A freelance writer for a long time, one of my favorite topics is the complicated one of human relationships.
The Loneliness of the Emotionally Distant Couple
You have a beautifully staged professional family photo hanging in the hall, where your visitors can see it. Problem is, every time you look at it, your heart breaks. The truth is your marriage has become completely fake. You put up a facade to pretend all is well. Underneath, you are in pain, threatened, disillusioned, and counting the hours until you can escape.
This is how my first marriage ended. Marrying young means you do your growing up within the confines of the relationship. And as we grew over the following decade, we separated in heart and spirit. It wasn’t ugly; it was safe, but ultimately sad when we realized how far apart we were. For a couple of years we put up a front, we tried to make it work, except we didn’t. We had no clue how to reconcile; how to close the gap.
It would have been better if we could have split up when we agreed it was over, but we had a young child and my husband’s mother was ill. So we plodded on. Pretending all the while.
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew we were finished, and it was during my pregnancy. I had a threatened miscarriage and I asked him to drive me up to my friend’s home. We lived at the bottom of a small housing development, and she lived at the top. It was a steep hill.
I asked, “Will you drive me up? I don’t want to take any chances.”
He replied, “It doesn’t matter if you lose this one, you can always have another.”
It sounds worse than it was; at that stage, he couldn’t make the connection that the small life I carried was a human being. But I knew I could never be with anyone who could be so unthinking.
He turned out to be a great dad, by the way.
We avoided going anywhere together when there was no need. We withdrew into our own small worlds, me reading, caring for our child, my horse, and running a business; he working, walking the dog, and watching TV. We made love occasionally, but there was no passion, no real connection. It was to fulfill a purpose, nothing more.
Why Did We Live a Lie?
The answer is fear. Fear of dismantling our life. Fear of causing disruption and pain to our child. Fear of upsetting our families. Fear of the unknown beyond the safety of our carefully constructed walls. Fear of losing all that we’d worked for over the years.
And also, surprisingly, we were good friends. Still are all these years later. We can still meet up and chat as though we’d been together all along. The last time was only a couple of weeks ago at a family funeral.
Perhaps friendship might have held us together but it wasn’t strong enough. The emotional connection was missing. The feeling of being an invincible unit was not present. We were two people who had mistakenly trapped each other because it seemed the right thing to do.
You Need a Plan
It may start as a dream, a hazy goal. But you need it, and you need a road map to get there. Start with your vision for the future and work backward, step-by-step. Research, plan, work it out. There are steps you can take right now to move closer to independence, for example, training up a level in your job, applying for a promotion, etc.
Keeping It Together
Meanwhile, there may be good reasons why you have to present a united front. They may be familial, financial, living/working arrangements, or whatever they are, but you need to keep it together for however long it takes. And, it’s always preferable to do it in a mutually beneficial way.
Some couples can keep it friendly as we were lucky enough to do (mostly). Others turn it into a battleground. Some find that one partner dictates the terms, which makes it extremely difficult for the one longing to escape. Occasionally, one partner will use emotional blackmail as a tether on the other. There are stories of partners using the children as coercion; threatening to take them away. There are accounts of others promising to commit suicide should their spouse leave them.
It’s vital to keep your spark of hope alive. It can’t last forever. Sooner or later you will discover an escape route. If you are depressed, get help. If your spouse is abusing you, get help. If they are physically violent, get away from them (with your children) as soon as you can. Go to the police, if necessary.
Fake It Until You Don’t Have To
Yes, it will feel as though you are living a lie, but you have to make sure it’s a temporary state. Here are some suggestions:
- Insist that you both communicate openly about what you want to happen. And how you will present yourselves to others.
- Negotiate with your spouse. Don’t be afraid to bargain with them. You’ll go to his parents’ BBQ if he shows up at the school play.
- If your partner suggests mediation or counseling, then agree to it. It will help with the communication.
- Refrain from drinking when you are out together. If you get drunk, you are giving your partner ammunition to use against you.
- Don’t drink at home together either. It may result in a fight, or possibly drunken sex.
- You need one person with whom you can unburden yourself. Someone you can trust. If you haven’t got anyone, use a private journal. Online is better as you can password protect it. Simply getting thoughts and worries out and onto the page can help you a great deal.
- Smile even when it hurts.
- Work out your financial and child care arrangements. Ensure you are not the one being taken advantage of, yet at the same time, you should play fair with your spouse. Take care to fulfill your obligations and keep your side of any bargains.
Hold it together until the way ahead reveals itself. Remember it’s temporary. Good luck.
© 2021 Bev G