Marriage Of One

The Early Years

As promised, I have tried to produce a more concise article by rolling up the first 3 years.
I’ve left out some of the less interesting material (some of the themes were repetitive) and I attempt to focus on the things that show how the marriage evolved during this period.
The next article after this is The Later Years.
The previous article to this is The First Year.

About 18 months after Susan and I got married we moved into our own home. Until then we had been renting in a less than desirable neighbourhood in a small terraced house. The world was opening up for us. We had recently bought a new car, I had been doing well at work and instead of the usual ‘starter’ home that first-time buyers usually went for, we punched above our weight and bought a spacious house in a village location.

The bad dream becomes a nightmare

You’d think that with all this going our way, we would be happy and excited and full of anticipation for the future. Well I certainly was. Susan must have been too, but that excitement did not extend to our love life. No, the excitement of moving home, starting our first home did not have any effect in the bedroom.

To be honest I almost don’t blame her. Let me explain. A few weeks before we moved in, we learnt that my parents were coming. Now my parents lived on the other side of the world and when they came to visit, they usually stayed a good few months at a time.

So bad timing being what it was, and through no fault of ours, my folks arrived the day after we moved in. Everything was everywhere and we never got to settle in in our own time. I felt bad for Susan and myself. My parents helped with the settling-in enthusiastically (thinking it was what we wanted), but at a time when we wanted to be alone to explore our feelings and excitement we had the stamp of ownership of our time and space irrevocably washed away from under our feet. There was nothing we could do. My parents make only a slight distinction between getting involved and interfering and this was our first experience of that.

Susan took it terribly although she never objected openly to them and she got on (and still does get on) very well with both my parents. Privately I know she resented the intrusion so early in our married life, and to this day feels that we did not have enough time together. Personally I feel she is right….and wrong. Knowing Susan as I do now, I know that there never would have been ‘enough’ time. She threw away the first 18 months of our marriage (okay we had a few visits from my parents back then too, but by and large we were on our own). And in this, our first owned home we still had our bedroom with en suite bathroom to ourselves. Once were were in our bedroom we were alone.

Then things got worse. Over the next few months I suggested that my parents make a formal application for residency so that they would not have to apply for a visa every time they visited. Although my intention was pure in the sense that as they aged I would like them to have stayed permanently with us, I never expected them to take such drastic steps as they then took.

A few months later they got the permanent residency status, and went back to their home country and began the process of emigrating. I was not expecting this (they didn’t tell me), but ultimately they did the damage before I could stop them. During this time, we enjoyed our first few months of ‘freedom’ in our home. Did we take advantage of it? No! Susan carried on as normal, wasting the opportunity and complaining about anything that did not meet the perfect state she wanted her life to be in before sex could take place. In no time at all, my parents were back – this time for good. They had by this time burnt their bridges; nothing we could do would enable them to return to their own home.  I don’t think it even occurred to them to clarify the position because we always made them feel so comfortable and I guess because they helped around the house, they never felt like they were causing any adverse effect on our life.

Susan and I talked it over and decided that the moral thing to do would be to ensure my parents were comfortable in our home, and made to feel as if it were their home. What this meant to our social and private lives would however be complicated. To my mind the simple solution was to work around their presence and put our lives at a slight priority over theirs.

In principle Susan went along with this. In reality the mere fact that they were there all the time destroyed what must have been the picture of suburban perfection she had in mind. And as I was learning, once perfection was destroyed there could be no sex.

The effect that this turn of events has had on our lives has been profound. Nobody could have emerged from this (and please understand that I have really summarised the chain of events) without some effects (and not just on Susan’s and my relationship). To this day our lives spin repeatedly around these core events and the subsequent events that magnified and developed into issues themselves.

This is not to say that I blame my parents or the fact that they came to live with us for the state of my marriage. I’m just laying the background to the story as it now continues. Susan’s issues had become serious long before my parents became a permanent fixture of our life.  She was determined to self-heal by giving it “time”.  So nobody could help her – least of all me.  All I can say is that with all private conversation necessarily confined to our bedroom, the opportunities for healthy discussion or even argument were limited and that definitely did not help.

