Thursday, November 21, 2019

Mr. Husband, TEAR DOWN THAT WALL!

You can't see it, but there's a wall there
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I feel my blood pressure drop as we hug. Why do we always do this? We always feel better after we talk, yet we both have to get to the point of diarrhea level stomach aches before we actually say what's on our minds.

We head to the bathroom to do our pre-bed routines; his being much longer than mine since I'm too lazy to commit to a full brushing and flossing routine. Hey, my dentist hasn't shown concern, so I'm not going to mess with my unbroken system. As I pull out a make-up remover wipe and brace for the cold moisture on my face, I think about how we didn't delve into all the issues on my mind. Sure, we tackled what was freshest on the surface, but what about the stuff that's buried?

I glance over at him hunched over the sink, 3 minutes deep into his 8 minute brushing session, and wonder if he is thinking the same. What am I even saying? Of course he isn't. For the entirety of our relationship, I've been the deep thinker when it comes to our emotional well-being. He probably thinks everything is 100% clear and fine. We shall coast on this false clarity for weeks or months until the next set of concerns come up. Then there will be a few days of awkwardness, snippiness, avoidance and disingenuous pleasantries. Finally one night, after the kids are asleep, we'll do this all over again.

Back in college, a roommate of mine would pull her comforter over her bed and say it was "made." However, she'd never fix the fitted sheet that was half off the mattress, or smooth out the flat sheet that was wadded up on one side and her pillow was almost always wedged between the frame and wall. At a glance, the bed looked tidy, but a closer examination would show so much messiness underneath the top layer.

I long to break the pattern of pulling the comforter up over our issues... it's time to fix those sheets.

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Lately I've been feeling really helpless when it comes to my husband's happiness. Everyday I see him experience a range of emotions from heartfelt joy when he sees the kids come down for breakfast, frustration, impatience and anger in his home office, back to happiness after work with the kids, ensconced in sappy love as he puts them to bed, distracted annoyance as he opens his laptop again and then total exhaustion that causes him to pass out 15 minutes into our alone couple time. It's work shit. It's ALWAYS work shit.

I remind myself that it's easy for me to say things like, "Just don't let it get to you so much," or, "It's not the end of the world." From my vantage point, the level of discontentment he reaches every single day seems unnecessary, but I have to remember that it's not about me "getting it." The dichotomy between our typical days is pretty extreme, so I have no right to get judgemental about his moods. Also, we are different people. His approach to career and success is and has always been vastly different than mine... it's not wrong, it's just different.

My main struggle, however, is seeing him build this emotional wall around his career dissatisfaction. He is a master at compartmentalizing his life. When we lived separately before we were married, I would only see this happy-go-lucky side. Since being married, however, I've been privy to many other sides. Mostly, I've noticed an unfulfilled career pattern... company after company, role after role. In an earlier post, I wrote about how I've made certain choices in order to cut a clear path for his career to flourish, which I believed would make him happy. In fact, I banked on it making him happy. And while he's a successful person by anyone's standards, I know he is still very unfulfilled when it comes to his career. At times, I get so annoyed and think, "You are a white man in America with an MBA and executive salary! What more could you want?!"

Ah, there's that judgement again. The one constant in our marriage is that my husband has stood by me through all my struggles and never once shown any judgement. He listens quietly, sometimes because that's what I need, other times because he doesn't know what to say... and at other other times, I'm sure, he is biting his tongue. His patience and support for me throughout our marriage has been rock solid, so I want to reciprocate. Only, we've always differed in our capacity for patience. Paul's tolerance tank for me is that of a robust SUV while mine is comparative to, say, a lawn mower.

I've spent years pushing away my desire to obliterate his emotional wall, but now I'm starting to really fear the effects of all these repressed emotions... for both of us.

Got Time to Lean, Got Time to Clean
It's only been in the last 5 or so years that I've learned what really makes Paul tick. Of course, I had known the trivial things; likes and dislikes when it came to movies, food, cars, etc., but in relation to big picture stuff, I had to do some very uncomfortable digging. Considering we've known each other for almost 2 decades, I realize this may sound pathetic, but it's our reality. He's not a big sharer and I've been too scared to force it. The painful discoveries from his past came out during very emotional and trying times in our marriage. I needed him to open up or else our relationship may not have recovered.

One very significant door that Paul opened revealed a strenuous start to his relationship with his stepdad. From what I had seen during our time as a couple, it seemed perfectly amicable. While more formal than affectionate, it never appeared to be more or less than a typical father/son bond. Paul even called him 'Dad' instead of by his first name, something his older sister chose not to do, so I assumed it had been a smooth transition from life with a single mom. But, one day during a serious discussion about some issues in our relationship, Paul told me about those first few years.

When his mother remarried, his new stepdad did not hesitate to take on an authoritative role when it came to Paul and his sister, especially when it came to helping out around the house. Now, it wasn't like Paul was at all lazy. In fact, during her years as a single mother, Paul's mom had instilled a pretty rigourous set of chores for him to get done daily. But now this man, who was new to his life and home, did not hesitate to order Paul around and make him feel bad about taking any kind of break; watching television, listening to music, playing a video game, etc.

"What are you doing? Why are you just sitting there?"

The nature of his urging wasn't overtly aggressive or violent, Paul clarified, but with all the new adjustments of that time; mom's married again, we have a new man living in the house, he's telling us what to do like a dad before we've even gotten used to him... it took an understandable toll. And Paul being the affable kid that he was, he didn't want to bring his discomfort to his mother's attention and stress her out. So he followed orders. The effects of that time are what Paul still deals with today; a persistent sense of being on edge and never feeling like he can sit still without a nagging guilt about being unproductive. There are other lingering affects as well, many of which he still won't discuss with me.

