Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Good Wife

A blissful moment captured during our first dance as husband and wife. 
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I stood in the bathroom shaking my head at myself in the mirror. My mind was filing through the adjustments and rearrangements for the next 4 days. Behind me in the reflection, Paul emerged slowly, head down and hands in his front pockets.

"I feel like I can't tell you about my business travel without you getting pissed at me," he said.

This was about the 98th time we'd had this discussion and I was exhausted. He'd been a consultant for over 4 years, so you'd think I'd be used to the travel. As his role evolved, the travel had lessened, but it was often enough and always seemed to come up at the last minute, leaving me in a lurch to scramble for babysitters or rescheduling appointments. Once again, my plans and commitments came in second.

"Would you rather I jump up and down with glee every time you go out of town!?" Oh man, I chose the bitch lane. Paul's eyebrows were raised with concern and, unlike me, he took a few beats before responding.

"Well no, but you know this is part of my job. I'm never going to have a job that doesn't involve some amount of travel."

I couldn't deny that.

"Yeah, because that's what you choose and I have to just re-arrange my life to accommodate it."

He couldn't deny that.

There we were, saying the same things we'd said for years knowing the other wouldn't change his or her mind. Correction: I knew he wouldn't change his mind. I could argue against his travel and demanding career until I was blue in the face, but deep down I knew it was up to me to hold the door open for him to achieve his goals. It was his career paying for our lifestyle, so I didn't really have a dog in this fight. At least that's what I've told myself for our entire relationship. Money = Power, even in marriage.

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If I were a superhero, I'd be The Over-Compromiser. As I reflect over the past 11 years of my marriage, I see evidence of my buried feelings all around me. There are several reasons why I do this; lack of self-worth, lack of confidence to voice my thoughts, and probably most common - keeping shit calm and easy. The path of least resistance may as well be called, "Sheevani Boulevard," since, when it comes to relationships, I never want to be the cause of conflict. I keep the peace by not saying my piece.

Breadwinning
While parenting takes the cake for how deeply you learn about yourself, marriage is a very close second. Since we had been together for a full five and a half years, Paul and I knew each other pretty well prior to taking our vows. During our time as a non-married couple, we each had our own lives; our own friends, our own places, freedom to spend our money however we saw fit. I knew there would be an adjustment to living together and figuring out how to combine our single selves into a joint venture. The surprising part, for me, was how much I'd lose myself in the process. And that's on me, folks.

I did not marry a controlling, stubborn jerk-face. In fact, Paul tirelessly reminds me that our marriage is an equal partnership. Years of self-imposed blindness to that fact has caused this current thirst to re-define my identity in our marriage. I'm a lucky woman who has the support of a partner in every sense of the word, but sadly, that hasn't been enough to thwart these struggles brought on by my own issues. On the surface, things seemed easier if I absorbed his needs as mine... or so I thought.

I'm hella awkward when it comes to money. So awkward, I use the word "hella." Please know that I'm making a "smelled a fart" face while I'm writing this, because I'm so uncomfortable. But here goes.... My husband makes a lot of money. I don't make a lot money. We all know how money creates an imbalance of societal power, but I naively never expected to feel that in a marriage. I figured since he works hard for the money (so hard for it, honey), my input is worth very little. I've quietly given him most of the power in our marriage and now, 11 years in, I'm trying to win some of that power back.

Look, I'm no victim here. I knew what I was marrying into. Paul was never withholding about his lofty career goals or the lifestyle he wanted. So many things on which I've compromised are things that have allowed for a very comfortable life for our family. Paul has earned his EMBA, worked his way up the corporate ladder, we've built a couple houses that are the exemplification of my childhood dreams. Am I suffering? Not in the least. This is more a realization of how burying my needs took a toll on myself and our relationship. I mean, I went to a Nickelback concert for f*ck's sake. By the time Paul introduced the idea of moving to Denver, I had established such a pattern of "giving in" that the inevitability of me agreeing opened a Pandora's box of resentment.

The Denver move was our biggest test... by far. While I had always fantasized about moving out of Michigan, it was more the situation of it being Paul's idea that got under my skin. I knew Colorado was beautiful and Denver was very cool, but this decision was the heaviest one in our entire marriage. I felt the weight of all my past compromises crashing down on me. Haven't I already given enough? What if I hate it? Would I ever forgive him? My emotions would bubble over with every Denver chat. Lots of tears, listing my personal sacrifices, more tears, and plain avoidance. I had paved such a smooth road for Paul throughout our marriage, that when he ran into these potholes after 9 years, he didn't quite know what to make of it.  He was unaware of so much I had been holding in, of how lost I felt and how much I was resenting him for things that could have been remedied had I spoken up. Since he always welcomed my thoughts and feelings, there was confusion on his part about how much I hadn't said.

"I've always told you this was a partnership... you have as much say as I do. Especially when it's something as big as moving to another state."

"Not really," I said through tears, "You'd hate me if I said no to Denver."

"I honestly wouldn't," he said while rubbing my feet, "Your happiness is the most important thing."

"Look, you make all the money. I'm just along for the ride... and it's a ride you've always controlled."

So many of the rough patches in our marriage can be traced back to our flawed communication skills. Before any actual discussion, I had assumed so much about how Paul was feeling or how he would react if I voiced my point of view. I also burdened myself with the guilt of my own emotions. Sure, I was the one who re-arranged my goals and expectations to accommodate his, but given our secure life, wasn't that the right decision? Am I a brat to complain about my perceived lack of power? Would I have felt better if he'd left his consulting job, abandoning everything he'd worked for?

I'm a true believer that everyone is in exactly the right place in their life at every moment. The move to Denver forced Paul and me to re-examine how we approach each other about everything from pillow selections to when our kids should get phones. We don't let each other get away with a dismissive, "I'm fine," response anymore. Those years I spent over-compromising taught me so much about myself and what I'm capable of. And frankly, I NEEDED that because I spent years doubting my potential. I mean, when your basement floods while your colicky baby and sick toddler are screaming and your husband is across the country, you can't waste your time feeling sorry for yourself... you just gotta figure it out! And I did. I figured a lot of things out by myself.

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There's always a more adaptable person in a marriage, and in ours, that's me. I'm okay with that, as long as that doesn't mean I'm suppressing my feelings. Earlier I said I felt I'd lost myself in the process of combining our lives, but today I can honestly say I'm in the process of finding myself.. my true self. I've hung up my Over-Compromising cape and am simply an equal partner in a marriage that is a work in progress. It may not all be easy, but it's hella worth it.


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