My husband and I have been together for 18 years, married for 16.
Over the course of our relationship I experienced stress related to circumstances outside of our control, which was understandable, as well as stress related to major decisions my husband made for us because I believed, at the time, that I was supposed to give him what he wanted, even at cost to myself.
Those aside, there were two main areas that were being a major problem for me: sleep deprivation and clutter. I brought this to his attention several times over the years, calmly, without anger or tears, the way I believed adults are supposed to approach discussions with their partner.
Because I was calm, no anger or tears, he dismissed what I had to say as ‘just conversation’ (his words). He made almost no effort to allow me to get more and better rest, and was visibly resentful when I insisted on two minor modifications – while watching TV in our bedroom until 2-3am while I tried to sleep, he had to keep the sound down to 25 instead of around 40, and he couldn’t watch certain shows where the voice actors had a tendency to wake me with their voices (such as It’s Always Sunny or Rick & Morty).
He did, very slowly, begin to work on the clutter. But after his mom brought a van load of junk to us one Christmas, he was so discouraged that he gave up on working on the clutter for a couple of years after.
I lived with severe chronic depression that would last for years at a time, and anxiety that increased to the point I couldn’t leave the house for a couple of hours by myself without feeling anxious the whole time, until leaving was such a chore I didn’t bother unless I was doing it for someone else or to complete an errand.
When I finally broke free of a two year stretch of depression that had lasted from 2016 to 2018, I sought out the help of a therapist. I wanted to know if there was some way I could learn to live with depression in a more functional way, so that I could avoid medication. I knew I was running out of my capacity to endure my life the way it was. Things had to change, or one day I really would open the door and walk out and just keep walking until I dropped from exhaustion.
I was shocked to find out that sleep deprivation and clutter were both huge factors that were not only known to exacerbate mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, they could actually be causing my symptoms. I might not have a mental illness that could be formally diagnosed, because there was a good chance the circumstances of my life were the root cause.
Putting my foot down and giving my husband an ultimatum about both the sleep and the clutter might as well have been a bomb as far as our relationship was concerned. My husband was so baffled by the idea that I would say I would have to leave him if these things didn’t change that he assumed there must be some other reason underneath.
He even went to a therapist, secretly, not to help him work through his emotions, sleep issues or hoarding, but because he wanted to run my actions and his responses past an outsider’s eyes. In essence, he wanted to be told that he was perfectly sane and I was the one being unreasonable.
I put up boundaries around the issues of sleep and clutter, with a primary focus on sleep. Sleep is foundational to health, and now that I knew that – really knew that – I was determined to work on restoring my sleep and through sleep, my health.
My husband has routinely trespassed the boundaries I’ve set, and if I call him out on that he becomes resentful. He has not been able to truly accept that my most basic needs must be prioritized over his feelings and what he wants and how he thinks life should look.
Please note, I’m not saying that his basic needs are less important than my basic needs. I’m saying that the needs he is prioritizing are not basic, foundational needs and as such their fulfillment can be delayed – much as we’d prioritize eating food over a recreational hobby, or having protection from the elements over a social life.
Recreational hobbies and social lives are still needs, but they are not foundational needs like eating and sleeping and not freezing to death in winter. If my husband insisted on keeping me out of doors in the middle of winter until I developed hypothermia, I think most people would be rightly horrified. But his insistence on getting his stress reduced and his emotions catered to at the cost of my sleep isn’t likely to garner the same response.
Here’s the thing – my husband’s insomnia and related behaviors have probably literally cost me years off my life. They have at the very least significantly reduced my quality of life for many years. My health – mental and physical – has suffered greatly.
I’m not trying to get vengeance for that. I’m not indulging my anger and lashing out at him. I’m not trying to gain restitution, not even an apology. I may vent spleen here, on my anonymous blog, but I go out of my way to maintain a cordial relationship with my husband and to avoid putting our children in the middle of our conflict.
Anger is a perfectly natural response on my part. I am not required to forgive repeated trespassing of the boundaries I’ve set around my most basic needs and my mental health. And yet, I don’t indulge my anger. I come here to safely process and channel it away from my husband and away from my children.
So for anyone that has not read much here, and thinks I’m having outsized reactions to relatively minor offenses – my reactions are undersized and understated compared to the length and seriousness of the circumstances I’ve experienced. A shallow cut may not be a big deal for most, but could be life & death for an anemic hemophiliac that has already been wounded.