Well, that was rough, but we ripped the bandaid off, together.
Based on what I knew of my husband, I thought if I gave him some feeling of control over the structure of his life again, that he might stabilize.
I was mentally fortified yesterday, feeling strong enough to handle anything short of violence, which wasn’t a likely outcome.
So I decided I’d just hand the ball to him. Ask him – if I gave him an answer now about our relationship, and it wasn’t the answer he wanted, what was going to happen?
And giving him the chance to make a choice worked.
We established there was no malice on either side. No desire to deliberately hurt the other person, though of course hurt would still be an inevitable result of what was unfolding.
We still like each other as people.
We talked, and talked, and talked. I was brutally honest with him, and answered his questions as he brought them up.
He knows now that I married him without romantic or sexual chemistry being involved. That if I haven’t felt that way towards him in 18 years, it’s probable I’ll never feel that way.
He had trouble wrapping his brain around the fact that I could do that to myself and believe I was making the right choice.
Back then he knew we’d come from conservative Christian backgrounds, and that mine had been ‘a little crazier’ than his, but he thought we’d both moved beyond the worst aspects of those backgrounds. (He had no idea just how abnormal my background was, and for my part, I was assuming his background was similar to mine.)
I had not moved beyond my background. I’d set it aside temporarily, because I didn’t want to be a religious zealot and alienate my friends – I wanted people to like me.
Formal marriage and my husband’s desire for children forced me to pick my background up again, to settle into the role God wanted for me – sacrifice and service.
I’d been raised to believe I was unacceptable as I was – that there was an ideal I was supposed to aim for, and that marriage and children were the structure through which I was to achieve that ideal.
Marriage, children, domestic life – they were a furnace to me, but I knew God purified through fire. So I climbed in and shut the door behind me.
I’d been promised that being transformed into someone new, someone acceptable, would bring me joy and contentment – I just had to get through the suffering of transformation, first.
So I tried my level best to break myself, to allow myself to be transformed, so that I could reach that promised joy and contentment.
We are all mutable and immutable. We are comprised of a layer that can change, and a core that cannot. It was my core that was unacceptable to my religion and its adherents, my core that I attacked and tried to break, so that it could be remade.
My core couldn’t be remade without utterly destroying me in the process.
This knowledge hurt my husband. There were tears. This wasn’t what he’d wanted for himself, but it also wasn’t what he’d wanted for me.
Ultimately, though, he was willing to settle for a lopsided relationship, seeming to believe that I am the best he will ever be able to get, and that if I leave, he’ll be alone for the rest of his life.
I shake my head over that. He’s the same age I am, which means he’s young enough that if he started taking care of himself, put himself back together, got healthy, he’d still have a chance of finding someone that would be able to reciprocate, where what they wanted and what he wanted actually fit for their mutual benefit.
The fact that what he wants is more average and traditional, among other factors, means he’d likely have a better chance of meeting someone he’d be happy with than I do.
I had to tell him that I’m not willing to settle for that. I only get one life, and I want to experience what it’s like to be with someone that I’m romantically and sexually attracted to, that feels the same way about me. I know it may never happen, but I want it.
I should have been able to experience and explore that – learn about my sexuality, learn about what I wanted from a relationship – between the ages of 15 and 25, before committing to marriage.
This shouldn’t have happened to either of us, but it did. We’ve both had better outcomes and the years in which they might have happened stolen from us.
I can’t keep sacrificing myself, what I want, and what might make me happy. I already spent 16 years doing that, and that was ample time to know what living that way does to me.
Ultimately, we reached a series of decisions.
One, our 18 year relationship is ended. The foundation it was built on, the events that happened within it – we can’t try to save that, we can’t continue building on that foundation. It was fundamentally flawed from the beginning.
That doesn’t mean we’re divorcing, though – we’re not even formally separating for the moment – we’re embarking on a new relationship starting from the foundation of who we are now, and what we know now.
It’s understood that this new relationship is unlikely to be a permanent relationship. That it will, instead, be a slow journey to the eventual parting of ways. We haven’t ruled out the possibility of the unexpected – that suddenly everything clicks into place for us and we both find that common ground where we’re each happy and content.
We know that possible doesn’t mean probable.
He’s on board for spending the next year working on my mental health and autonomy, so that any decision that is reached is one I make of sound mind and without fear. I would like to say that he’s on board with working on his mental health, too, but I don’t think he’s arrived at that place yet.
Our happiness matters, not just his, not just mine. We assess and adjust as we go along. We decide if we can continue to live with the new thing we’re building, or if we scrap it and rebuild again, or if we scrap it and acknowledge there will be no more building.
He knows I’ve fallen for someone else. Even who it is, though he was sworn to secrecy on the subject and had to agree that the friendship continues. The person on the other end of my feelings doesn’t know about them, and will probably never know about them, but we were friends before I had feelings, and I’m not giving up a friendship.
I’d rather give up my relationship than live in a relationship where my friendships are determine by the relationship.
If at any point, the knowledge that I have feelings for someone else that I have never had for my husband, and will probably never have for him, becomes too much weight, we’ll adjust, alter, end as needed.
He’d rather have the weight of knowledge than the stress of uncertainty.
It turns out my husband had built flow charts in his head – if X, then Y – and put himself into those scenarios and imagined how he’d feel and react, as a way to prepare himself – he couldn’t be sure what was going to happen, but he knew -something- would happen.
I’d put him in limbo, outside his flow charts, and that was why he’d floundered. I can’t say it’s a mindset I truly understand, but I can acknowledge that’s how his brain works and try to work with that.
My husband seems to have stabilized, and brought his shadow self under control, and he wants to move forward in a way that minimizes harm to each other and harm to our children.
He understands now that part of the core of me is that I value independence above relationship. That I can’t maintain a relationship and be happy without also feeling independent.
He’s willing to help me achieve that independence even though he knows the chances of our relationship being permanent are slim to none, that it’s more likely a matter of when, not if, even our new structure is dissolved and the only thing we have left is the continued bond of shared parenthood.
It’s much better than what I expected, but for someone that has abandoned religion, I’m still engaged in a great deal of faith, here.
I’m not fearless. My husband’s assessment of how much weight of knowledge he can bear up under, how much change he can absorb and adjust to, might be inaccurate. We might see his shadow self claw back to the surface at some point in the future.
But for now we’re stable, and we’ve now both chosen to start walking together on a new path until our likely parting of ways.
This isn’t what I wanted for me, or for him, or for our children.
It hurts me to know that there’s no pain-free solution, here.
It’s brutal to feel that he and I ended up on a path we should never have been on together. That leaving that path is hurting him.
I didn’t enter the marriage in bad faith. I truly believed I’d eventually be transformed into someone else, and that when that happened, I’d achieve joy and contentment.
I just know I can’t keep walking that path for the rest of my life as some kind of penance.