This last week was a bit crazy. So much of A’s stress has resolved, he’s back to the basal level of stress he has as his “normal”, which is still a lot for most, but he’s an expert in dealing with things in the most amazing way. O and I had a rather challenging discussion last week after he reacted strongly to a spontaneous night A and I had and some of the dom/sub dynamics we enjoy and I then was way too hard on him. What came from it was the most functional, understanding, and loving conflict resolution-type conversation I have ever had with a partner. He was so….perfect. About everything. I was really hard on him. I over-reacted. I took our conversation of the previous day, where he warned me to be careful with A, and turned my feelings about that into an excuse to react badly about his feelings about A coming over spontaneously the previous night. I was blunt and direct and not at all empathetic. I wasn’t recognizing my triggers and I wasn’t recognizing his. I was not a good girlfriend. He continued loving me anyway and we had a great talk about the whole thing that evening. The conflict part of the conversation happened during the day, via text. Text is, of course, the best way to fuck up your meaning, and this was truly the case. I felt he had questioned my judgement, he felt I had lied to him. It was a storm of miscommunication and was completely avoidable. When I sat on his couch with a glass of wine to talk it out, I knew, immediately, that it was going to be fine. When we are together, we have a very hard time not touching each other. So, legs wrapped together, holding hands, we broke down and broke through every detail that needed to be discussed. It ended in us giving each other context, clarifying a few “guidelines” (I can’t think of a better term, but it’s just overarching themes of our relationship that we agree on), and most importantly, opening up the understanding of how our own personal baggage has influenced how we respond to each other, and how we recognize that what we have in each other is as amazing and as statistically improbably as winning the lottery, and how we both want to work to maintain what we have. I left that conversation, completely emotionally exhausted, but completely reassured that I love him, he is as perfect for me as I thought, and that we are so incredibly good together, it’s amazing.
Part of what I told him was the full story of F and I and our journey in polyamory. As I was explaining the critical occurrences, the things I did wrong, the things F did wrong, and everything in between, I had this crazy epiphany that I tied into my realization that I’m absolutely shit at asking for what I need. I’m really bad at being vulnerable. Absolutely horrible, in fact. Several of my partners have commented on how they don’t know I’m processing something I’m emotional working through until I all of a sudden come to them with a conclusion. Then they have to catch up with the fact that I have been struggling with something and they had no idea. I then have to describe the process I went through, the feelings I had, the hurt I experienced. More than once I’ve heard: “But why didn’t you tell me you were having a hard time?” Truthfully, I thought it was just how I am. That I’m an internal processor and that I wasn’t hurting anyone. I was proud of the exclamations from partners about how strong I am. Truthfully, I was hurting myself first, and partners and those who love me second. I was taking on loads that should be shared by the people who love me. This is the case with O the other day, when I was upset with him about warning me about A, but didn’t communicate it with him. This is the “event” that made me realize that I have some broken parts that need repairs.
A few weeks ago, I asked A for some cuddles when I was going through a particularly difficult time. It was slightly easier for me to ask then, because I didn’t know what was wrong. I just needed closeness and cuddles and to be held, and he obliged. He’s actually really good at just being what I need in the moment without making me explain. I think he knows that I’ll eventually get to the explanation without being pushed. I also think it’s just his way and the dynamic we set up this last year as I asked for diversions and distractions from him physically as I went through the emotional pain I wasn’t communicating. The fact is, asking for cuddles was the first time in several years that I’ve asked someone to do something emotionally supportive for me, because I need it. When I was talking to O about my story last week, I realized that there was a time when I was better at asking for what I need. When I was OK with being vulnerable and didn’t feel like I needed to be strong and hide my pain from others. I realized that that time was long in the past, before F and I were married and our dynamic changed from one of some sort of mutual support (I’m not sure it was ever completely healthy, but certainly healthier than where it ended up), to one where I supported him, and if I needed support, he had free license to turn it into something he needed support for.
Before I go on, I need to also address the fact that I remembered last weekend that F has PTSD. He is in emergency services and has been for nearly 20 years. I was talking with a friend and coworker at my second job who has been a huge mental health advocate for emergency services personnel in the last years. As I chatted with her about her journey, my experiences being married to F came out. I remembered the hurtful awful things he did. The pain he felt. The fact that he was able to pretend he wasn’t chronically affected by his career choice when we went to Sweden and the stressors were removed, but that when we returned to Canada, the stressors reappeared and he spiralled into the oblivion that is PTSD. She understood the trend for long-term emergency services workers to take their worst experiences out on their spouses. It reminded me that early in our relationship, and even as it progressed for the next 14 years, F frequently talked of divorce, alcoholism, or suicide as a given. He seemed to think that losing his mental health was a predetermined certainty and that it would cost him everything that meant something to him. As I told my story, she sympathized with me AND with F, and just shook her head and even cried at the fact that our story isn’t unusual. This whole conversation reminded me that while the way that F treated me was unacceptable, it isn’t entirely him, so much as his mental illness, that is driving his behaviour. That I, too, am a victim of the stress that is the career he chose. It also made me ridiculously angry at the fact that he didn’t move into positions that would offer less stress (and more money) or access the amazing supports available to him when he had opportunities for the protection of our marriage and, even more, our children and families. There were many of these opportunities, yet he focused on blame and the fact that I chose to work in a job I love in my chosen career rather than stay home with my children. So, take any story of his inability to be a decent husband, and sometimes, a decent person, with a grain of salt. The man clearly has mental illness, and I don’t want to diminish from the fact that he actually has redeemable qualities that made him, at one point, long ago, an acceptable choice as a partner.
