I have started three different posts over the last three weeks and have not finished any of them. With each, I was trying to write about issues that are too close to the heart; issues that are too scarey to write about; issues in my relationship with my husband.
Dan has been my best friend for decades. He came into my life 31 years ago this May. For me, meeting him was like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert; someone I could talk to about anything; emotions, spirituality, politics. We had similar interests (camping and bird-watching) and similar values (personal growth before money). And because he entered the relationship with a 3-year old daughter, we learned quickly that we had similar ideas about raising children (they should have voices; they should feel loved and seen). We were two empaths from broken families that took little care for the emotional well-being of one another. I felt like I had been rescued from a life of loneliness.
Like every couple, we have had many challenges and losses in our lives, but overall, our lives together have been good. We have raised 2.5 children and had a lot of fun doing it. While there have been disagreements and anger at times, the general atmosphere of our home has been supportive and understanding. But that has changed. Over the last few years, Dan who has always been easy-going and quick to laugh, has become cranky and taciturn. He has started snapping at me; he has grown short and defensive. There have been times when I felt that he no longer likes me; times when I have considered leaving my marriage. I feel a profound sense of grief about this. When I try to imagine my life without him, that future feels bleak and empty. At times, that future feels terrifying.
One morning last week, we had an honest talk about an argument we had the night before. When I asked him why he is so angry with me, he said, “Because you have witnessed all of my mistakes”. This was a revelation; for both of us I think. He has projected on to me all of the anger, shame and hatred that he feels for himself about choices he has made that are catching up with him now as we approach our retirement years. I understand that and I can see how I have played into that. I found myself wondering how many couples separate in mid-life to give themselves a fresh start; to give themselves a fresh slate with no history, no mistakes, no poor choices.
The sad thing is that when I see Dan, I see so much more than a few bad choices. I see the man who coached our daughter’s soccer team for 5 summers; the man who coached our son’s hockey team for 8 winters. I see the man who use to dance around the room to Bruce Cockburn with our young son in his arms. I see the man who use to sing Joni Mitchell songs to our young daughter at bed time. I see the man who stood by his young daughter when she said her step-father “touched her in a bad way” in the face of her mother’s denial and mounting legal bills. I see the man who celebrates my victories and grieves my losses. I see a handsome young man walking up the street with a box of strawberries in one hand and a smile on his face. When I see Dan, I see thirty-one years of living and loving. How do I help him to see all those things?