When passing through the storms of life, please remember:
1. It could be worse,
2. It will get better.
– Doe Zantamata
This quote makes me think about the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband. I would describe the period around our engagement as stormy. Dating was easy. That was the calm before the storm. During that time, I had little to no expectations. We went out on dates several times a week and we spoke on the phone at least once per day. He initiated everything. It seemed like he was putting in all of the work – picked me up, dropped me off, paid for everything, and made the daily phone calls. It felt good to feel wanted and not to have to work so hard for it. I liked him, but I kept reminding myself to “pull back” and be careful because of my past mistakes. I used to fall for guys too easily, especially ones that couldn’t give me the emotional support that I needed. Or, one in particular that married me for a free pass to the United States and then left me with $60 in my pocket when he got what he needed from me. That time in my life was not just any kind of storm, it was a Category 5 hurricane.
Every relationship after that was just me trying to clean up the aftermath of my first marriage – or dare I say, divorce. The damage that I sustained was financial, physical, mental and emotional. I had just graduated college and was supposed to start a new job the day after he kicked me out of our house. I commuted two hours to and from my parents house to work for almost a week until my supervisors decided to give me some time off to find a permanent place in the city. During this marriage I was seeing a therapist twice a week and continued seeing her for a long time after the divorce just to make sure I didn’t “lose my mind.”
I had just graduated college and was supposed to start a new job the day after he kicked me out of our house.
So, when I say that I was constantly reminding myself to pull away from my current husband in the beginning of our relationship, that is not an overstatement. I blocked off my emotions to a large degree. I wasn’t an ice queen, but I certainly was not behaving like a Disney princess either. I just wanted to enjoy myself without all the extra baggage. To be honest, we both actually had a really great time as boyfriend and girlfriend. I went on a brief vacation to the Balkans with my family members and I enjoyed every minute of it. I was not riddled with anxiety about his whereabouts or whether or not he would call me, but of course, he called me every night. Actually, I remember one night in particular when I did not answer his call. We were texting earlier in the day and I had made a joke and called him “bro” or “dude” or something like that. He had the nerve to tell me that he doesn’t like when I use those phrases because “they are not sexy and that it’s really unattractive.” #BoyBye – for just a minute, obviously. Anyway, he got the message and I still had a great time on vacation. I’m not saying I didn’t miss him a little, I did. I just did not allow myself to get all mushy and “attached.” This worked for a little while, but it didn’t last forever.
As I began to develop stronger feelings for him, I opened up a lot more. I would express joy when I was having fun. I would also express my feelings of anger and jealousy. Initially, I did not have a problem expressing my feelings and emotions. Unfortunately, he had trouble accepting and understanding these feelings. Our first fight was when I knew something was not quite right. Granted, I am very vocal, passionate and animated. Especially when I care about the subject very deeply. When I would get like this, he would completely shut down. He would either lie to help his cause or stop talking altogether. At first, we both assumed this was because he had a difficult time handling situations that were too emotionally charged. Although this was partially the case, it was more about him not being able to empathize with me. I needed him to understand what I was feeling and show that he cared, but he was not emotionally mature enough for this – yet. It was like he was afraid – afraid of losing me or just afraid of confrontation. And, to be honest, I was a confrontational, ultimatum-giving chick. I was and still am very direct. Unfortunately, I would become pretty aggressive and argumentative at times, threatening to leave if he didn’t step up to the plate. He just could not or did not want to comprehend what I was trying so hard to relay to him.
It was more than just not understanding my feelings or responding the way I needed him to. He would behave in a childish manner when I would try to explain how I was feeling and why I was feeling that way. He constantly felt like he was under attack from me. Although I could get extremely hot-tempered, it would take me a while before I reached that boiling point. Like one time I caught him staring at another woman for a bit longer than I would have liked. To be completely honest, I am hyper-aware when it comes to him and I have always been since the beginning. I notice the smallest behaviors and mannerisms. As a result, he used to feel like I was being “too sensitive” when I would confront him about something that I did not like. Anyway, when I caught him staring at this woman, I felt sad and undervalued. I was so used to being on a pedestal and feeling as if I was more than enough for him. I confronted him about looking at this other woman for too long. I told him exactly how I felt and asked if there was any way that he could not stare at other women for so long. I was cool about it and brought it up very casually, but he had a fit. He completely denied staring at any woman. This actually made me very angry because now he was lying to me. “So, I just made up that whole scenario in my mind?” I would ask him. I went from being completely relaxed and having my thoughts collected to an angry lunatic screaming at the top of my lungs that he is an immature man-child and a liar.
This was the pattern for several months: I would try to express my feelings and emotions by using examples and he would get defensive, put up a wall and tell me that I should not be upset. It was ugly. Neither of us would let up. By then, I would call him out on every single little thing that I had stored in my memory and he would deny it all. If he lied about something small just to avoid an argument, I would explain how stupid it was to lie, even about something small. He would stick to his guns and I would keep badgering. Our conversations turned into all-out feuds. Because of this, I couldn’t stand him. On so many occasions, I wanted to pack my shit up and leave. It was incredibly difficult for us. Our relationship went from happy and relaxed to turbulent and miserable. We even postponed our nikah (Islamic marriage ceremony) so that we could see a couple’s counselor and try to work it out. We did eventually have our nikah, but we were still working things out. There was one thing I kept telling myself: It could be worse.
I don’t particularly like to tell myself this too often, because at times it can feel like I’m trying to diminish my own feelings, but that wasn’t the case with this situation. I was saying this because I truly believed that we could make it work.
Our relationship went from happy and relaxed to turbulent and miserable.
We needed to look at the bigger picture. My friends kept telling me that. Our couple’s counselor even told us she believed in us! They all told us that things would get better. That we just needed to get through this phase – the phase that I call the storm. I felt like I should run for the hills before it turned into anything resembling my first marriage/divorce. But, my current relationship is definitely nothing like that mess. Today, I feel loved, taken care of, and appreciated by my husband. I don’t feel like that every day. Some moments are better than others. And, it was a lot harder for me to understand this in the beginning stages. It definitely got easier and we became less stubborn. More importantly, we became less afraid. We understood that we could not let the fear of a few small storms ruin the real and honest love that we have for each other.
After each and every disagreement or argument, we get smarter. We learn from the mistakes and are better prepared for the future and how to handle the next conversations. It’s like the first time you are outside without an umbrella in the rain and you get soaked. The next day, you remember to check the weather report for even the slightest chance of a drizzle and you remember to take your rain boots and umbrella. With our relationship, we kept forgetting to be respectful and love each other unconditionally. Those two thing were and still are our umbrella and rain boots. Nothing protects us more than arming ourselves with these two things daily.
The beginning of my second marriage was certainly not a hurricane, but it wasn’t a bright and beautiful day either. We felt so dejected and vulnerable. We could not see the future and we had no clue whether or not we would get through the storm. Luckily, we did get through it. The worst part is completely behind us now. We use every day to practice showing each other respect and unconditional love and we are enjoying every minute of it. Even the rough days are not so bad anymore. In fact, my used-to-be-scared-of-feelings-and-emotions husband says he’s glad we’re not talking out our feelings so that we can have a stronger and healthier relationship. I wasn’t expecting that – but I’m certainly not complaining. 🙂