His love is like a red, red rose. For him.

Photo of one red rose.
Photo via Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

We marked our 21st wedding anniversary today. The original plan was for him to cook steaks for the family tonight, and we plan to go out to a movie and casual dinner on Saturday. (But I was not feeling well, so we just ate baked potatoes and are saving the steaks for Saturday too.)

I do like the fact that he’s sentimental about anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and other milestones. Aside from his devastating affair, he has often been a romantic and thoughtful man. His gifts might be a meaningful charm for my Pandora bracelet or a new nibbed fountain pen for my collection. These are tokens of affection that I really enjoy, because they are personalized to ME. He also cooks for me, notices small things that interest me, asks me all the time if he can do anything for me, and, in three years of listening to me unload occasionally about my pain regarding his affair, he has only shown frustration a couple of times, which I get — he’s human.

I think he’s remorseful. We do love each other. I just wish I knew how to put down the pain, leave it behind me and not finding it tagging along with me despite my best efforts. Trying to kick the pain to the curb just makes it cling to me. Embracing it isolates me from him. Simply acknowledging the pain is there without calling attention to it very often seems to be the best solution at the moment, but it also makes me feel like I’m continually being punished by his affair — he gets the renewed healthy focus on our marriage and at least some renewed closeness to me, and I get that plus all the pain, insecurities, fears, and doubts.

When I’m triggered, I feel like I’m walking alone, trying to hold my shit together and not show the depth of the sadness I still feel. And it feels like I’m being dishonest to smile and be silent when I want to curl up in bed, alone, and sleep through the entire weekend. Often it feels like we are two people living separate but cautiously shared lives, instead of living in a marriage. Is this what healthy people do? Was I too invested in “closeness” before? Or is this awkward stalemate just a new kind of marital dysfunction?

One weird side effect of his affair and his efforts to be a better husband is that he actually LISTENS to me these days. And I’m trying to be more restrained (I can be very intense) so he doesn’t get too spooked when we have difficult conversations.

Communication and respect have been big issues in our marriage. I didn’t see that before the affair, and I’m not sure he does even now.

He can be so stubborn. And I can be so angry.

Here’s a minor example: We’ve had some issues regarding his views on romance over the years, long before he had any affair (at least any that I know of). He considers the red rose to be his “signature” floral gift. I’ve learned not to roll my eyes at this; he doesn’t understand why I think having a “signature” gift is a bit pompous.) Early in our relationship, I tried to mention as gently as I could that roses are lovely, but there are other flowers I enjoy so much more. I really don’t like roses, particularly red ones.

Nevertheless, he is stubbornly dedicated to helping me understand that I “should” like the red roses. He isn’t hearing me, despite my efforts asking him to try a different colored rose, or even better a mixed bouquet (they’re even significantly cheaper, usually). We’ve been married 21 years, and after a while it started to just piss me off that he refused to listen to me. (He has done this in several areas of our lives, so the “red roses thing” is kind of a symbolic issue for us.)

His resistance tells me he cares more about looking like a romantic man instead of being one. It keeps the focus on him, and I don’t think that’s what a gift should do. It spoils a lot of how much I enjoy his seemingly loving intentions. His kind of stubbornness and resistance bewilders me. When someone tells you what they do like and don’t like, why not believe them? Why not try to accommodate them?

These days, when he shows up with red roses, I thank him, put them in a vase and don’t touch them until they droop and I can throw them away. I quietly feel irritated and sad every time I look at the damned roses. They don’t say “I love you” to me. They say, “I’m trying to teach you what things you should like to be a better woman.”

I feel ungrateful when I am not pleased by his apparent intentions. And he seems saddened that I don’t just adapt my preferences. But I see his “gifts” as gifts with strings attached — “Take my gift, even if you don’t like it. Give me brownie points for getting you flowers you don’t like. This is about how romantic I am, not about how much I am pleasing you.”

He finds that interpretation nutty. I find his odd dedication to sending me flowers I don’t like as what is really nutty. And of course, I feel guilty and like a rude ingrate.

How is it possible that **I** am the bad guy?

I get so tired of feelings and thoughts being so damned complicated.

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