I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m an exceedingly difficult person to live with. I can be very particular and inflexible. I like to hold grudges. I completely shut down when I’m upset. I’m terrible at putting away clean laundry and emptying the dishwasher. That’s a lot to handle. Throw infertility (IF) into the mix and you’re begging for disaster, right? That’s what I thought anyway. I was sure we’d need years of therapy to right all the wrongs IF brings. Really it’s been quite the opposite.
Let’s get back to me though. Specifically the part about shutting down when I’m upset. It’s really very simple. I don’t want to need anyone, because that makes me vulnerable and gives the needed person the power to hurt me. So when that person does something to fail me, however slight, I well up with anger. The thing is, even though outwardly it may look like I’m angry at the person, I’m actually just angry at myself. Angry because I stupidly let myself need someone. And I can never, never let myself need someone. And the outflow of so zealously guarding my vulnerabilities is that I tend to be detached and distant. Affection doesn’t come naturally to me anymore, communicating expectations is difficult, working through conflict is almost impossible.
(As an aside, and as a point of clarification, this thought process mainly applies to my relationship with Andrew and my family. In other relationships I’m able to be objective and realize that I’m just insane, but in more intimate relationships I already feel too vulnerable, making it more difficult to keep the crazy in check. I hope that makes sense.)
As you can imagine, my total inability to cope has been really difficult to work around in our marriage. Thankfully Andrew is exceedingly long-suffering and kind — any other man would have walked away and stayed away. But now that I’ve rambled about my biggest flaw for a while, you’re probably wondering how adding IF to the mess that is me has made anything better.
That’s an easy and obvious answer. Everything we’ve gone through has made me realize I can’t not need Andrew. It’s impossible. I know because I’ve tried. I tried to cope with the stress and the sadness and the disappointment alone, and it all almost swallowed me whole. I couldn’t keep crying in the car and sitting alone in the dark and then putting on an unconvincing smile whenever Andrew was around. It wasn’t working even a little bit. For either of us. I was drowning and Andrew was desperate to help me but didn’t have a clue how.
I can’t tell you when it happened, but at some point I realized I’m stupid. And slowly, in tiny ways, I started showing Andrew that I need him. I’d ask him to sit closer to me. I’d hug him for a long time for no reason. I’d read in the living room while he was doing work instead of locking myself up in the bedroom, just so he’d know I want to be around him. Then those tiny steps started getting a little bigger. I started communicating expectations clearly, like how I needed him to be sad with me instead of being stubbornly optimistic, because sometimes his optimism felt like he was just brushing me off. Or how I needed him to be more involved in and informed about the IF process, because otherwise I just felt like I was totally alone.
Our marriage is far from perfect, so don’t be fooled. But something totally weird happened once I started taking those steps: we grew closer to each other. Andrew began better meeting my needs because I was finally being vulnerable enough to show him what they were. Funny how that happens, right? But it’s not just that he’s meeting my needs. I was spending a considerable amount of energy trying to be completely self-reliant in terms of emotional needs. Now that I’m not trying so hard I have a little bit of extra energy to put into meeting Andrew’s needs. I have a little more energy to put into being affectionate, and patient, and fun, and social. Sometimes I even get around to putting away the clean laundry and emptying the dishwasher.