The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

One relationship, two completely different experiences

I have so many things swirling around in my head, and I know I can't get it all captured here because I'm very confused and it's like being in a ticker tape parade and trying to make whole documents out of all the pieces flying around. But I have to try, otherwise I'm going to just sweep it all under the carpet.

Husband and I had a very difficult conversation last night. We were talking about our experiences of our relationship, and it struck me again how different they were. I was deeply happy, fulfilled and joyful in my relationship. Not deluded, in the sense that I had no illusion that everything was perfect, but any complaints I had seemed minor when compared to how wonderful my huband was, how kind, gentle, smart, funny, loving, an incredible partner and father, an outstanding human being. He was also self-righteous at times, nasty, and disdainful, but mostly to other people for most of our relationship. Only over the past 5 years or so have I felt it directed at me. And I often asked him about it, but he told me nothing was different.

He told me that my experience was so wonderful because he "walked on eggshells" around me. From his perspective, I was mostly unhappy, "always frustrated, pissed off and distracted," and highly critical of him.

I have no doubt that I was all of these things, especially where he was concerned. If you asked everyone who knows me, I truly believe that 99.5% of them would say I'm one of the happiest, nicest people they know. People tell me all the time how I brighten their day. The half percent who think I'm nasty, self-righteous, critical, and angry are my mom and my husband. Bizarre, considering they are two of the most vital and important relationships in my life. But I have no doubt that they get this from me.

What I find so hard to comprehend is that husband's experience of me was so much of the bad and little of the good I felt. He had no idea, I think, of the depth of my love, admiration, respect and appreciation of him. When I told him how I was often filled with gratitude and wonder at the life I had, he said he was kind of pissed off because I always seemed so frustrated and unhappy. He said that I was frustrated with him, my son and my mother and took it out on them. That I was frustrated with my job and took it out on them. That I would either be working, or wishing I was working. And I think he felt that nothing was ever up to whatever standard I established. I know he was particularly annoyed when I asked him to do things like pick up his clothes, be more thorough about something, take a shower before coming to bed. But I also thought I was being loving, supportive, tender, and appreciative. We've always been a very physically demonstrative couple - kisses, caresses, hugs every day. We told each other that we loved each other every day. And I thought I expressed my appreciation, admiration and respect. But somehow I was mostly negative and dark and didn't convey much of what I was actually feeling. I really didn't know this. It's very confusing and painful to think that he didn't know all those things I felt, and that I didn't know I wasn't communicating them.

I KNOW I was distracted a lot. I started working for a major media company about 2 weeks after my son was born. Working from home was good because I could be with my son, but I also had trouble putting work away and often worked long hours and often odd with international colleagues. That went on for 3 1/2 years. Then I took 5 months off to do creative things. Husband had encouraged me to do this, so I think it was not a problem for him, although I think it went on a couple months longer than it should have given our financial situation, and my lack of responsibility for that made him resentful. Then I went to work at the place I am now. My first project there was huge and consuming, a trial by fire. Ten to 12 hours a day away from the family was not uncommon for the first 3 months. After that I started to manage it better. Now I keep it at 40 hours. But he still feels like I'd rather be on the computer when I'm home. I've been trying to focus on my family, but obviously I havne't been as successful as I thought. And I've realized over the past 3 weeks, mostly from the reading I've been doing, that the feelings I get when I hear any kind of criticism are feelings of rejection and shame. I haven't heard criticism any other way up til now. I feel ashamed for letting someone down or not meeting their expectations, and rejected because my shortcomings must render me unworthy of whatever relationship I had. This translates into husband not being able to express his upset. And when combined with his way of being, "other people can't handle the truth, can't handle what I have to say, so I won't say what I think or how I feel, I'll handle it myself," that leaves him only able to express his anger and frustration when he hits some breaking point, creates a very threatening situation for me in wich I think I must go into survival mode and defend myself and become the person that my husband experiences.

I was thinking about what our lists would be like if we wrote out all our complaints about each other, and all of the ways in which the other has failed us. I belive my list would be pretty short, and husband's would be surprisingly long. That is a painful thought. It hurts to think he felt so hurt, disregarded and unappreciated by me.

