When things are wrong, good girls look in the mirror. Reflective and self-critical, they hope they will have some control over what happens if they can just make themselves more perfect.
In the year prior to finding out about my husband’s affair, the cracks in the marriage had started to show. My husband had never had much of a sexual appetite (with me, at least), and it had dwindled down into almost nothing. At first I chalked this up to being pregnant for the third time, but his excuses for turning me away were coupled with growing rejection in other areas of our life. My husband came home from work criticizing my housekeeping (whether I had spent all day cleaning or not). He would turn his nose up at dinner, and would just make himself a sandwich rather than eating what I had made. And, maybe more importantly than anything else, he would allow his mother to criticize me and would in turn just ask me to get along with her, no matter what she said. I started grasping for any sort of approval from my husband I could get… but no matter what I did, I never seemed to make him happy.
We ended up going to see our priest. That priest, it turns out, was prescient and perhaps the most insightful counselor I have ever had. I went in along with my husband to see him, asking what I could do differently and how I could be a better wife. Father Don unexpectedly turned the tables, looked squarely at my husband and asked him whether his loyalty lay with me or with his mother. My husband looked dumbfounded. He asked how he could be asked to choose between the two. Father Don looked at him, and without blinking, told him that a break would occur with either his wife, or his mother, and that it wasn’t for nothing that the Bible said that husbands should cleave to their wives. I started to cry when I heard Father Don say this, because for once, I felt that someone saw that I was doing everything I could and he was stepping in to protect me. I just would never have predicted that the person who would understand best what was going on in my marriage would be a celibate man who was all about turning the other cheek.
I spent the next months trying to be patient with my husband and to be everything he could ask me to be while he tried to work out his relationship with his mother. My husband told me that he wanted our marriage to work, and that he knew he had to speak up more to tell me what he needed from me to make that happen. He told me that he felt emasculated by my having a hand in our finances; I relinquished all control of finances over to him. He told me that he would be more turned on by me if I spent less time focused on the kids and more time on him; I made date nights with him and he decided it would help to take me to strip clubs. I kept trying to figure out how to be a more perfect wife, for him. In my ridiculously romantic heart, I dreamed my husband would wake up one day incredibly grateful to have had such a loving and patient wife. My husband had no such romantic inklings and instead used my willingness as leverage to ask for things from me that I never would have given without the pressure of “trying to make the marriage work.”
The reality was that I was married to Portnoy and there wasn’t a thing I could have done that would have made him choose me over his mother or mistress(es). I still was the good girl, looking in the mirror for my own flaws, trying to be better for someone else’s good. I still believed that somehow a broken man would one day tend my wounds as well as I tried to tend his, and that it was just my turn to carry the burden for a while.
At first I didn’t allow myself individual counseling (too selfish!)- but I did allow myself it once I realized my husband was doing no real work on his own self. I realized that my own individual counseling might be my only chance at making my marriage work; that is how I finally allowed it for myself. There were slow realizations, and some coming to terms with deep-seated fears and anger.
In the long run, the only positives I can take away from that really painful time in my life are that I didn’t harm my children; I began counseling; and, I began the long unraveling of deeply ingrained untruths that I had borne for my entire life.