Survivals and Renewals
We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary and renewed our vows. This time, we will keep them because we both learned some very valuable lessons on the road to where we are now. I am so grateful that we made it through, and that our commitment to each other, however warped we let it get, was strong enough to survive our stupidity. Our love is stronger. Our bond is deeper. We are best friends, soul mates, and lovers—and we now know, for sure, that there is no room for others in this relationship called marriage. And now all the pieces of that mosaic have come together, and it is much more beautiful and more valuable than the original.
But it was a very long tough road, and there were times in those early years that we almost didn’t make it. I would like to say that I handled it with dignity, and I did all the right things, but I can’t. Driven by excruciating pain—and just being plain immature and spiteful—I did all the wrong things, and yet, somehow our commitment to each other and our family got us through.
Let me back up. A little over 24 years ago, when I was five months pregnant with our youngest daughter, I stumbled upon something that to this day I wish had never happened. It took my marriage in a very destructive direction and it almost completely destroyed me. I still remember it, vividly, as if it were yesterday. Fortunately, now, the pain is gone. I have forgiven him, and myself—and he has forgiven me. But I have not forgotten, not one little detail.
It was very late at night, and we’d been out for the evening. My husband was drunk. It seems these indiscretions of his always happened when he was drinking (which of course, is not an excuse, but he definitely lacked good judgment when he was under the influence). Shortly after we got home, I was lying in bed by myself and I could hear him talking in the other room. Thinking that was very strange and assuming he was on the phone, I quietly picked up the other line. What I heard, or should I say who I heard, made my whole body shake and convulse uncontrollably.
Yes, this “someone else” was someone I knew. I got up and went into the living room, still shaking like a leaf, and confronted him. At first he kept trying to deny it. Then after admitting it, he apologized and said he would leave. Well that really made me blow up. “You destroy my world and now you want to leave me sitting here with all this pain, three small children and one on the way?” I shouted. “I don’t think so! You are going to stay right here and take it. Every last little thing I have to say.”
I ranted, and hit, and screamed, and cried.....and I felt sick. I would have never believed it if someone had told me that you can feel completely physically ill from being emotionally hurt, but I was. Actually, I was for years. The pain was very real, and all I wanted to do was make it go away. But this was the man that I loved more than anyone else, and even though he had hurt me beyond belief, I still loved him. With the exception of this and his drinking issues, he was a great husband and a wonderful father.
The next several weeks and months after that night are still a blur. Like when you’ve been in a car accident and you don’t remember what happened. I still cried a lot and I still felt very ill. During one of our many conversations he told me that, to him, sex had nothing to do with love. That it was just a bodily need, like food, that having sex with other people meant nothing and fidelity was not necessary in a marriage. I thought if that was how he felt then I was going to show him he was wrong. So I told him once the baby was born, I would get even. Which definitely turned out not to be a smart choice at all, but I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to hurt him as badly as he’d hurt me.
About a year after our daughter was born, I made good on my promise. At first it felt like a victory, but it quickly became apparent that it was a hollow one, and that the pain did not go away. But I continued on. I was going to pay him back if it killed me, and it nearly did.
Shortly after the first time I cheated on him, and he caught me, he told me that he didn't believe we needed to be faithful to maintain our marriage. Maybe he was right, maybe I was old fashioned and wrong to believe marriage had to be sexually exclusive. So for several years, back and forth we spent going out and doing as we pleased, and calling it an open marriage. But that was a joke. All of the victories felt hollow; all of the sex, like a performance. But I was a very good actress! I knew, even while I was doing it, that there is a huge chasm between making love and having sex. With others it was all an act, no sense of feeling complete or whole. With my husband, from the moment we made love for the first time 32 years ago, to this day, I can just touch him and I know. I know he is "the" one who makes me whole. But he still didn't understand the difference yet.
Until one night, when he’d finally had enough and he told me he wanted out. He was tired of me sleeping with other men. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was he serious? How dare he! How dare he change the rules of marriage by saying that sex with others was no big deal, and then make a big deal out of it? What was his problem now? Was it that I could play the game better than he could? I was winning and he was being a sore loser?
But in reality, I was winning nothing. I was losing myself. I was losing him. I was losing my family. I had already lost my self-respect, and I’m sure, the respect of many others, but I was still too blind to see it. Blinded by the pain and anger I still could not suppress. However, that night we finally both agreed it would stop.
This isn’t exactly where the saga ends or even when the infidelity ended completely. But we did start putting the pieces of that mosaic together. There were several big turning points. One of which was when he finally stopped drinking. That was the point that I started to feel I could trust him again, and when the infidelity finally ended for both of us. Along with that was the fact that he did finally understand that sex for sex's sake was much different than what we had and completely not worth losing our marriage over. And finally, we really started focusing on our marriage and our family, living for each other instead of for ourselves.
And the healing did finally come. It took a very long time. I would have never chosen this road to travel through our marriage, it was very tough and extremely painful, but we did finally grow up. And on that road and through that pain, I learned that in trying to get even with someone else, you only destroy yourself. I learned that I am no better than him, or anyone else and that I am perfectly capable of being as hurtful and vengeful and unfaithful as anyone else—which humbled me immensely, giving me not only the ability to forgive him, but to ask for his forgiveness, as well. Finally, I learned that two people who really love and are commited to each other can make it through even the worst times by making something truly precious and beautiful out of something that has been completely shattered.