Sometimes I wish you were dead.
That’s what Marion told her husband Don during an honesty exercise at a couple’s therapy weekend led by their therapist Ellyn Bader. Bader recounts in her book, Tell Me No Lies, that Marion had been unhappy for years in her marriage, but — not wanting to face the discomfort and shame of divorce — she had simply wished her husband dead. Wishing him dead was easier than facing the possibility of having to choose rejection and loneliness.
The story continues that later that weekend after their talk, Don nearly gets run over by a car. He turns to Marion after the scare and says, “Well, you missed your chance.”
And then they both laugh.
Marion and Don could laugh at that unbelievably dark humor for one reason: They trusted that they were each a resilient, whole person with the strength to sit with truths.
In that vein, I want to share something with you guys that I’m really proud of. It’s the moment that my ex- first told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to be with me.
In a few words, here’s how it went: We had just gotten home from a social event and he was visibly bothered by something. I was sitting on the couch, and suddenly, the words came to mind without me consciously conjuring them.
You’d tell me if you didn’t want to do this anymore, wouldn’t you?
That statement led to several open conversations about what a partnership requires, about what each of our wants in a relationship, and then led ultimately to our break up.
As you can imagine, I’ve thought back to that moment a hundred times, sometimes wishing I hadn’t said anything. Sometimes chastising myself for not saying something sooner.
But what I’m proud of is this: I didn’t punish my ex- for his honesty.
I listened and I asked him to tell me more. More about how he hurt, about how he was feeling burdened and confused.
I’m so grateful that is how that moment went. I’m not sure the source of the strength bolstering me during that moment, because the answers I got were some of the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with. Nonetheless, the calm that I maintained through all of those really fucking painful conversations was from deeply within.
So often, we’re afraid of putting our relationships in jeopardy, so we don’t say anything. We dismiss frustration as unimportant or — on the other end of the spectrum — we throw up our hands and deem a frustrating characteristic in someone’s behavior as immovable and unchangeable.
We ignore the huge red flags that Nature gave us to identify critical crossroads in our relationships. Anxiety and tension are physical and emotional indicators that were given us humans for a reason. They say, HEY! SOMETHING’S WRONG! PAY ATTENTION!
Unwrap those tensions and give the people around you the dignity of the struggle.
Trust your friends, partner, and family with the opportunity to respond. And if they respond terribly — that’s okay. Know that their fear is lashing out at you.
But at least try. In not expressing frustrations, upsets, and disappointments, we are setting our friends and partners up for failure. They can’t possibly address what they don’t know is a problem.
In my situation, I sensed tension, and I asked the scariest question: Do you want to leave?
And it seems that I got the worst answer: Yes, I want to leave.
It was the worst in some senses (Oh god, the loneliness. Oh god, the pain.). But I was also handed an exit from a relationship marked by a partner who wasn’t joyous about being together. I was given the opportunity to gracefully leave. I was freed of the general feeling of constant fear (Is he going to leave??) that had previously pervaded every interaction.
And after the worst, I found strength.
I am so strong and the break up showed me that.
(P.S. I’m totally having a Christina Aguilera moment right now, but fuggit. We need to recognize our strength every once in a while.)
I also want to note that I’m not strong by myself. I’m strong because I realize I will always be okay. Deeply, deeply, I will be okay. When I’m alone, when I’m in pain, when I’m stuck.
All of that is temporary and will pass. And then I will be led to a moment of joy, frivolity, and giggling with the people I love.
So, today, do something hard. Listen to something that’s hard. Express something hard.
It will be hard for one minute, but rewarding for so many more.
And then come home and dance it out to this. (A little extremist feminism never hurt anybody, right?)
I hesitated about writing this post, because — once again — I’m referencing my break up. If you’ve been reading, you know that I’ve been having an incredibly hard time with this whole situation. These blog posts have been so healing and I appreciate all of you supporting me silently (and vocally!) out there.
I want you to know that you are resilient.
You are stronger than you know.