The art of acknowledgement
May 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
So I am sitting here calmly with a cup of green tea trying to be all zen about writing that my marriage is no longer awesome.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad. But it’s nowhere near as good as what we make out in our obligatory anniversary cards. Not recently, at least.
Why is this so? Let me count the ways, said Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Number one: I am writing. I am writing about my no-longer-awesome marriage. I am not talking about my no-longer-awesome marriage. I am especially not talking to my husband about our no-longer-awesome marriage. This is the first and biggest problem and look, truth be told, probably the problem from which all other problems stem.
It’s at times like this that I hear Adam’s ex-wife’s voice in my head which greatly compounds my anger, frustration and sadness: “Keep that man talking or you will lose him”. Yep. I’m feeling ya, sister (though I’d die before telling her that).
I am so disappointed that we have fallen into this cliché. We are the married couple who no longer talk. If I keep this up, because I know he can and will, we will become the married couple who grow to resent each other (he never talks to me, she never gives me sex), the married couple who become bored of each other, the married couple who cheat on each other just to feel something and then eventually the married couple who are the separated couple.
I am disappointed because I feel like I have failed to keep us from reaching this place, knowing full well that it is Adam’s default position so therefore my “job” to keep us on track. And disappointed because Adam either doesn’t notice – or worse (and as I suspect), notices and does not care enough to make a change. This is where acknowledgement comes in.
Like many alpha men, Adam is a compulsive and self-confessed Mr Fix-It. This is wonderful for mechanics, electrical issues and knots. This is often useless for marriages, although I will admit to recently wondering how I could lead him to think there are things “wrong” with our marriage that he must “fix” (if you can’t beat them…). The thing is there are so many nuances and idiosyncrasies within a marriage that require more than just a straight forward fix – there are sensitivities and histories to navigate, personal traits and behaviours to account for. But alternatively sometimes “the fix” is as simple as acknowledgement – a statement or gesture to say to someone “I understand” or “I hear you” or “I can see you are in pain and whilst there is nothing I can do to stop it I want you to know that I care”. If ever that sentence tumbled from my husband’s lips I would faint on the spot.
For example, I am currently working in a job that makes me very miserable. Adam listens to my gripes and whilst I think he can understand my day-to-day frustrations, I don’t think he fully grasps my distress because he has likely never been in this position. This is, of course, not his fault. Also, there is nothing that Adam can do about my job situation – he cannot fix my misery. This is also not his fault. Therefore, having reviewed the situation, Adam’s position is that there is nothing else he can do therefore he moves on without looking back (I actually suspect he gets bored or frustrated or depressed with my attitude towards the whole thing which probably doesn’t help how he is handling it).
The difference with acknowledgement is not trying to fix a problem, but just being there, being truly supportive by holding me and saying “I know baby, this sucks. It must be really hard for you. I’m sorry you had such a shitty time today.” We talk a lot about supporting each other but this is not always Adam’s strong point. He feels he is very supportive, however as we have already established our perspectives of support are quite different (this also contributes to a no-longer-awesome marriage). I feel that Adam doesn’t see the value in acknowledgement, there is no tangible benefit from it therefore why waste your time? BECAUSE IT MAKES YOUR WIFE FEEL BETTER, I shout inwardly.
Recently I emailed him with the tiniest little vent about how I disliked the fact that he would be spending regular time with his ex-wife, starting in a couple of weeks time. He/they are doing this for their daughter which I completely understand. However I am not super comfortable with the arrangement (which was made without us talking about it first which probably didn’t help) and explained to Adam how I felt about it in a non-aggressive way. I acknowledged that there was no problem for him to fix per se and therefore no action required on his part, and reminded him of a recent counselling session during which we agreed that sometimes I just need to be acknowledged. I sent the email with fears of a stinging retort but with hopes of a gentle acknowledgement, something along the lines of “It’s perfectly understandable how you feel babe, just remember that I am doing this for Elizabeth and that I love you very much”. I am guessing that in his mind, the first point was repeating something I had already said (doing this for Elizabeth) and the second point was a given (I love you very much) therefore there was nothing more to be said.
I sat and waited for a reply – good or bad – that day and the next. I realised the day after that no reply would be coming. I feared/dreaded that he’d gotten so pissed off at my comments that he would ignore them all together. But, I said to myself, I had specifically said in my email that I needed to be understood or acknowledged so surely he got that and could make an effort to overcome any pissed-offness. I asked him about it at the dinner table tonight – a misunderstanding I guess, as so often happens over email; he read my “I don’t expect you to do anything” (i.e. change your plans) as “I don’t need you to acknowledge my email” despite whatever else I said beyond that (i.e. I just need to be acknowledged). Silently, I struggled to understand how he could fail to see what I thought that a fairly obvious cry for acknowledgement and tried to think of a calm way in which I could verbalise and still ask for this, at which point Adam cleared up any further possible confusion by saying “Well, I received and read your email.” And that was the end of that.
I was unable to stop from crying. Anger startles me into tears for some stupid reason; it always has. As the tears welled, I felt foolish and embarrassed and ridiculous – the misery of my job is creeping into many facets of my life. I had to leave the table and eventually the kitchen because I couldn’t stop crying. I went to the bathroom and cried hard into my towel and then against the toilet roll. After a minute or two I washed my face and returned to the kitchen. Adam was reading a magazine and I wanted to rip it from his hands and tear it into pieces just to get him to look at me, to acknowledge the fact that his wife was just in the toilet crying her heart out whether he agrees with her reasons for needing to do it or not. After he finished his magazine article, we navigated around each other as we cleaned the kitchen without looking at each other, without speaking and without touching.
We will each go to bed this evening and get up in the morning in this same manner of non-communication which is becoming more and more frequent. As I said at the beginning, Adam either doesn’t notice – or worse, notices and does not care enough to make a change (because a man cannot fail to notice that his wife will not touch him). There is no acknowledgement.
This is just one symptom of a no-longer-awesome marriage.