Friday, November 30, 2012

Divorce was not an option.

Marriage is a big deal. It means committing yourself to another person for life. It means making someone else's needs equal to your own, and compromising and loving someone else until death. This is not always the easiest thing to do. It certainly is not easy when you have just found out your husband was having sex with other people while he was unemployed and you had not only just given birth to your first child, but also were eyeball deep in trying to care for said child while you were at work so that he could concentrate at home on finding work.

My parents divorced when I was in high school. I felt as though I could stop it, and when I could not it left me very angry and upset. I escaped to college and had the added guilt of feeling as though I had abandoned my siblings. We all went through really tough times dealing with our parent's divorce, and all of us came out of the mess with the steely resolve to never ever go through it again. My faith was a part of this desire, but no more than my parent's divorce.

When I met my husband, this was something that we talked about before we were ever at a point where we knew if marriage was an option. He told me he felt the same way. If we were going to commit, it was for good.

Fast forward to our first year of marriage. To be honest, it felt as though I was doomed to live a life of misery. I was unsure of my ability to have children, and our life was incredibly chaotic. My husband seemed to have one foot out the door and told me that his feelings for me had changed. It was heartbreaking to be 22, newly married, experiencing family tragedy and feel entirely alone. At that point, the only thing keeping me from leaving suddenly was my view that our marriage was sacramental, and that I promised before God to be with him always.

I felt as though he was keeping his commitment to me because he hated to lose. Getting married young when all of your friends are telling you not to is tough. Getting divorced within a year is tougher. Going through any of the above when you hate losing or admitting you are wrong is even more difficult. My husband hates to lose and hates to be wrong. I did not feel loved or safe: I felt rejected and as though I was something to "win."

The next few years were slightly easier, but there were really tough moments. Our sex life was still mostly about him, and it was common for him to masturbate. I tried to ignore it. Our arguments would get scary. I also am not a fan of losing an argument, so I would let things bottle up and then get confrontational; there were a few moments that I was afraid he would hit me. The truth was, I knew little about his mind and what he was capable of. When I tried to get him to open up, or to talk about things when we were not upset, I was shut out and ignored.

I remember one particular incident that nearly ended the marriage long before I was aware of the affairs. We were at a party at his cousin's house. Her husband was not particularly a nice person. I was talking to him on the couch to pass the time. He was a little too drunk and pretended to accidentally feel me up. I awkwardly smiled to not make a scene, and stood up to go to the car. As I began walking to the door, I noticed my husband was coming in, and suddenly his cousin's husband rushed passed me to tell him all about how he accidentally groped me and he was so sorry. My husband looked at me and I was still a little shocked at how fast everything had happened, so I didn't look upset. So he high-fived him. When his cousin's husband left, I told him I was going home and he could stay or go, I didn't care.

He followed me out to the car to ask what had happened and explained why he thought I was not upset. The initial shock was wearing off and I was really angry. They were supposed to go to a game the next morning, and I was really furious at the high-five. I exploded in the car and things got really awful. He began screaming at me in a way I had never experienced from him. I was driving, but was fearful of violence. I stopped the car outside our home and told him to get out. When he refused, I got out and got into our second vehicle.

I had no where to go. It was late, and I had no one to call. I waited until I was sure he was asleep and slept on the couch. I heard him leave for the game in the morning and I went to our room to pack. I called the only friend I had (another of his cousins) to see if I could stay there for a little while so I could collect my thoughts. She told me no. It was hard to make the choice to leave and not be there for work the next day, so I stayed and let the matter drop.

This is one of the most extreme examples of what our marriage was facing at various points. There was a side of him that I could not fully know: there was rage, anger and events that I only saw glimpses of until After Knowing.

There were a few times that I had considered leaving the marriage, but the fact that I had put so much thought and prayer into the decision to take my vows, made life afterwards look depressing. Could I move back near family and be divorced before 25? I could not handle the separation from the Eucharist that would entail: God was all I would have left to show for my life. I did not know if a separation was easier or more difficult: it certainly seemed lonely. I missed the boy I had dated. I missed the way he looked at me and kissed me: I missed feeling as though we were meant to be together.

By the time we began to seriously figure out whether or not I could have children, things were better. We seemed happy again, and had spoken a few times about those first few years and the things we regretted about it all. There was love again, and I felt as though I was an equal again.

