“Do you look for her to be happy to decide if you’re happy…?”
I remember the therapist asking me about the relationship I have with my wife. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, trying to understand how to make myself better for a relationship. Although relationships really should fail before you can move onto another, I always felt they failed because of me. A prime example would be the ex-girlfriend that had sex with a lot of different guys while we were together, had convinced me she wouldn’t have done it if I had paid more attention to her – I believed it. I would take the things I learned as the literal facts of why a relationship ended. I wanted to change for the better. I always wanted to be a better man and make the attempt to be THE guy that a woman would want.
I carried that into my marriage. I would acquiesce to almost every whim of my wife’s. I remember a friend telling me once, “You are a door-mat, you realize that? You allow her to treat you the way she does.” Of course, I found it easy to allow almost anything that could be interpreted as wrong on her part, because I could always count on her being loyal and faithful. Early on in our relationship, I felt like I would stand up for myself in assertive ways – although, not always compassionate ways – but I felt like it has eroded over time. That erosion has done a number on my self-esteem, as well.
Truthfully, if I look at our relationship in an objective way, she has numerous reasons to be upset with me. I’ve done things that I wholly regret. I’ve done things that are direct attacks on our marriage and have done harm to my wife, as well; so, I’m not without a tarnished character. Even now, as I write this, I am realizing that I am making explanations for my wife – I defend her, even to myself. But, I really don’t intend this post to be a he-said/she-said interaction of details that drift away from the real reason I am posting this. I need to get some things off my chest, but I never know how to do that without sounding like I am being mean or disloyal to my wife…
“I have wasted my life with you…” were the words my wife uttered when we went to bed that night. This isn’t the first time I have heard her say those words. But this time, they felt more authentic than ever before. And so many times before, I rushed to try and persuade her opinion. I attempted to prove she had not wasted her life with me. I rushed to demonstrate all of the ways I love her and love the life we have together. I truly meant it all of the other times too. I have always been in love with my wife, even when I have acted in horrible ways. I’ve always wanted to make her happy and I’ve always wanted to do everything I could do to make her feel good.
Thinking about the question my therapist had asked me, I knew what she was getting at. She was pointing out my co-dependent nature. I answered the therapist as honestly as I could when I said, “It’s the only way I know how to love someone. If I bring a smile to someone’s face, I feel like I have shown them I love them. So, yes, I look to make her happy. Her happiness means the world to me.” And the therapist asked a question I could not answer then, “At what cost to you…?”
A couple of nights ago, I answered it by telling my wife, “You’re right. You’ve wasted your life with me. And I am sorry.”