The sexual rot that had begun in our rented house was moved and accelerated in its progress in our new home.

A self-assessment

Years ago I used to put myself through a character assessment of about 30 questions that would ask check my physical, mental and emotional health.  I started doing this when I learnt in my mid 20s that my introversion and lack of social skills and confidence in general was going to be a huge handicap to my life.

About 11 months after Susan and I moved into our first home I put myself through the same questions.  My score was dismal.  But this is a quote from a diary entry post-assessment:

“My self-esteem, grounded very deeply in my relationship with [Susan] is taking a beating.  I stayed fit for her, tried to look attractive for her, was tempted to go out and spend time together for her – and us.  Although I know she loves me dearly I think that we are now more like friends or very close business partners.”

On my efforts to fight this and keep a spark in my marriage I wrote:

“All the effort is uni-directional. It flows from me to her and disappears into a black hole…..The energy seems wasted.  So I try to live my life separately from hers.  And it has developed into a vicious circle incredibly quickly; because we are now ‘living’ separately we grow further apart still.”.

On physical contact:

“When I hug her sometimes I feel like I might just as well be hugging a sister or daughter”.

And on why even then I loved her:

“Sometimes I look beyond it all and just appreciate the companionship she gives me. She is very good at that and it is what makes me keep loving her.  She makes me laugh, and smile and in a motherly sort of way she takes care of me.”

I then finish the entry describing how demoralised I feel when so early on in my marriage all my dreams of a full and passionate life were extinguished, but how I was trying and hoped to get over that and still live something of a rewarding life.

I haven’t read this diary since it was written and I’m just thinking as I write this of how early on I judged the lie of the land as it were.  None of these impressions have changed over the last six and a half years.

Incidentally, the diary I kept was sporadic at best and I wrote less and less as the years went by because there was nothing new to add.  Of course other things were happening in our lives too.  We had children, good times, bad times and so on.  But at its heart the marriage was stuck and eventually I stopped writing about it.  On one hand to force me to speak about these issues to the one person who should hear them: Susan, and on the other because I got tired of feeling the same helplessness again and again.  There was just nothing positive to write – or at least nothing that lasted.

Split personality

About one month after the self-assessment I asked the following question in my diary:

“How do I stay emotionally connected, sensitive to the needs of  [Susan] and myself and others in my life whilst being emotionally disconnected and thick-skinned in the face of [our] obvious problems?….Two personalities required: To care or not to care – that is the question.”

My struggle for the early years of marriage has been based on this paradox.  I have to be open, caring, sensitive, empathic, romantic to Susan but at the same time I have to be thick-skinned, cope with almost constant rejection, aloofness, and an attitude of non-compromise.  I needed a sensitivity switch.  When she rejected me the shield would come up and I’d walk away without feeling hurt.  When she needed me, the shield would come down and she would have a husband.

At no point then or since then or now have my feelings been an issue.  And I realised in an entry a few weeks later that I was being used.  Used as an emotional crutch for her well-being.  That was what it was essentially about.  If she was my crutch in return all would be well – but she wasn’t.  Now that is a blanket statement but don’t take that as implying she didn’t care – she did, very deeply.  But she didn’t hold my feelings at the same level of importance as her own.

Over the years I have got better at handling the switch and I guess now I do have a split personality.  I have the sensitive caring father-of-her-children and man-in-the-house personality and I have the couldn’t-give-a-damn personality.  When I’m with my children or if she needs me then its the former.  If I’m in bed with her and nothing is happening (as usual) or if something I’ve said or done gets rejected then I engage the latter.  But I have to say that this type of life is tiring.  It saps your energy and leaves you feeling like you’re not either type of person.  But its the best I can do.