To be honest, I am not sure what began his search for another affair. My theory is that it had something to do with being out of work with a family to support. Or that he had too much time on his hands. To think that I was initially worried he would spend too much time looking at porn is now laughable given the reality. While I always had suspected something devious was happening during our first year of marriage, I never suspected it would happen again, let alone with the woman he chose. The betrayal is unreal to this day.

I did not want a divorce or separation After Knowing. I needed him to know that if he did not love me or wanted out, that he needed to just say so. After all, that had always been our understood arrangement: No cheating, just be honest.  I was more confused by his behavior than anything: all he had to do was say he wanted out and I would go live my very Catholic separated life and be on my way. So why didn't he just say it?

The empowerment that came with knowing that I had always done all that I could do to fulfill my vows was strong. Knowing that there was an underlying issue made me feel relieved. I did nothing to deserve this, a fact he was rather clear about. The truth is always more complicated than we imagine it to be: he did not want his marriage to be over, but he also did not want to give up casual sex. This was the moment that he full understood that he had an addiction to overcome and a choice to make, because the double life was no longer possible.

After Knowing, it took some time for me to know and feel as though he made his choice and he wanted to be married to me. I cannot tell you when exactly I began to trust it, but over the past few years I have grown to trust.

I still do not know what would happen if our marriage regressed. It seems that when I reflect on the past years of our marriage, it is hard to imagine a situation that we could not conquer, or a time when I am not called to unconditional love for him.

Every day of our marriage since the affairs surfaced, my husband has proven to me that he loves me and that his wife and children are all he cares about in this world. He works incredibly hard to make sure I know this. I do not fear him, and I do not feel rejected. Divorce was not an option.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Two Years

This past week marked quite the milestone in my family's life. My oldest child turned three, and we passed the two year mark in rebuilding our marriage.

In a way, I am surprised at how it passed so quietly. This time last year, I was anxious and untrusting. I checked all our accounts for suspicious charges and felt queasy. I had dreams about finding out new horrors, and I felt cold and detached. I was considering individual counseling because every morning I would wake up and steal a few moments to myself in the shower or getting ready for the day and the time alone would bring new questions and new things that I wanted answers to. In a way, I think I wanted to hold on to the anger I felt because I was scared of what would happen if he sensed I was not angry anymore. The anger was comforting to me and destructive to us.

Time after time I would pick an argument or blurt out honest yet insensitive things. I would talk about being happy overall, but still angry. Or how I was in love with him over all, but I was struggling to love him in the moment. After more instances of this behavior than I would care to admit, I began to see that he was staying true to his words and his promises. He truly had turned a corner and was rather patiently waiting for me to acknowledge it and be comfortable with it. He was rock solid while I was faltering.

While I was in the hospital having out first child, he was in and out: one night he did not come back at all and another night he was out until 4 am. I had called him, exhausted the second night, asking where he was as the baby was not cooperating and he told me he would be there soon and called the nurse from his cell to come and take the baby. Once I was aware of the affair that had been going on around this time, I confirmed that he was in fact where he had said he had been, but it shook my confidence in him as a husband and a father to know that there was even a chance that I was recovering from surgery and delivering a child and he was not there. After I had given birth to our second child, things were just amazingly different. We had family in town and it was difficult for him to be there the entire stay, but he was attentive and loving and just wanted to experience his newest child's first few days. In a way, the birth of our second child marked the birth of our new marriage more than the vow renewal. We started spending the nights talking about how amazing our children were rather than dwelling on the difficulties of our past. I began to see him as the devoted father that he truly is, and that he really truly did love me, but had never experienced unconditional love before.

On this two year mark, I look at him with loving eyes and a warm heart. I see an incredible man that needed the opportunity to make things right and to save his family. I also see in me a woman that needed the strength to grow patience and mercy.

I do not believe that the affairs were God's will. I believe that God's will was to allow us the free will to make the choice between good and bad time and time again. I believe that we all make poor choices from time to time. When I desperately needed God's love and strength to stay and work through the problems in our marriage, it was right there on the table. I needed only to embrace it, and it was mine. I would like to own the strength myself: to say I am a strong and brave woman, but really I just felt myself give it up. When my natural instincts were to cut and run, I stayed because I needed to, and my family needed me to.

I have never been more grateful for courage in my entire life.