When a marriage begins to split at the seams, old wounds that were previously well-hidden behind the march of time and routine are suddenly revealed. They can sting and ache as deeply as fresh wounds can.
Accusations of betrayals, lies, and apathy run amok on both sides and it becomes easier to retreat into a storyline of “I am right and the other one is wrong.” This is where I found myself not too long ago: my feet digging into my arguments, my crossed arms, with tear-streaked cheeks, refusing to budge from my insistence that I was the hurt one, that I was the one in the right. “I can’t do this anymore,” I told myself.
And then a friend said something to me that changed everything. “You’re so sure that you’re the only one hurting, but this is a person you loved enough to make children with. Are you absolutely sure that he isn’t hurting too? Have you really given him a chance to explain his side?”
I was in no mood to listen to my husband. And isn’t that what fighting is all about? We hear ourselves shout and mutter and spit and hiss out words that are meaningless because no one is listening. And in all of this vitriol, we convince ourselves that we are right and they are wrong. But was I being totally unfair and missing an opportunity to set things right? “I have no strength for this,” I told myself.
For days, I tip-toed around my husband, not really sure how to say that I wanted him to talk to me. If I am being honest, I didn’t think he wanted to speak to me at all. In fact, we had built up walls of silence so thick and impenetrable that the only time we did speak was when one of us needed to communicate to the other about the kids or the business of running a house.
I lay awake at night and ran through all the myriad ways that I could express to my husband that I was ready to calm down and listen. Then one morning, I quietly said, “I’m sorry.”
I was shocked by the word choice. My husband looked shocked, too. In the recesses of my ego, a part of me was screaming mad that I apologized, but my mind and heart were pushing me to say more. “Am I messing this up?” I wondered.
“I haven’t been fair to you. We’ve been fighting in circles and not once have either of us really stopped to listen to the other one. I get that we are both hurting, but for a little while is it okay with you if we try to just listen to each other?”
He didn’t respond in words, but I did see his expression warm a little. Not much, but enough to know that my words were heard, that he was thinking about things too. “Please don’t leave me,” my heart cried.
For days, we stumbled through awkward fits and starts of conversations, shying away from the big ticket item offenses that set us off and make us angry. I promised myself that I wouldn’t focus on the past, but rather I would focus on the moment in front of me and that I would stop being angry about previous transgressions and anguish.
And isn’t that what forgiveness is?
There are still moments when my chest feels tight and I get angry in a primal see-red sort of way. The entire process of starting a divorce and then stagnating in the land of “should we or shouldn’t we?” wears me down like bald tires. I wish we could either have a clean break or fix our mess, but that isn’t how people work. That isn’t how life works, especially when there are kids involved.
I’ve swallowed my pride and begun making compassion and listening to my husband the goal of each day. Who knows if this will work, but at least we are gentle with each other now. “There is still love somewhere in this mess,” I tell myself.
“Our kids are watching us,” I say to him, “so we better get this right.”
And so for now, we remain like two Schopenhauer porcupines: wanting to be closer, but having to negotiate the sharp sting of a decade’s worth of thorny and hurtful points of old wounds. There is love in this mess — I am sure of this much — and if all of this is for naught and we fail miserably, well then, at least I will know that we truly did try.
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