Looking at Marriage from a Glass Half-empty/Half-full Way
A Minute to Myself (16)

Get Your Words Off Me: Excerpt Five


Another divide in our relationship was that while I would provide input, he made decisions. How did that happen? In the beginning I seemed so strong, so equal; I knew that he has a strong personality, but I did not wither before him. In fact, I think that my opposition to him was what attracted him to me, and my ability to stand up to his strength gave me strength, and he seemed to respect that. I’ve been thinking about decisions that were made at the beginning of our relationship, and I was calling a lot of the shots. Did he consciously try to bring me down later?

Before he got out of the army, when he was thinking about staying in, I simply told him that I was not interested in being married to a man in the military and if he were to stay, then I would go back to New York. I also let him know that I was expecting to get married, or at least engaged, a few months after he completed his military service. Was I pushy? Did I force him into doing things that I wanted but he didn’t? I don’t know. After being together for two years, with my being in a foreign country for those two years, I just knew some things that were essential for me. He did not have to agree. There was no arm twisting. I was not needy nor was I hanging onto him for dear life. I had a good job, had acclimated just fine, I was not dependent on him. Maybe he wanted me to be? Who knows? All I know is that things were definitely different in the beginning of our relationship than how it unfolded. There didn’t seem to be big warning signs about dangers ahead: we were two young people trying to make our way, together.

When did things start to fall apart? When did he start to take a leadership position in the marriage? When did I accede control to him? I think I can trace it to when he started making pronouncements about my friends. At that point I started changing how I interacted with them, and that, in such a small but substantial nutshell, was, I think, the first seed of our discord. Although I had been in Israel for two years before we got married, I had only a few acquaintances from work and classes I was taking. I do not make friends easily; I generally keep to myself. So what was the problem with my having a few friends, even if he didn’t like them (not that he even knew them), or even my spending time with those few friends? All of our joint friends were his friends, from the university, the army, his childhood. I was on my own; a new person in a new place just starting to establish friendships. Was this why he was attracted to me, the fact that I was unencumbered, and he would not have to fight for my time and attention, he would have me full-time with no competition from friends or family?

He would tell me that someone wasn’t interesting enough or intelligent enough or successful enough to be friends with. It’s not that I agreed with him, I did confront him sometimes, but why set out to upset your husband? Only now, years later did it occur to me to think the converse, why was he purposely upsetting me?

He had friends who I didn’t like, and so we did not see them often. But that’s normal, isn’t it? I did not preface my comments by finding fault with his friends, I would simply say that I didn’t like so-and-so and was bored when we got together, so he should get together with them alone. Isn’t there a difference between that and claiming someone is unworthy of being your friend because of some bogus reason, like she has a tattoo, or she’s a secretary? In mediation, mediators are taught to tell the arguing parties that they should focus on the issue and not the personalities; they shouldn’t insult each other but rather look at the problem from different perspectives. He has always done the opposite; he goes right to the jugular, right to the biting insult. Even when we were trying to work on our marriage, it would only be about me and my faultiness, and not about the issue under discussion.

Instead of standing up to him, defying him, telling him that he is ridiculous, “this is my friend, she doesn’t have to be yours,” I would just not talk about my friends with him. Unfortunately, this dishonest situation was uncomfortable, so I came up with an appalling alternative, I did not seek out friends. I stayed isolated—with the man who was isolating me. Did I see this as an insult? If he found such fault with my friends then wouldn’t he be finding fault with me as well? I think I took this in subconsciously, by distancing myself from my imperfect friends. In that way I stayed on his good side, I stayed perfect, untainted. Moreover, since these were our first years of wedded bliss, I was not seeking outsiders, our little unit was still comforting, still fulfilling. The gradual undermining of and damage to my psyche was happening below the surface in so many of our interactions, and I was so unaware of their presence and impact. I was, still, delusionally happy.

Rather than risk hearing his judgment of my friends and hence losing them after the inevitable condemnation and then distancing, I never brought my friends around, not to our house and not to go out with us. Again, there weren’t many friends, but I did not want him to ruin the few I had by making me doubt them, and myself.

My parents never told me if they liked a boyfriend of mine or not. They were hands-off parents; letting me make and grow from my own mistakes. I wonder if, with him, I became lazy, leaning on his assessments and not having to make my own. Did I just concede decision-making to him so I wouldn’t have to? It seems that there is a true dichotomy here: part of me enjoyed having a patron who made decisions for me, while the other part resented him and his decisions.

It wasn’t just about my friends, he had a very self-righteous and arrogant attitude. He would call people derogatory names and stereotype them. Initially, my being in an exalted group made me feel good—made me feel worthy, fed my weak self-image. I was finally in an in-group. But as time went by, this disturbed me, his intolerance. I had always prided myself on being open and accepting of all, and here I was throwing my morals away for a man.

Perhaps I protected my placement in the exalted circle by not opposing him. My comfort or safety in his in-group superseded my ideals. Is this when I started to live a double life, when I became the woman married to this man as distinct from the woman alone? How could I have done that to myself? It makes me a hypocrite. No wonder the extent of my animosity towards him now, since it probably feeds off of my feeling that he stole some truly vital things from me, and resulted in compromising core values of self. But it may also explain my vengeance for wanting to get out of this marriage.


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