Hindsight is always 20-20 but sometimes, when I look back, I just have to shake my head and wonder what was I thinking?
Then again, way back in the ’80s, John Bradshaw used to say that people will meet you at the level of your dysfunction. My marriage was a textbook example, I think.
Before we actually tied the knot, my future mother-in-law once told me, “Relationships are really all about power.”
Thinking about that now, I can see how that should have been a great big ol’ red flag for me. But of course, I was in my 20’s and my perception of the long term operated in a range that is best described as fuzzy-to-non-existent.
After she said that to me, I even gave myself leisure to observe the way she and her son dealt with each other. They were always, always, always playing these games of one-upmanship, seeing which of them could get the upper hand. If I had been a healthy young woman, that alone would have made me run screaming in the other direction but I actually gave it very little thought. I was too busy stoking my paternal abandonment issues to consider little things like the dysfunction of his family of origin.
I guess, if Mr. Bradshaw was to be believed, he was just screwed up enough for me.
Don’t get me wrong. There is very little in human experience that is uniformly horrible. We had some laughs. We produced some great kids. We had some better than average sex.
But absolutely everything was a battle with him, and the longer we stayed married, the worse those battles got. The whole thing took a relationship that should have been uplifting and made it harder than trying to put your arm through a brick wall.
They were always bloodless but they were wars, everyday, everywhere, over everything. He couldn’t get me to take care of him the same way his mother would. He couldn’t get me to have sex with him when I didn’t feel like it. He couldn’t get me to pretend I was enjoying sex when I wasn’t. He couldn’t even get me to let him get away with his more questionable arguments.
My personal favorite: On my way home driving his car one evening, I was on a rural back road and I got hit by a deer who had ambitions to be a linebacker for the Giants. He said to me when I got home and told him about it, “Why couldn’t you have taken the highway?” — as if nobody ever hit a deer on the highway. I responded, “So, you’re saying this is my fault?” He quickly backpedalled, “No, no! That’s not what I’m saying … ” and I ruthlessly interrupted, “That’s exactly what you’re saying!” That kind of ended the conversation.
But I digress.
It’s rather odd to look back on it now but his whole life with me, especially right at the twilight of the relationship, was an endless quest for something, anything, that he could use to cow me into submission. He never did find it but, just because I never became his slave, that doesn’t mean the constant power games and power struggles didn’t take their toll.
It was exhausting, for one thing. I don’t like to play games and I have no real interest in power struggles. I’m sure he found me distressingly direct — I know that my mother-in-law certainly did, right up to the moment that she stopped speaking to me, disowned her son and chose to have nothing to do with her grandchildren, all because at a certain point I told her to mind her own business. I don’t have the patience or the native deviousness to try to maneuver my way around anybody or to try to out-strategize somebody I’m supposed to be building a life with, to try to get and keep some non-existent upper hand.
That’s just not how I roll.
By the time I divorced him, I realize now, I had become so exhausted that I was starting to give in to him just because I didn’t have the energy anymore to do anything else. What he never counted on was that I would get to the point where I didn’t want HIM badly enough to tolerate living like that. I recognize now that he would have been perfectly happy to stay married to me forever because he could see that he was starting to wear me down. And the more worn down I got, the happier he would have been.
I think that’s one reason why I suddenly felt so very tired after the nice police officers took That Man away. When I finally didn’t have to be on guard anymore, when I finally wasn’t getting beaten over the head (metaphorically speaking) anymore, I could finally relax and then I could discover how exhausted I’d been all along.
Little girls, let this be a lesson to you. Pay very close attention to his family, especially his mother.
And, after you see what you see there, know when to run!