My husband has always told me stories about us. He reinforces the narrative he wants to emphasize, turning observations into marital canon.
Like how we are “soul mates.” Like how we are “just meant to be.” Like how we laugh and talk when we are out to eat, while other couples in the restaurant around us sit silent, with dour faces, and how he thinks they look enviously at us, the long-time-married couple who are so clearly enjoying each other’s company. (If I didn’t work at it and enjoy making him laugh, we would be sitting in dour silence too. Or we’d only talk about work dilemmas, money woes, and our children.)
He doesn’t understand that we can share a sense of humor and wit while still drifting apart. Hell, some days I think we’re galloping apart.
Also, his stories about us have started to sound like a somewhat desperate and plaintive, “We’re happy … aren’t we?”
I used to think his storytelling about us was just his way — with him marveling in appreciation at what we have, while I feel just as much but prefer to talk less about it. I tolerated his words, even though it felt uncomfortably sappy and over the top to me, because who wants to discourage a partner from being happy or tender? (He’s also done the same with familiar stories and observations about our children, particularly our youngest. His trills of fond memories are familiar and well-worn trails.)
These days, when it comes to what he thinks about me and about our marriage, I wonder if it’s just been one long sales pitch to himself and to me. He likes how he sounds, and he likes his mental model of himself as a deeply appreciative husband who humbly savors his marriage. It reeks of “Look at me.”
It’s ironic: He prides himself on being humble and grateful.
Here’s what he does. He looks at me and holds onto a profound silence until I notice him. Then he delivers a grave, serious, dramatic, “Thank you” in a low, emotionally laden tone. It’s his cue for me to listen carefully, and it just makes me want to sigh.
For example: This week I was supportive of him trying out for a very different kind of job in another part of the country. After he had his phone interview, he did the silence + thank you + sappy smile + wait for my appreciation. It felt like he had just cast a line into the waters, fully expecting to reel in an “Oh, aren’t you so sweet? I love being supportive of you. You are such a good man to be so appreciative.” Gush, gush. (You kind of had to be there to observe how expectantly he looked at me after his big thank-you.)
I don’t like the oh-so-conscious and deliberate appreciation laid on so thickly, as with a trowel. I don’t like the call-and-response nature of these exchanges, as in:
Pastor: “The Lord be with you.”
Congregation: “And also with you.”
My husband: (weighty silence after getting my attention), “Thank you.”
Me: “For what?”
My husband: “Just ……… thank you. For just being you. For supporting me. Thank you.”
Me: (I’m supposed to say it’s just normal to support and encourage your spouse, and then he gets to be humble and appreciative to an admirable degree. And I’m supposed to melt. Instead, I feel ornery, and I feel critical of myself for feeling ornery.)
Years ago, right after his affair came to light, I finally told him to stop calling me his soul mate because he lost that privilege when he fucked around for about four years during our marriage. It chafed him, but he complied after moping around the house for a day or two. Now he has drifted into calling me “Boo,” and it grates on me almost as badly because it feels so fake and forced. And it’s not even true.
I’m not your fucking Boo. And you’re not my BAE. And it’s never going to be that way between us again. I just can’t. I won’t.
At best — at the very best — you’re my husband, and I’m your wife. Titles of deep affection are earned.
I can’t stop resenting him for trying to win back my love. I can’t stop being mad at myself for being hard-hearted. I’m paralyzed at the idea of letting down my guard and being disappointed and devastated by him again. And I can’t stop this marriage. Not right now.
And I don’t know what I’m waiting for.
(Follow-up edit on 4-4-18: He really did thank me just for being me. That seems to contradict what I wrote in another post, about how he values me for doing, not for being. It’s not that he doesn’t ever just appreciate me. It’s just that he appreciates what I do for him so very much more.)