I sat there listening with tears in my eyes as he revealed what he went through. It felt like an enormous crack had spidered down Paul's impenetrable wall. He even looked a little different to me. Feeling his vulnerability after assuming a trivial reality for so long was like breathing fresh air after being trapped. Talking about it was painful for him, but it was the first time I felt like I was peeking into the inner core of who he was. I am someone who is attracted to a person's energy, so seeing a truly genuine side was so beautiful and, quite honestly, a relief. It was the closest I had felt to Paul in years.

The Theory of Evolution - Marriage Edition
As an avid listener to the Armchair Expert podcast, I've heard the word "evolved," thrown around quite a bit. When Kristen Bell was a guest, she applauded Dax (the host and her husband) for how evolved he was. What she meant was that Dax has taken the time to really understand himself and deal with his issues; the good, bad and ugly. And that information fosters a personal environment to grow into a better person. That doesn't mean his faults go away completely, but when they do arise, he has the backup data to inform the why of his actions. That understanding allows him to course correct. To me, this is the most important thing we as humans can do for ourselves. Understand the why. It's f*cking hard to do, but I'm a believer that if we are not evolving, we are shrinking into the worst versions of ourselves.

One of the greatest gifts this blog has given me is the self-reflective journeys I've been on for my posts. I've had to really dig deep into who I am and why I've made certain choices, and while it hasn't always been a pretty picture, it's been incredibly enlightening. I realize both how far I've come in certain ways, but also how much father I have to go in a lot of ways. But, I'm so fortunate to be in the practice of always looking inward and figuring out how to steer my way towards some semblance of personal fulfillment. 

I wish the same for my husband. I'm not suggesting he hasn't evolved at all, but I know there's much farther to go. After learning about a few issues from his past (the stepdad stuff was just one of many), I'm worried about him holding in all that pain. Within the last year, I've realized through my own personal rumination that I can only do so much. I've had to repeat this to myself over and over again, both in my thoughts and out loud in the mirror. He needs to figure this out himself. Some days I wholeheartedly believe that... other days I want to search and search for the magic button that shoves him toward a path to contentment like it's my job. Because for so long I considered it my job... I'm his wife. I should be the one to make him happy. But just as I discovered a few years ago, the only person capable of taking steps to improve their situation... is you. 

Don't Worry, Be Happy - ALL THE TIME!
I once heard a report on NPR that delved into the quest for happiness. In it, the reporter talked about how happiness is approached in different countries and I was struck by how the French view the concept. Rather than a destination, the French consider happiness as temporary stops along the way. In fact, they see a state of perpetual happiness as ludicrous, unattainable and setting oneself up for failure. I nodded along in my car as if I was in the audience of a Ted Talk and the speaker could see me from the stage. 

This idea that we need to keep trying to make ourselves and others happy starts so young. Oh, the baby is sad! Give her a toy! Our forefathers even included happiness as a pursuit in the Declaration of Independence. My Google search of "happy songs" came back with 935,000,000 results. Last time I was at Barnes and Noble (yes, I still enjoy physical books, thank you very much), there were at least two tables of self-help books, 85% of which touted some advice about how, why and what you must to do achieve HAPPINESS. Hell, this whole post is about my husband's happiness and my desperation for him to find it.

It's hard for me to change that destination happiness mindset, though. Ever since I can remember, I've been trying to solve the issues of my life with the sole purpose of being happy. If I could just change A, B and C... then I'll be happy. But as I think about that NPR report and seek a more spiritual side of existing, I can see the damage we do to ourselves when we feel this expectation to find our bliss, always stay positive, seek our passions, make the MOST out of every day! 
  
Look, I'm not saying I'm trading in my positive attitude for a new bitter town address, but I do see the value in recognizing that being happy all the time is not at all realistic. I do not expect Paul to suddenly find the perfect formula and he'll never be unfulfilled again! For me, there is no clear answer about whether or not happiness should be held as a persistent intent... but self-improvement sure is. Maybe if we focus on being the best version of ourselves, the happiness is an accidental side effect?

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Every single day, Paul and I marvel at our son and how that little boy can find joy in pretty much everything. At least once a day, we catch each other's eyes, smile and shake our head at the beauty of it all. Paul will say, "Oh that kid..." But lately, he's been following that up with, "I hope I don't screw him up." To which I say, "Huh? How would you screw him up?" Paul then responds with a shrug and dismissive, "I dunno..." I ask him the question even though I think I understand what he means. He's not unaware of the wall and he's well aware of the damage it could do to our kids if the reasons for that wall aren't dealt with.

My life has been an open book to my husband. I met Paul almost 19 years ago, and since then I have revealed the hardest struggles and the darkest secrets of my life to him. Even when he has shared some past struggles, the emotional scope feels very abbreviated as if there is so much more he is not telling me. Do I feel an imbalance of emotional vulnerability? Am I scared that the truths on the other side of that wall will hurt me? Am I scared that this wall will have a negative impact on our kids? Yes. Yes. YES.

There has been a new addition to my recurring dream repertoire. Paul and I will be having a serious discussion and, suddenly, he will have an outburst... telling me so many things he's been holding inside for years! And then he breaks down in tears because he feels so much better. The dreams usually end with us in a sobbing embrace feeling an ocean of relief. Then I wake up and the pit of my stomach aches because it wasn't real. Ugh, why couldn't I have just dreamed about Tom Hanks being my best friend again??

My love for Paul is so incredibly deep. No one has helped me become a better version of myself more than him. There are things he needs to let out and I only want that for his own benefit. I know it will be tough for both of us, but I'm prepared to trudge through that pain to make my recurring dream come true. It's time to smooth out those sheets... I just hope I can find the courage to start the discussion. Definitely something I still need to work on.

Anyone have Kristen Bell or Dax Shepard's contact info?!?!

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