My husband’s complaint was over something incredibly small.
“How come you never hang up my clothes how I like them?” was all he said, but my feelings of failure sprung up like a broken bed coil ready to scratch.
The situation would have ended at that, but my husband didn’t stop. He continued and I felt like I was being interrogated about my faults. So I rushed out of the bedroom, carefully avoiding eye-contact with him, and closed myself in the bathroom and cried.
The rest of the day I remained quiet and tried with varying degrees of success to fight back tears. My husband, meanwhile, had no idea of the turmoil I felt. When he asked around supper time if everything was okay, I more or less avoided the question.
I felt foolish for crying over something my head told me was a small matter. But I knew my tears weren’t even about the clothes. For me, childhood sexual abuse had shaped the way I viewed everything. Any small mistake used to send me into a tailspin; I would obsess over how horrible I was for days on end. Therapy and years of practice have helped me control my thoughts of my own worthlessness, but they do still well up.
At the time of my abuse, I chose to tell no one about it, choosing to sacrifice my safety for the peace of others. Even today, my natural instinct is to keep everything to myself. I have to work hard at sharing my feelings with others.
I debated with myself about whether I should share with my husband how I responded to his criticism. I didn’t want him to feel like he had to walk on eggshells around me, but at the same time it seemed like it could be an opportunity to share on a deeper level and understand one another better.
I knew if I wanted to feel understood, I needed to help my husband understand me. I needed to try to explain the best I could how certain things made me feel. Even if consciously I knew my reaction was bigger than the situation merited, I still felt how I felt, and that’s just the way it was.
Finally, at bedtime the following night, I explained: “I always thought my primary emotion is fear, but I realize now it is shame. The fear I felt growing up came from my feelings of shame. With me, a little criticism goes a long way. A small correction is enough.”
“I wasn’t interrogating you. I was just asking you a question, as in, didn’t you know how I liked them?” From his perspective, of course the clothes were a trivial matter and one quickly forgotten, so he had no idea that that was the reason I had been so quiet and he couldn’t have known how I felt or how my mind tended to work unless I chose to share it with him.
In the end, I’m glad I chose to share. It was helpful for me to know that my husband’s questions are simply questions. He loves me and he doesn’t want to interrogate me. It also helped him to be aware of how I react to certain triggers so he can bring issues up with sensitivity.
I was told recently that a mystery is an invitation—an invitation to go deeper and to learn more. When it comes to our inner thoughts and feelings, we too are a mystery, even to those who know us well. We must be willing to allow those we trust to know more about us. I know I want to understand those I love and to know their needs, and I’m slowly learning that those who love me want the same.
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