It only took about 20 minutes into my first session for my therapist to say the words I had unknowingly been waiting to hear. They seemed so obvious when spoken so matter of factly, but I hadn’t yet put them together myself, “You’re extremely vulnerable right now.” What she went on to explain, although I knew dang well what she was referring to, is that I was vulnerable for someone to come along and give me the attention that I wasn’t getting in my marriage, and pull me away. It hit me like a ton of bricks in that moment because the one thing I hadn’t yet spewed out in my unleashing of thoughts was that it had already happened. Someone had already come along and done just that.
I spent a lot of time in the weeks leading up to that day trying to sort out in my head exactly how this had happened. How did I get here? How did WE get here? Our marriage was relatively easy. On paper it was great; married for seven years, two kids, house in the suburbs, and we both had satisfying, steady jobs. Sure we had our issues, but doesn’t everyone? We rarely fought about the big things like finances, jobs, parenting duties or chores around the house. Those things were easy for us, being together was easy. If it was easy, then it must be OK. We must be happy. On the surface, we seemed like your average happily married couple; but deep down we were both miserable. But we didn’t talk about it, because well, we didn’t talk about that stuff. The vital foundation of emotional attunement that a marriage needs to thrive was nonexistent.
Somewhere along the way we lost that emotional connection, what little of it was there to begin with. Walls were put up early on, and having kids made them easier to reinforce. Fights that consisted of me yelling and pushing him to show some emotion, anything to give me reason to believe he cared, led to him responding by piling more bricks atop that wall and slathering on the concrete to make sure it never fell. Our fights got us nowhere. If anything, they pushed us further apart. So we avoided them, and our issues remained stagnant. We started to unravel, to uncouple, but we were both blind to it.
I started investing in myself, to make myself happy. I brushed it off as self care and re-connecting with that part of me that wasn’t “wife,” or “mom.” I convinced myself that as long as I was happy and we didn’t have any conflict, and I kept myself happy doing other things, we would be OK. I started to look forward to going to work where I had friends to laugh with and talk to, where I felt my presence was enjoyed, and I began dreading the weekends where I felt trapped inside my house with my husband and kids.
Then someone came along and challenged me. It was like I had been woken up to the reality that I was living. I couldn’t keep the thoughts I had buried so deep from flooding to the surface. I began to doubt everything our marriage stood for, what made me marry him, and why I was still here with him. On a seemingly normal Thursday, I couldn’t keep it in any longer. After dinner I looked over at my husband and told him I didn’t think I wanted to be married to him anymore; in fact I wasn’t sure I even liked him. I confessed that I tried to think of what it was that I loved about him, and I realized my answers were no longer good enough. Sure he’s nice, he respects me and is a wonderful father. But was that enough? Was I happy enough?
We’d spent 12 years talking and laughing and sharing life, but somehow we managed to avoid the things that mattered most. The hard stuff. The parts of our lives and our inner beings that we never felt confident enough to share with one another for fear of shame and embarrassment. It was easy for us to connect over our mutual interests in surface things, but that’s where our connections ended. He thought if he kept it in, avoided conflict, and let me do what I wanted then I would love him. I was convinced that if I was happy enough with myself, and had friends to lean on emotionally, then I would be OK. What we lacked, turns out, was vulnerability with each other.
The rawness and honesty of my words to my husband that day, awakened him to the reality that he was living. It took something big, and hurtful to get us here. To this place of realization. To me that was the beginning of the end, but to my husband, it was the beginning of something new. You see, I had underestimated his ability to fight back. To do everything in his power to pull me back in.
The bricks now are slowly starting to crumble, and I’m starting to see a part of him I never had before. Words like “divorce,” “affair,” and “co-parenting,” are no longer taboo. We toss them around freely and openly discuss them. It feels good to be honest, and open, and for once I feel the emotional threads beginning to weave themselves back together. I don’t know where we’ll be years from now, next month, or even tomorrow. But I know we’ll both be better, and happier on the other end. But for now we have today, and this moment, and the vulnerability in each other to depend on.