that’s all. That felt like a safer thing to tell. But not the worst stuff. I’m afraid to say more.
Ugh, why am I making this so long-winded?
Long story short, I feel my trust in him continue to deepen. And I long for a kind of closeness and honesty I’ve never had with a partner. E. tells me that this is the relationship which will hold me and sustain me in my life. She has only met my husband once or twice, but she’s known me for years and knows how I’ve talked about him. He is worthy of my trust.
I tell him, “I want to tell you more.”
“Whatever you want to tell is fine,” he assures me. “It’s also okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”
“I do, but it’s hard,” I say.
“I can see that. If it were easy, you would have talked about it a long time ago.” He puts his arm around me. “I promise, no matter what it is, I won’t go screaming out the door and leave you.”
I know that. I don’t think that’s my fear. It’s more… he knows my dad. We see him sometimes. What if he then hates my dad? What if he doesn’t want me to see him anymore? Plus it’s shameful. What if he looks at me and imagines me with my dad and, despite his best intentions, feels disgusted?
Last night I sit close to him on the couch and lean on him. I can hear his heartbeat, and I remember when he had open-heart surgery in 2014 and nearly died the night after the surgery. I think that life is short and our opportunities for deep connection are few.
“I think you know it has to do with my father,” I tell him.
“I’ve thought that, maybe,” he says.
That’s it. That’s all I can say. Soon I move across the room from him, pull out my laptop, create a little distance. My breath is short and shallow. My body is on high alert.
But my husband is calm and loving. In bed he kisses me and tells me to take my time and tell him only what feels right. I will tell him. I want to tell him. It’s probably going to take a while though.