Short Stories: Living With Marriage Heartache

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marriage heartbreak

Dan sighed with weariness as he packed up his papers to take home. Another long night trying to get the budget done in time for his boss’ meeting with the big shots. If he had a choice, he would just stay at the office and get it done, but he knew Lydia would have his head on a platter if he did. Nothing I do ever makes her happy, I don’t know what to do anymore. She’s always on me for one thing or another.

Dan sighed again. Even though his work was stressful, he still dreaded going home at the end of each day. It was like entering a war zone each night. Or a meat freezer. Oh yeah, he hated the silent treatment. Lydia was the champion of the deep freeze. Dan chuckled mirthlessly as he pictured himself strung up like a side of beef in a butcher’s meat freezer. Yep, that was about right.

As Dan began the long commute home through the rush hour traffic, he listened mindlessly to the music on the radio. Turning the volume up, he tried to drown out the noise in his head to avoid thinking. Thinking only led to trouble. Whistling tunelessly, he began to zone out and before he knew it, he was home. Looking at the clock, Dan realized with a start that 45 minutes had already passed. Oh goody, I’m home. Bracing himself, he entered his house and dropped his briefcase on the laundry room floor.

Hearing the door slam, Lydia began putting dinner on the table. Thank goodness he was home on time for once; otherwise the roast would have been overcooked. Hoping to spend some good quality time with Dan, she had dispatched their teenagers to their friends’ houses. It had been far too long since she and Dan had connected and she had been feeling lonely. Too many nights of going to bed on her own with Dan staying up to watch sports on TV.

With the busyness of life, Lydia was starting to feel like she wasn’t a priority to Dan. She tried to be understanding, knowing how stressed he was at work and how much he needed his down time when he came home, but she was starting to feel anxious about how little time they spent together as a couple. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one fighting for our marriage. I could be a lump on a log for all the attention he pays me these days. He didn’t even notice my new hair cut yesterday. It’s like he doesn’t even see me anymore. Lydia fought the growing feelings of sadness and despair. Lord, I don’t want to lose our marriage. Please help us.

Lydia carefully arranged the flowers in the middle of the table and lit the candles. Perfect. Calling Dan for dinner, she fussed with the place settings while waiting for him. A few minutes later, Lydia called Dan again, this time her voice sharper and more impatient. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm herself. It’s okay, I’m sure he’s coming. Let’s not start the evening with a fight.

Finally, Dan entered the dining room, absent-mindedly flipping through the mail that he carried in his hands. “Only bills,” he muttered. Catching sight of the formal table setting, Dan’s eyes widened.

“What’s this? What’s the special occasion?”

Smiling, Lydia drew out his chair with a flourish. “For you, kind sir.” As Dan sat down, she went on, “I wanted to make a special dinner for us so that we could spend some time together. Maybe talk too, you know. It’s been too long since we had any connecting time.”

Hearing that Lydia wanted to talk, Dan stiffened. Oh boy, where have I messed up? Is this going to be one of those “talks” that last for hours? I’m too exhausted to deal with this. Taking a deep breath, Dan tried to relax and be jovial with Lydia.

“Thanks, hon, this is great! You made all of my favourite foods.” Dan said with a smile. Seeing the warmth on Lydia’s face, he got out of his chair to hug her with a light squeeze.

As the couple ate their dinner, there were moments of awkward silence interspersed with light conversation. But Lydia was determined to have a nice date with Dan, so she kept trying to draw him out. She filled the silence with chatter whenever the conversation died down, until finally, she left the table to get dessert.

Dan sighed contentedly and sat back. I wonder what the score is on the hockey game. I’ve only missed the first period.

“Cherry cheesecake, honey, your favourite.” Lydia said brightly as she came back into the dining room with two plates. “Maybe we can eat dessert while we talk?”

Dan’s heart sunk as he heard Lydia. There goes the hockey game.

“We haven’t had a lot of time to talk lately,” Lydia went on. “I’ve been feeling like I’m not a priority to you, like you don’t even see me anymore. I never hear from you during the day and you always just watch TV or do work every night.”

“That’s not true,” Dan interrupted. “I sent you a text yesterday just to see how you were doing.”

“Yeah but, you only do that once in a blue moon. Most of the time, I feel like I have to jump up and down to get your attention. I don’t feel like I’m important to you.” Seeing the familiar shuttered look come over Dan’s face, Lydia began to feel the emotions rising in her, so she kept talking, her voice becoming more agitated. “I went to all this trouble with dinner just to spend time with you but it felt like I had to do all the work just to get you to talk. It’s like you’re always in your own little world and I feel shut out.”

Looking at Dan, Lydia saw that he was staring out of the window, his face set coldly. “Are you even listening to me?” Lydia’s voice hitched, as her heart started beating faster. Tears running down her face, she began to rant. “You never listen to me, you always shut down! Why can’t you just hold me or tell me you love me sometimes? You’re always so distant and cold now with me. I feel like you don’t even love me anymore! In fact, I think you love the TV more. Maybe you should just take the TV to bed tonight!”

“That’s it, I’ve heard enough!” Dan yelled. Standing up so abruptly that his chair fell back with a loud bang, Dan strode out of the room. Angry now, Lydia shouted after him. “Don’t you dare leave while I’m trying to talk to you!” She followed Dan out of the room. “You always walk out on me when I’m trying to get you to listen to me!”