I also think that once he decided I was unhappy, distracted, frustrated and pissed off, he listend for that. Right now I'm frustrated because I feel like, while his complaints are valid and justified, he's not taking any responsibility for who he was in the matter. I'm gripped with shame and sadness at the person I was being, and also angry with him for putting all the responsibity for his experience on me and, I think, using that to continute to feel somehow justified for what he did. He says he knows what he did was not justified by any of this. But the way he expresses himself about all of this makes me feel that he is justified somehow, because of the horrible person I've been. I know I've been thoughtless, careless, self-centered - but I haven't been so absolutely awful. Unless maybe I have, and I just don't realize it. But I look at how other people we know treat each other inside their relationships and I see our relationship so differently. So much more love, respect and care; so much more space and understanding. That's what I thought we had, but maybe I was only getting that and not giving it. I don't know.

There are so many things I want to say to my husband about this. I can't say them now because I really think he can't hear me right now. Last night we quickly escalated into an argument in which we were both frustrated, angry and in pain. We've never argued much (probably both avoiding things, although it didn't feel that way at the time). So I'm going to say some of it here, so that maybe later he can read and begin to see me in a more forgiving light. I know I'm far from perfect. But I want to be forgiven.

So here is my letter to my husband:

My dear,
I am truly, deeply sorry for how I've been. I know I spent years distracted by work. It must have felt like work was more important to me than you were. I'm sorry for that. I know that I get frustrated by work, by the fact that I often feel I want something different for my profesisonal life. I complain about that. I probably complain a lot to you about a lot of things. This feels like talking to me, but I don't think it feels that way to you. I'm sorry for being so self-involved that I didn't notice how my complaints impacted you. I'm sorry for being short tempered, quick to get pissed off about petty things like clothes on the floor or things not done the way I would have done them. And I'm deeply sorry for making you feel threatened in our relationship when I told you early on that I wanted you to know that I didn't need you and could walk away at any time; and later implying that if you ever talked to me a certain way again I'd walk away; and for kicking you out of our bed when you were trying to express your anger and frustration at my lack of personal integrity (for example, not making a phone call that I said I'd make to arrange time with friends, not doing what I said I'd do with my responsibities in our start-up business, not promoting your film the way you thought I should have, not doing a great job producing the film.) On numerous occasions I have failed you and let you down. I'm sorry, and especially sorry since I can say that I never felt you had failed me or let me down. I felt deeply hurt sometimes, when your built up anger spilled out and you said nasty things or spoke in nasty tones. But I know now that a lot of that hurt came from the fact that I was responding to the issues you were brining up as rejection of me, and I responded only to my feelings about that perceived rejection, and not to any of your issues or feelings. I am sorry for not hearing your frustrations, your disappointment and your pain. I know I did that. I know I disregarded those things. And that cause you further pain and frustration. I am so sorry for that. In my heart I believed you got from me what I was getting from you - a profound freedom to be, deep joy, and understanding on a level that I can't put into words. I want those things for you. I'm sad and very sorry that over all these years I have not provided them. Another way in which I let you down.

Please also consider that your experience of me is also a function of how you listen for me. Consider that you decided, based upon who I acknowledge I was being, that I was unreasonable, critical, pissed off, frustrated and distracted; and that everything I then said or did was either proof of that or an exception to that. Please consider that you had your own filters through which you listend for me that may have been a part of creating your experience. I can't believe I was so horrible. I see now that I was horrible enough. But please find it in your heart to accept some responsibilty because I think only then will we achieve the level of authenticity and intimacy that I think is possible. I am clear that I bear responsibility for not hearing you, not considering you, for taking out my frustrations and being petty and nasty. And I know that you chose to betray my trust and have sex with prostitutes because you felt unable to make a different choice, given who I was being and what your experience of life had been. I understand that you did not get to where you got alone. Please consider that the same is true for me. Please dig deep for true understanding, personal responsibility and forgiveness. That's what I'm trying to do. It's hard and painful, confusing, scary; I feel angry and resentful at times. But what I want is for both of us to have a relationship in which we have freedom to be, joy and love so profound it can't be expressed in language. I'm scared, I don't know how to have that happen, and I believe it's possible.

With all my love,

In S-Anon last night we were reading the sixth step. Of course, at the time I couldn't think of any of my own, and I thought I could get husband to identify them for me since he seems pretty clear about them. But last night and today I've come to see them more clearly myself. At least some of them.

Character flaws:
unable to see my own faults
Mean and nasty when I'm frustrated or pissed off
Maybe demanding and critical, although I don't feel that way
Don't do what I say I'm going to do
Don't give enough priority to my family

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