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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Getting Better All the Time


Today is my 5th wedding anniversary. Amazing. A-fucking-mazing.

That we made it this far is really tenement to Ted's amazing strength and patience. Or maybe pig-headed-ness and not knowing when to quit. Whatever, I am profoundly grateful.

We tried to have our wedding before Kiddo was born, but it was too much of a rush. I was also taking some classes (I was pre-med at the time) and working full time. The extra strain of planning a wedding was just too much, and so we gave it up.

The combination of unresolved grief and raging pregnancy hormones, combined with uncertainty in my relationship with Ted and my general emotional baggage, made me a horrible person. There is no other way to say that. I was selfish, emotional, whiny, bitchy, childish, and hateful. I blamed Ted for everything--how miserable I felt physically and emotionally, how I couldn't go on with school, somehow I even managed to blame him for Rick's death. Everything was all his fault.

That Ted didn't leave me during my pregnancy or the year or so after Kiddo was born, is testimony to his patience and steadfastness. He forgave me time and again, until I knew he would never leave me. For some reason, he even still wanted to marry me.

But sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees, and besides sticking around, Ted did little else to hold up his end of the relationship. He was as childish and spoiled as I was, and still wanted to live like a bachelor, in spite of the fact that he had a baby-momma and a child at home. For reasons of his own, Ted replayed some of the worst from my childhood--he objectified me, ignored me, didn't know how to cope with my emotional storms, and escaped into work or hobbies. For the longest time, it seemed like his only interest in me was "What can you do for me? In what way are you of any use? How does whatever happens to you affect me?" (Re-reading this, I recall that Ted's mom passed away when our son was about 6 weeks old. So only now, 6 1/2 years later, have I pulled my head out of my ass enough to see that Ted was grieving. How insensitive have I been? )

Each of us was desperate to get our needs met, and unable to ask like civilized people. We were both so miserable.

For those first few years, I conducted myself like a spoiled child, resorting to tantrums to try and get the attention I needed. I blew things completely out of proportion, for example throwing a screaming and bawling fit because Ted had spilled coffee on my clean floor. Ted would withdraw, or worse, resort to hurling hurtful insults that always seemed to get right to the heart of me. This escalated for a few rounds, until I would resort to hitting to make him stop. Then he would yell some more, and withdraw again.

The last time I hit Ted, I also broke his finger when he tried to restrain me. I turned around and saw Kiddo had seen the whole thing. That was one of many ah-ha moments that brought things around for us.

We've had a lot of those moments in the last 5 years.

Fortunately, we are both stubborn loners. Neither of us was willing to admit failure, and we both knew we had no one else. We were committed to creating a stable, two-parent home for kiddo, even though we disagreed violently about what that meant. So, somehow, we knew we had to hang on to each other. We didn't know how, or even where to start. Several months of marriage counseling didn't seem to have any effect until months after we had given up on it. Now bits and pieces of it still come back to us from time to time.

Love, apparently, can conquer all. Neither of us believed it at the time, but here we are. With the momentum of a speeding glacier, we have changed.

Ted believes the pivotal moment was when we moved out of our old house. To say that the old place had a bad vibe, is like saying The Amityville Horror was a somewhat creepy movie. We both firmly believe the place was haunted. It is an undisputed fact that in the 10 years Ted lived there, in that house and the 3 lots touching it, there were 3 divorces, a ruined friendship between 3 roommates, 2 couples who regularly had knock-down, drag-out fights, and 2 cases of near financial ruin--that we know of. And I can certainly say that moving out to the quiet, low stress, low traffic country has made both of us happier. So yeah, maybe there is something to that.

I like to give us more credit, though. I think, mostly, we simply grew the f* up. I think we both struggled for a long time and finally something gave, and we pulled ourselves together. Ted claims I somehow taught him how to think, which means to question logically the assumptions he grew up with. This means he thinks things through logically and with empathy, rather than just being contrary for the hell of it. He is breaking his bad habit of saying hateful things in arguments. He is more willing to work with me as a team and to accept my leadership when appropriate. He shows he loves me in ways I understand, instead of expecting me to intuitively know it.

For me, trust is the essential issue. Back in high school, Ted was really the only person I trusted. I felt he was the only one who understood me. Through the years, through our separation and all the changes in our lives, I stopped trusting even him. I tested Ted to inhuman limits. He forgave the unforgivable in me, time and again. He sometimes screamed and yelled and threated to leave me, but he never did. After a while, I became able to ask him to promise he's never leave. He had to say the actual words to me, many times over, promising he's always be there for me. And gradually, I started to believe him. I stopped trying so hard to make him go away. Sometimes when I am feeling bad about myself, I will still push him a little bit, but it's not exactly the same. Now I push because I really want him to say, "I love you. Let's make things better."--but I don't always know that is what I need, or I don't know how to ask.

I have had to learn trust in other things, too. I have always had a difficult time trusting anybody with any kind of personal (emotional) information. My instinct has always been, don't tell people anything they can come back at you with later. Never give anybody a weapon to use against you. This made an impossible situation in our marriage because there was no way Ted could avoid hurting me if he didn't know what was going on with me. But I could not tell him for fear he would use the information to hurt me.

About a year ago, I felt or herd a stirring from the un-integrated core personality, the original child who was so damaged. It was in the middle of an argument with Ted. Like so many of our arguments, it started because he had unknowingly stepped on one of my many emotional land mines. In the aftermath of resulting explosion, Ted asked me in exasperation, "How am I supposed to know what hurts you? You won't tell me!" I realized in that moment that he was right. I opened my mouth to speak, then clamped it shut again. A voice inside me screamed, "NO! NO! DON'T TELL! DON'T GIVE ANYTHING AWAY!" And I whispered, " I can't tell you. It's against the rules."

Lately I have had to tell. The pain of constantly getting my feelings trampled on by a good, well-meaning, man who was stumbling in the dark, got the better of me. I saw that the things I had done and the secrets I had kept to protect myself were now more cumbersome than helpful, and that they hurt Ted and Kiddo because I can't be a wife and mother to them when I am wallowing in my emotional pig pen full of shit. I decided that, if I wanted Ted to love, honor, and cherish me for myself, then he had to see my "self" as it really was. I used to accuse him of loving not me, Erin, but one of the alter personalities who had been his buddy in high school. But what I was doing, holding up an idealized, sanitized Erin, put me in essentially the same position. (Like The Wizard of Oz: Pay no mind to the woman behind the curtain!) And look, I can't do that for the rest of my life.

Now it's all out there. Or at least, all of it that I remember and understand. Ted now sees who he has in front of him. He sees the holes in me, and the places where I didn't grow properly, and the scars that are still so full of filth and shit that they will probably never heal right. And it's OK. He still wants me. Amazingly, he understands me. He gave me a beautiful gift the other day--he was angry at my mother for the things she did to me. Nobody has ever been angry on my behalf before.

Five years ago today, we stood in our back yard in front of our guests and promised to love, honor, and cherish each other. That has always been my fairy tale ending--to be loved, honored, and cherished. Like so many people, I looked to my marriage to make up for what I never got in childhood. Ted is a white knight guy--he really does want to save me and give me what I need. We balance each other that way--I so need to be rescued, and Ted needs someone to save.

Most psychologists would say this is not a perfect marriage. I know it's not. But it's honest, and for us that is a big step. It's strong and well-tested. It nurtures both of us and gives us both space and reason to grow. And it gets better all the time.


Holly said...

Who has a perfect marriage?

Erin said...

Probably nobody, huh? I used to know a guy who said, "Love is when two people find thiner neuroses match." I thought that was amazingly callous at the time, but now I think he was on to something.