My heart is breaking and repairing and breaking and repairing again. This seemingly never ending cycle hurts. It’s left me feeling raw and vulnerable and weak. This is not something I’m used to, and it’s rather hard to cope with, truthfully. I think that now, over six months after I asked F for a separation, I’m starting to tease out some of the baggage I have that he saddled me with that I’ve been carrying, starting fourteen years ago and adding to the load frequently for years. I’m realizing that behaviours I thought were normal, or minor, when looked at in isolation, were just that, but that as I look back at the cumulative history of those interactions, what I went through was a thorough and devastating form of emotional abuse.
Why is this coming out now? Because of O.
I’m going to start at the small things that amount to abuse on a larger, rather systematic scale and then add to how I started to determine this was actually abuse and how it’s all O’s fault. I say that tongue in cheek, I realize how amazing it is that he’s helped me peel off so many layers of bandaids in such a short time.
I remember before we were married, F getting so angry with me that he kicked a 4L milk jug in our front hallway and it exploded against the wall. I remember him refusing to clean it up, leaving it for me as he stormed out of the house, I remember seeing the drips of the hasty job I did for weeks. I remember another fight around that time where I locked myself in our bathroom, and he punch a hole in the door trying to break it down. He was yelling at me to open the door and I refused, and he asked me why and I said “Because I’m scared of you right now.” and he laughed and said it was silly that I was scared, asking why I would be. I responded with “What response did you think you would get when you started banging on the door?” In his defense, he calmed down in that moment and said “You’re right, I’m sorry.” There was the ongoing issues with sex. Where if I said “no”, it became a fight. If I wanted sex, it became a game. It became about him and his needs and all about him cumming. I like hard sex, and whenever I asked for it harder, he would complain that I “just wanted it over”, when the reality was it was the only time I really enjoyed sex with him. If I made a mistake in front of our friends, he would make a joke about it and intentionally embarrass me. He would throw me under the bus in excuses all the time to his parents, my parents, everyone. Whenever I came to him and said that something he did or said hurt my feelings, he would make it like it was my fault, or that I was being too sensitive. He would frequently say I was being controlling, too strong, too opinionated, unreasonable, and stubborn. I suspect I sometimes was. Other times though, I most certainly was not, and it was his way of getting my back up so that I would get upset and he would “win”. It was his method of taking control of the situation. Often times, these discussions would end in me crying, my feelings hurt, confused that I came to him with what I thought was a valid concern and wondering if I was, in fact, too sensitive/demanding/controlling/etc. When this happened, he would say things like: “Oh god, you’re not crying again are you?” or “Right, cry, because you can’t get what you want.” or if I was crying in bed and he heard me when he was sleeping or trying to sleep, “If you’re going to cry like that, can you go somewhere else and do it so I can sleep?” For our entire marriage, I did all the household shopping. There were constant complaints about the food I prepared. The “junk” I bought. The cost of everything. When I made family meals, which was all the time, I would announce that supper was ready, the kids would come running, and F would head to the bathroom. The five of us were often finished dinner when he finally arrived, and I had just taken care of all the kids alone. Often I would start cleaning up while he was eating and playing on his phone or reading a book and yelling at the kids for being kids. When he was done, he rarely did dishes. He rarely did laundry. He rarely helped around the house. In fact, until just before I asked him for a divorce, he never really independently decided to do anything that needed to be done around the house, from grocery shopping, to housework, to mowing the lawn, to laundry, to preparing something for the children’s week, to registering kids for programs, to preparing school lunches, to giving kids baths, to everything, really. I read a post recently about this emotional labour that we do as women, and I acknowledge that much of this was of my causing – I just did these things, the organizing, emotional labour, family management, and household management automatically – he never HAD to help. When I asked for help, he attacked – I was being demanding, controlling, wanted to dictate what he did with his time, and naggy. Throughout our marriage, I would establish boundaries, and F was always pushing them. He was constantly breaking through those boundaries and I was constantly bending them for his benefit. So much so, that at the end, when he started pushing my boundaries so blatantly that it was impossible to miss, and some of my things were getting destroyed as a result, I continued to excuse his behaviour as abnormal or uncharacteristic, but when I truthfully looked back, I realized that his behaviour hadn’t changed, but the frequency of it had.
In all of this, I was convinced I was the one with the problem. I was too controlling. My expectations were too high. I wasn’t communicating my feelings well. I was broken by my childhood, so I wasn’t able to be the wife I should be. It never occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t entirely me. I’m realizing more and more that much of the problem was him. I’m being very careful to not blame things on him that aren’t his fault, but restrict it to those things that are, while acknowledging and accepting blame for my part in things. I’m not saying I’m blameless, I’m saying that I recognize that many things I thought were normal were actually abusive, and O has helped me realize a lot of these.
How? Well, by simply being him. When we had our first major discussion, when he expressed concern about my relationship with A and I got upset with him, instead of blaming me, or even arguing with me, he met me with a list of coherent thoughts he wanted to work through together. The first part was just some basic understandings that we had based on our relationship structure. The second was clarification questions. The third was a talk about how we responded to our text dialogue and what it meant. In all of it, we held hands, had our legs wrapped around each others’, and not an angry or accusatory word was spoken. It wasn’t heated, it was loving, and there was no blame. Trigger the first time I realized I was responding to O as if F was on the other side of the conversation, and I expected hidden meaning where there was none. I expected a motive where there was only desire for understanding. I was too hard on him because of the hurt someone else caused me.
Then, one night I was at his house. I’ve had a lot of work stress in recent weeks, and I haven’t been at my best. We played for a while, and I had a very fulfilling time, but he didn’t “finish”. He asked me what I wanted. What I truly wanted. He presented it as: 1) keep playing and have a super hot, fun time; or 2) cuddle in and fall asleep holding each other. I knew I wanted option two. I was exhausted. I was emotionally done for a variety of reasons. I needed to sleep and be held and feel safe and loved. He had to drag that answer out of me. I was ready to give up what I truly wanted to satisfy him, because I was so used to the guilt and manipulation that I received with F. I wasn’t giving him a straight answer and he asked me why. So I told him the truth. This resulted in a short chat about how he was perfectly happy holding me while we slept and that there was no place he’d rather be and sex had nothing to do with it. I cried a little that night, even though he didn’t know it, because I didn’t know that doing what I needed for myself could come without guilt.
A couple weeks ago, F was at his worst. He was arguing with me about preschool Christmas concert tickets, and treated #3 horribly, manipulatively, abusively, and I lost it. It brought up so much hurt. So much history. So much of so much. O came over that night. We sat on the couch, drank wine, and I talked about my life. About how I felt like layers and layers of bandaids were getting ripped off and my heart was hurting and all the reasons why. O listened. He held me. I cried and he told me he appreciated my vulnerability. I told him about my relationship with F and it took most of the night. I was so raw and hurting and incapable of anything more emotionally so we crawled into bed and he held me. He helped me heal by just being what I needed. Something no one has ever done for me before. I didn’t have to ask.
That’s it: I didn’t have to ask. It wasn’t a compromise on his part. He just did.
I’ve written so many versions of this post. Everything I write has meaning for me, but if I read it from the perspective of an outside observer, I think it sounds trite and petty and full of blame. Yesterday, I went to my counsellor and I talked about this. About how bad I am at being vulnerable, how I need to be asking for help when I need it, and how I need to be dealing with the realizations of F’s manipulations and abuse one at a time.
I’m not sure I can write the words that would make others understand what I’m going through in my brain and in my heart. But the important thing is that I am going through it. I’m growing, I’m healing, and I’m on my way to being complete. And I’m happy.