Saturday, November 19, 2011

"If Only You Were Different": Owning Up to Resentment

I used to almost choke on my resentment.
I resented washing the dishes while my husband watched TV. I resented getting up for a 3 a.m. feeding while my husband slept. I resented having to shut down my computer in the midst of writing a chapter because a toddler woke up early from a nap. I resented my husband's family, who would arrive with nothing but subtle judgement about my home and children. I resented his freedom. I even resented his resentment.
Around the time I found myself resenting the fact that my husband was using up oxygen that I thought should be mine...I finally acknowledged that my marriage was in serious trouble.
I was about to learn exactly how serious.
By the time I suggested marital counselling, we'd both been simmering for years. Me choking back resentment. Him expressing it in the form of multiple affairs, which I "discovered" just a few weeks into our marital counselling. In hindsight, I'd suspected for months...but only trusted that intuition when I recognized that he was willing to try and save the marriage. But that's another post.
Unlike Kim Kardashian, most of us spend years in marital misery before we take steps to either end the misery by looking outside the marriage for what we need...or ending the marriage altogether.
Which is why so many marriage counsellors note that it's not the affair itself that determines whether or not a marriage is salvageable, but the state of marriage apart from that. It's possible, despite what so many of us previously thought, to view the affair as a symptom of marital distress, rather than the sole cause. But because an affair raises the stakes so dramatically, we tend to focus on it rather than what led to it. We also tend to resist focussing what led to it because it can seem, to those of us feeling "wronged" like we somehow "caused" the affair. We. Did. Not.
But...staying stuck in that victim mode of being wronged serves no-one, least of all ourselves.
So it's important to examine what our marriage was like. Honestly. Which is no easy task when our dreams are strewn around us like a toddler's toys.
I would have told you that my marriage was good. That we were good friends. Sure, we had our issues. But don't all couples?
A few weeks ago, I was able to finally admit to our marriage counsellor – within the context of why I wasn't more affectionate with my husband – that his touch used to infuriate me.
Why? Well...I had to think about it. Then I recalled how often he would hug me from behind when I was doing the dishes. And all I could think was "why aren't you helping me do the dishes rather than hugging me?" Or he would tell me I looked beautiful when I was breastfeeding one our kids...and I would think "why aren't you throwing in a load of laundry instead of staring at me?" And so on.
I had no idea how to ask for the help I needed. He was incapable of hearing any request I made as anything other than criticism (his mind-tape plays only one song: "You're doing it wrong. You're doing it wrong."). And so I was in my corner...and he in his.
And our resentment reached a boiling point.
It's hard to admit that I wasn't the lovely, warm wife I wanted to believe I was.
And he certainly deals with the shame that he was hardly the devoted husband.
But by looking at who we were in the marriage, we're able to more clearly decide who we want to be now...in this new marriage with the same spouse.
It has taken almost five years to get to this point. Five years of which I spent at least two determined to get him to admit that our marriage would have been wonderful if only...
If only he had spent less time at work.
If only he had helped me more.
If only...
If only we had both been capable of being different people. We couldn't then. But we can now.

4 comments:

  1. Elle, I'm so glad that I went back and started reading some of your older posts (advice from a dear friend). I was actually "on my way" toward the beginning of your posts, when this one caught my eye and I stopped. I can relate so completely to the resentment factor. I realized it shortly after "D-Day" and have berated myself for my resentments toward him constantly. We have a great counselor and she has tried to convey your message to me, but coming from you in this post - it finally made sense to me. I actually want my husband to read it - this one post only (lol). Thank you for putting this into words. You have made this day a brighter one for this girl!

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    1. Happy to help! :)
      Seriously...all I can do is write my own experience and hope it helps others. I always maintain that one of the toughest parts of healing from betrayal is having to do it alone. If we can guide each other through, we all gain.

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  2. Wow. This hit home hard.
    I acknowledge all of this. I want to acknowledge this to my husband. Except that he is still in the fog of the affair and still blame shifts and hasn't quite shown a whole lot of motivation to work hard on the marraige. So I don't want to admit to too much because he is barely admiting his failure as a person to handle his problems with more dignity and respect for his wife. So I guess I will wait until he can actually ask what he could do to repair the damage.

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    1. MBS,
      It's possible to admit your own role…without taking on any of the blame. It's like teaching our kids how to apologize by apologizing to them without any expectation that they do the same. Lead by example.
      Consider telling him that you've given a lot of thought to how your marriage got to where it is. And that you now recognize that you played a role in that (NOT in the affair…but the state of the marriage). And that you're hopeful that now that you can see how your behaviour had a negative impact…you want to do it differently. Be calm and simply state it as fact. Don't do it to be manipulative -- to try and convince him to do it back. Have no expectations other than the chance to own up to your own shortcomings.
      Try not to play the game of "he has to go first…" It's tempting but ultimately unproductive. He's not as far along the insight spectrum as you. It's that simple. But you can light the way.

      Elle

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