Over the years Ryan and I came very close to divorce many times. Most recently a few months ago.
But first, a bit of context. He’s a man, I’m a woman, and we both grew up with learned behaviour traits and responses that didn’t mesh well. I’m not sure either one of us could really mesh well with anyone right off the bat, but neither one of us was really bad either. Just not very good at communicating. Most people aren’t.
When we disagree about something, anything, doesn’t matter how big or small, he retreats. I push. I talk. Eventually, if I don’t feel heard, I yell. He retreats more. Makes for a great combination. *sarcasm*
A friend once confided to me that she was getting a divorce because her husband kept leaving cups on the counter. Laundry on the floor. Basically she was getting a divorce because their idea of cleanliness was different.
And we’ve been there, but we discovered that wasn’t really the real reason we were fighting. Though it certainly doesn’t help! You see, Ryan figured out a long time ago that he needed to help more around the house. He began helping with dishes, laundry, household errands. Our lives were well balanced as far as what was expected of each of us (well, sometimes the household and childcare things did still fall more heavily on me, but over all things were better balanced). You might wonder what more a person can do? Isn’t that enough? If he cleans up the cup that was on the counter, isn’t that good enough, will a woman never be happy?
My friend got a divorce because her husband never tried to change. Ryan did try. But it wasn’t enough. Because, you see, the cup wasn’t really the issue. The issue was respect. A cup on the counter, shouldn’t be enough of an issue to end anyone’s marriage. But usually there’s a lot more under the surface that you just can’t put your finger on.
For us, it was year after year of me talking, and him not listening. We’d run into a life situation. I’d say, “X,Y,Z” and he’d say, “My parents suggest A, B, C” and then the discussion was over. It was his way or the highway. The outcome of the situation doesn’t matter, what matters is that in our relationship, I had less say than people who didn’t live with us. He did not respect me enough to listen to me. Every situation was a fight, there was always going to be a winner and a loser.
It’s little things piled on top of each other. He doesn’t like to make phone calls, so I make them almost all the time. But when I was really panicking about our toddler being near really deep water without a parent supervising, he joked about my being anxious and a worrier.
It was time after time of him dismissing my thoughts, feelings, wishes, and desires, and my going out of my way to have supper ready for him, or the house clean for him, or coffee made for him. Plus so many other things.
But when I tell him, “I’m upset about something.” He brushed it aside because he couldn’t see why I’d be upset about anything so trivial. To him he didn’t even notice how his words and actions diminished me. How his words and actions continuously said he was more important than me and how his wants were more important than my needs. But he didn’t see any of that. He saw and heard me complain about a coffee cup on the counter and wondered why I was mad.
But, it’s about so much more than a coffee cup. It usually is. The problem is pointing out the specific words, the specific actions that diminish you. The problem is looking at someone who’s really a good person, a great daddy, but also a really horrible spouse.
Before I understood exactly what the root problem was, I’d complain about every little thing. Because as he didn’t show me respect, I didn’t show him respect either.
I’m not sure what’s worse. His hurting me because that’s just what he was brought up to do, (make fun of people for being weak, make fun of people who worry), or my hurting him because I really hated him and wanted him to suffer. I’d yell and scream, slam things, throw things. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be valued. But neither his words nor actions showed me respect, and I couldn’t give any to him anymore.
But then we were in Disney World, our friend’s little guy got onto the other side of the safety rope at the dock. I looked around and couldn’t see Brom, I panicked and Ryan laughed at me, he turned to our friend and made fun of me for worrying about Brom. I was mortified. The danger and risk was real, he was supposed to be watching Brom, had no idea where he was, and he made fun of me for being terrified.
It was that moment that I really saw what had been happening in our relationship over the past eleven+ years. It was also the first time I was able to really point it out to him. Where he could see it. It helped put each of our fights into context. Even on that trip, the morning began like that, and by the end of the day I was so snippy with him. But it took a moment of silence and reflection for me to see what happened and how it really affected me.
Whenever I needed him to protect me or support me over the years, he just wasn’t there. Time after time I fell, and he’d let me drop. Kind of like that time we were dancing, he dipped me, and I landed on the floor. Everyone laughed. I was embarrassed, what could I do, but laugh along.
You can only be dropped by a person so many times before you won’t dance with them anymore. I stopped dancing years ago.
So why didn’t we get a divorce? Part of me was embarrassed. Ashamed maybe. I knew I wasn’t perfect by any means. I lashed out so many times because I was so angry and hurt that I wanted him to feel what I felt. It was also practicality. I knew that communication was our number one problem, and without better communication co-parenting would be a horrible experience for all of us, especially our children. There was also hope that as we moved out of the sleepless babyhood days, things would improve. No one communicates well on lack of sleep. Plus we’d had year after year of major stress. There’s hope that the man I met and fell in love with was still there somewhere.
All of that brought us to the brink of divorce. But now we’re moving away from the edge. He see’s what he’s been doing and is actively trying to change how he talks to me and what he thinks about my fears. I’m making a huge effort to be specific when I’m upset. To be clear whether I’m ‘just’ overwhelmed by the fact we have 4 children, 3 cats, and a dog in our home (and the mess that goes with that), or if it’s something more. If I can voice that I’m just feeling overwhelmed, then he doesn’t feel threatened by my grumping, stomping, and growling in the kitchen. Instead he takes our children and walks the dog so I have less noise and more space. His protecting my space and meeting my needs helps our entire family have a more peaceful evening, a better night, and a happier start to the next day.
Marriage is about being aware of the mental, spiritual, and physical needs of your partner and helping them meet those needs. For the first time since we’ve been married, I feel as though Ryan is working with me to meet my needs, building me up, and protecting my sanity so that each day can be better than the one before. As he is there to help and encourage me, I am better able to be there for him. I no longer feel alone. We are together.