Ignoring her, Dan slammed the door to the study. As she heard the TV turning on, Lydia became infuriated. “I’m done! I’m going to my mother’s!” She ran up the stairs, sobbing with fury, and began to throw some clothes into her suitcase. She then stormed out of the house and tore away in her car, tires squealing. That’s it, I’ve had enough, I’m done with this marriage! She dashed the tears away from her eyes so she could see where she was going. She knew that she was being reckless in her driving, but frankly, she didn’t care at this point.

 ——

After more than a week of the deep freeze, Dan was beginning to realize it was much more serious this time. Lydia had not been home all week, nor had she called or texted. The house was a complete mess and they’d had takeout for dinner every night. Dan was staring to get scared. Maybe this time, Lydia meant what she said when she said she was done.

As Dan sat in his study, he began praying. Lord, I don’t know what to do. Give me wisdom on what to do. Just then, he recalled Lydia mentioning the name of a Christian psychologist who specialized in marital therapy. At that time, he remembered feeling annoyed that she was nagging him to go. And truthfully, he was offended she would think they needed to go see some shrink. He figured they could work it out themselves. But now, after the thousandth time having the same fight, Dan acknowledged that maybe they needed some help.

What was the name of that counselling centre again? Something to do with Life? Googling on his iPad, he found it. Ah, there it is. LifeCare Centres. Taking a deep breath, Dan picked up the phone and called the number listed to make an appointment.

 ——

Dan and Lydia sat in the waiting room of the counselling centre, a tense silence erecting a wall between them. After Dan had declared a ceasefire, Lydia had relented and returned home. But their interactions were characterized mostly by silence and superficial conversations dealing with the kids and household chores. They both knew that they needed help as their marriage was in danger. No more pretending.

The psychologist came out into the waiting room and introduced herself. Ushering them into her office, she asked them to sit down and tell her what had brought them to counselling. Looking at each other, Dan and Lydia were initially silent, but then Dan nodded for Lydia to begin.

In a monotone, Lydia began speaking: “We need help with our communication. Every time we try to talk, it just escalates into a fight. I’m usually the one who tries to get Dan to talk but he always shuts down. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say, he won’t engage. He’s always so busy at work and tired that when he comes home, he just withdraws into his man cave and watches TV. It’s like I don’t even exist anymore for him. But when I try to talk to him, it just blows up.”

Nodding sympathetically, the psychologist said softly, “It must feel like no matter how hard you try, he’s not hearing you. That maybe you’re not important to him or he doesn’t care about how you feel? I wonder if this makes you feel lonely and abandoned? Not valued?”

Lydia nodded as tears began to leak from her eyes.

“You just want him to connect with you so you keep trying to explain to him how you’re feeling, yes?” Turning to Dan, the doctor asked “What about you, Dan, what’s going on for you right now as you listen to what Lydia just said?’

Dan took a deep breath. “It’s hard to listen to her because Lydia goes on and on about all the ways I’ve messed up and disappointed her. So of course, I shut down. I don’t want to get into a fight but I can’t handle how emotional she gets all the time.”

“I wonder, Dan, if it makes you feel like no matter what you do, you can’t measure up. I wonder if it makes you feel unappreciated? Or even like a failure like a husband? Inadequate somehow?”

Dan nodded slowly. He had never really thought of it that way, but what she was saying made sense. He could feel the emotions stirring in him.

“And so it’s natural if that’s how you feel, you’re going to get defensive,” the psychologist went on. “And how you cope is to become quiet, hoping that Lydia will stop? But instead, it just seems to make her more upset, yes? So it’s not working.”

Dan shook his head. “No it’s not. But I don’t know what she wants. She tells me all the things I’m doing wrong but I don’t know what to do differently.” The doctor nodded and then turned to Lydia.

“When you’re disappointed and sad, Lydia, maybe it comes out as anger to Dan? And when Dan shuts down, it feels like he doesn’t understand you, so you have to try harder? But Dan, when Lydia starts escalating her emotions, you start to feel cornered and defensive?”

Dan and Lydia looked at each other, then at the doctor. “Have you been in our house?” Dan joked weakly. The doctor smiled and then explained. “Couples tend to get into a common dance where one person, often the female, is the pursuer, and the other person, often the male, is the withdrawer. She pursues to gain closeness, using her words to explain how she is feeling, but he perceives that as criticism or control, triggering feelings of inadequacy. So he withdraws, which only triggers greater feelings of abandonment in her, causing her to escalate and pursue with greater emotional intensity, which makes him shut down. This dance continues until he either explodes or leaves. Sound familiar?”

The couple began to relax as they nodded in agreement.

“So as you can identify your dance and communicate more vulnerably what you’re actually feeling rather than attacking and withdrawing, you can begin to change your patterns of interaction.” It was a relief to see that the psychologist understood what was going on for them. For the first time in a very long time, Dan and Lydia felt hopeful.

 ——

Does this dance sound like yours? If you’re finding yourself stuck in the same old patterns of conflict with your partner, please know that there is hope for healthy change. Ask your doctor or pastor for a referral to an experienced marital therapist who can help you understand and change your dance. Don’t settle for anything less than a healthy and loving relationship. Invite God into your journey of healing and strengthening your marriage. Whether you’re like Dan and Lydia, or you’ve experienced even more destructive patterns like betrayal, infidelity or addictions, there is help for you.

 

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