The first time I got married, I was pretty young, naïve and foolish. I didn’t genuinely understand what it meant to share a life with another person (although I was convinced I did.)
I was, however, absolutely certain of one thing.
I wanted to do my marriage differently than my parents had. I’d witnessed the hostility, anger, frustration, hurt and dysfunction first hand. I definitely did not want that. But let’s face it, my mom, dad and stepdad were my role models so naturally, I ended up re-enacting what I’d experienced even when it was the last thing I’d wanted.
Meanwhile, my heart craved something else entirely.
Something other than what I was creating. My heart longed for intimacy, love, connection, to be understood. All these desires sounded romantic and simple… but somehow, they eluded me.
What I had and what I wanted were miles apart only I pretended that wasn’t the case and acted as if everything was perfect.
Until it all came apart.
Looking back I see that the main challenge, the thing that successfully unraveled my relationship, wasn’t any one singular event. In fact it was the opposite. It was the small, ever day, ordinary moments that poked the holes.
What am I talking about?
Here’s a scenario:
It’s a Friday night and we’re watching a movie, one of those heart wrenching, soul mate tearjerkers. Of course, I start crying. My husband rolls his eyes and snorts, implying that I’m pathetic.
I instantly feel hurt and naturally reject him back, turning away from him in bed, holding my wounded-ness like a cloak around me.
I could have told him how I felt.
Instead, I justified my silence with thoughts like: he doesn’t understand or care. Rationalizations that were probably untrue but re-enforced my pain and hurt.
When they occur, these moments seem trite and inconsequential but added up over time, they erode emotional trust. One day, a decade later, I looked up and realized I was standing on the opposite bank of an emotional gulf from my partner.
How did that happen?
It was all the little hurts – me nagging about the laundry, him disappointing me by working on Saturdays, me criticizing him for paying a monthly gym membership he’d never use, him not getting me a card for my birthday… and on and on and on.
We didn’t talk about these small upsets and instead went to bed hurt and angry.
Needless to say, our relationship gradually splintered apart and I decided that I was done. Done with power and control masquerading as love. No more partners. Now I’d take care of myself and my girls. I wasn’t ready for another relationship and I certainly didn’t want one that wasn’t really about love.
It was time for me to learn how to be loving.
That started with me learning how to love myself. I also had to understand how to make room for other people and that meant surrendering my need for control. Most importantly, I had to give up criticism.
It took time and frankly, I was skeptical that real love even existed.
Then I got surprised. Love came to me, as it usually does, when I least expected it.
This time my partner and I agreed to do things differently.
Consequently, he and I talk about everything. We're open about our feelings and even about how we want to be with each other. This led us to creating agreements that govern our relationship. One of these is to not go to bed angry.
I’ll admit, sometimes this is really hard to do.
Especially when I feel hurt or wronged. In those moments it’s hard to be emotionally vulnerable. It’s much easier to fall into blame or feel like a victim. But I value what we have together and I remember how going to bed angry whittled away my previous relationship.
I know it’s worth speaking up because then those little things won’t accumulate. They won’t slowly push me away emotionally so I stop opening up and sharing.
Instead, when I do finally speak my words of upset, those words of truth, the opposite occurs.
I feel even more seen, heard and loved. I am honored and taken care of because I choose to share my vulnerability instead of holding in the hurt.
It’s been eleven years and I can honestly say that my current husband and I are even closer today than we were all those years ago. A big reason why is because we consistently try to honor this agreement and not go to bed angry.
So the next time you feel hurt, disappointed or upset with your partner, try talking about it.
Tell him or her how you feel. See if your partner can understand your point of view and perhaps offer some insight into theirs. It may bring you to a new level of intimacy with one another and deepen the bond you have.
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