As I told O my story, I realized the gravity of the things I went through in the last year. How any support from F came with a price. How I needed, badly, someone who had my back in all of the horrible situations I found myself in. I thought about how I asked F for support as I was encountering feelings with his relationship with W. How I asked for time, connection, love, touch, and even a smile. How I frequently asked for simple touches, like a hug or a kiss, and was denied. How he frequently refused to sleep with me because I snore, wouldn’t touch me when I was struggling emotionally, demeaned me as useless when I wasn’t supporting him exactly how he wanted, though he didn’t communicate his needs, and how even when he was intimate with me, the whole episode was about his pleasure, his climax, and had so little to do with mine. As I thought it through, as I recognized the damaged goods that I am, I could see how somewhere in the years that we had been together, F had become the person who I supported. I became his strength and his support, but he wasn’t that for me. (There’s a lot of irony here, because he had a hard time with the fact that I “didn’t need him anymore”, when we embraced polyamory.)
Nothing is a more clear an example of his manipulation as when I was diagnosed with post-partum depression in 2015. At that time, #4 was 3 months old. He had a few health scares early on. When they were resolved, and I didn’t get better, I realized that I needed help that wasn’t going to come in the form of “giving it time” or “accepting my situation”. So I made an appointment with my family physician and got a prescription for antidepressants. Thirteen days later, I woke up, myself, for the first time in six years, realizing that this acute depression had been preceded by six years of a low level chronic depression. The intervening thirteen days where I adjusted to my meds were some of the most difficult of my life. I was unable to get out of bed in the morning. The antidepressant I’m on is a sedative and it takes some time to adjust. I had a three month old baby, who, thankfully, was the best sleeper, and would wake a 8:30 a.m. I would nurse him and hand him off to F. F would get up with the children, feed and care for them, and put #4 down for a nap, who would wake up at around noon. I would get up, feed him, and we would get going and spend the afternoon together. I was groggy and stressed and still very much depressed. Just going through the motions of daily life was an enormous challenge. During this whole time, I heard no end of complaints about how hard it was on F. How he wasn’t getting a vacation, how I was “lazing” away the days while he worked so hard. How he was suffering, and I wasn’t helping. It went on and on. It was one long complaint. After two weeks, I came out of my depression with a new lease on life. I realized how difficult our relationship had been for years and started tackling some of the issues that needed to be fixed. I took control again.
The reality of this is that every time I had an issue, every time I was vulnerable, my needs became a problem for F. He turned my suffering into his. I ended up supporting him through my stresses. It was the very definition of unhealthy, having a partner who couldn’t actually see past the end of his nose to support me. When I was talking to A about F, he said “I don’t understand him. He’s clearly very selfish”, and I can’t help but agree with him. Anything anyone in his life was going through became about him. The kids being kids and being loud or demanding became them misbehaving and being hard on him after a night shift. Me needing a break and time off for myself when I was home with kids alone for days at a time on his days off was me making things too hard for him, denying him a break. Me needing him for anything was about him.
What does this mean? It means that every time, for 14 years, that I was at all vulnerable, I had a partner who not only didn’t support me, but required me to support him. I did so, to the best of my ability, and he criticized me for it. So somewhere along the journey, I stopped asking for support. I stopped being vulnerable. I stopped needing anyone but myself. I turned completely inwards. This is where A and O, the loves in my life, find me. This is where my strong friends, like G, find me. Strong and independent to a fault. Reluctant to share my truths with many. Not asking for help, but wanting the support (and perhaps needing it) more than anyone can guess.
Now, I have two men in my life who ACTUALLY want to help me work through my weaknesses. I have friends who are unfailingly supportive. But I don’t know how to ask for the help I need. No, that’s not true. I know HOW to ask, I don’t know how to feel safe asking for what I need. I’m bad at vulnerability. The fact that I’ve felt raw and vulnerable this week, while I process this truth of my inability to be good at vulnerability is the wildest irony in this situation. The fact is, I have to unpack this fact, dissect it. Understand the healthy parts, discard the unhealthy ones, and figure out how to function better for my own good. For myself, but also for the people who I love and who love me. I need to model good communication and self-care for my children and that comes with not always being the strong person and being vulnerable sometimes. I need to be better. I’m still being strong and fun and unapologetic, which is good. Going forward, I need to be someone who is strong and fun and unapologetic who is really, truly all of those things because I have the support of those I love and the strength to show them the vulnerable, feeling, hurting, emotional side of me too. Understanding what led me here is a huge revelation. Unpacking it will take time. Thankfully, I have people who will encourage me to do the things I need for myself, including being there when I am vulnerable and ask for the support I need.
One of the many things I love about O is that he asks me what I need. What I want from our date or what I want him to communicate or if I need anything specific in any situation. Just by being himself, he is pulling my needs from me and making it normal for me to ask for what I need. This game changer seems to be just naturally changing my game.