First published April 11, 2016
I know he loved me, in his detached way. He showed me by the things he did for me. He was a wonderful father, and by almost any measure, he was a good husband, faithful and a good provider. He watched out for me; he took care of my feelings; it made him happy to make me happy. What more could a woman want?
That’s what I told myself for our first two decades as man and wife. There was a quiet voice in the back of my heart whispering, “I want more” but there was too much going on in my life, commanding too much of my attention to allow me the luxury of dissatisfaction.
When the children got older and were more independent, I had the time to indulge my sexual and emotional fantasies, of which my husband was usually the object. I longed for him to look me in the eyes and really see me. I ached for him to hold me and feel my heart beating for him. I wanted to shiver at his touch.
I became more assertive about putting more romance in our relationship, but he resisted. Emotional intimacy wasn’t in his nature.
And so, my dissatisfaction and resentment began to grow. I was angry that he couldn’t let go enough to show me his love in the way I needed to be shown. I wanted to feel it viscerally, not just believe it intellectually.
He sensed my resentment; felt me pulling away. And even knowing the reason, felt helpless and frustrated in the face of it. It was a dark time in our marriage.
I took a lover. I have no guilt about that. I needed to feel those feelings. I needed to held and seen that way by someone.
But such illicit affairs are usually short-lived. Passion fades and then the practicalities set in. The clandestine trysts, the hurried phone calls, the fear of getting caught. One or the other wants more while the other fears to upset their entire life. We went back and forth like that for a while, crying and fighting and making up, until eventually, we mutually agreed to part ways amicably.
To leave my marriage would have devastated my husband. He was a good man. He deserved better from me. The problem was mine.
But that little interlude gave me new perspectives.
That was when I first began to truly love my husband, to accept him as he was; with all his limitations. My heart had been opened to love, and I liked the feeling. I was determined to keep it open to him, even if he had difficulty keeping his wide open for me. Instead of finding fault in what I wasn’t getting, I focused instead on the ways he showed his love. His way wasn’t my way; he wasn’t expressive; he wasn’t passionate; but I came to understand that neither way was right or wrong. It was just a matter of style.
And once I loved him without expecting him to reciprocate in the same way, he began to open up, loving me more in the way I wanted to be loved. He did not become a romantic but he made more of an effort. I appreciated how difficult that was for him, and it made me love him more. I learned to read between the lines, and there was a lot written there.
As we grew older, we stopped resisting each other. Instead of growing apart, we grew together. For fifty two years we were married, and I was grateful I did not leave him. I never told him about my affair but I always believed he knew. By unspoken mutual consent, we agreed never to mention it. That was part of accepting each other as we were.