Believe me I’ve swung to both extremes.  I’ve been Mr Sensitive and Caring – gone completely down the road of full surrender.   When I did that I tried to connect emotionally with her.  Understand her every nuance, try to deal with every issue (and with a woman who needs perfection for sex, the list is not short!), listen and empathise with her and the things she worries about.  But guess what?  I didn’t get to experience any empathy in return.  I didn’t get to speak.  When I was Mr Sensitive, the words, issues, complaints came in one direction.  And I found it exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally.  And I’m the type of person who when I see a problem I try to fix it or at least spend time thinking about a solution.  Susan had plenty of problems and complaints about why our sex-life was bad.  And I felt pressure (even though she never exerted it) to do something about it.  Of course the problem was Susan and I was therefore doomed to fail.  I was effectively rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.

And I’ve been Mr Couldn’t-Give-A-Damn.  This is alot more relaxing, at least in the short term.  Physically and mentally.  Emotionally I found that I couldn’t get away that easily.  After a few weeks I felt depressed.   When I was Mr Couldn’t-Give-A-Damn, not only was sex out of the question, apart from a quick peck of a kiss, so were cuddles, groping and hugs and non-essential conversation.  I needed to connect with Susan.

So which would it be – perpetual exhaustion or perpetual depression?  I went for and continue to live by part-exhausted, part-depressed.  At least that way I get some variety!

Trying to connect

One of the things I tried as we came towards 3 years of marriage was to do something that was intimate yet non-threatening in a sexual sense.  Up to that point we had started to drift apart with increasing rapidity with Susan just accepting it, and myself just trying to maintain some kind of level-headedness.

But then I found that it was affecting me very badly.  I started to feel rage.  Really really bad rage.  I found myself talking about Susan and to Susan in my mind using really cruel and unflattering language.  I was bordering on hate for her.  I would find myself sitting in the train to work with my teeth clenched and my hands in fists.  It was starting to eat away at me and started to affect my health.  I did not want to hate Susan no matter what she did or did not do.  She was my best friend and that was worth keeping.  And maybe, just maybe there was another way for her to be a wife too.

I thought about it and I hit upon the idea of a massage.  So I spoke to her about it: once a week on a particular day which would be fixed so we both planned for it, I would give her a massage of her choice.  She agreed and we decided it should be on Wednesdays.

So every Wednesday I gave her a massage.  Sometimes it was a full body massage, sometimes a head massage, sometimes a foot rub etc.  She initially offered to give me a massage in return but I said she could think of something else to do for me as otherwise it would feel like she was obliged to return the favour.  So then she said she realised that she had been selfish (yes, her word!) and would think of a plan to help us mend things.

For a while things improved.  The massage worked on a few levels.  We spoke during the massages, we spent time together, and very occasionally it led to sex.  But with the improvement came complacency and as I pretty much guaranteed to do anything Susan wanted, Susan began to take the massage time for granted and forgot why it was there.

I kept up the massages for about over 2 years missing only a few days, often at her request.  Many times, I had to remind her that I was going to give her a massage.  She would just forget.  But for much of that time, the massages became her opportunity to discuss other things, or to get an ache or pain in some part of her body seen to.  Often she would just ask for a leg massage or shoulder or foot rub and then switch off.  Towards the end I think she only kept it up because it served her purposes for these.  When I finally stopped the massages I don’t think I had given her  a full body or erotic massage for many many months.

The End of Innocence

We had been married for 3 years and we took a long holiday.  Part of the time we stayed with friends and part on our own in hotels.  We had sex 4 times in the 9 days we were alone.  These 9 days were scattered over a holiday that was 25 days long.  Overall we had a nice time, but I discovered during that particular trip that I was fighting a losing battle.

The exact detail isn’t important, but she said something to me as we walked together towards our hotel near the end of the trip.  As I took it in I experienced a moment of clarity such that I remember almost exactly where I was standing and how I felt.  I stopped and stood, shocked and watched her continue to walk ahead as though nothing had happened and I realised that she just didn’t care about it or about what it meant to me. I knew at that moment that I might never have a sex life with Susan.

Perhaps I should have got out of the relationship then.  That moment was my chance to call it quits.  But Susan and I had already formed quite a good bond of friendship.  In the circumstances of our lives before and after marriage both she and I had not had the opportunity to form other durable friendships.  We only had each other really and I somehow needed her – even though I knew she might go on hurting me.

And so I made the choice to go on with Susan, only now I knew that I was on my own in the relationship.  Although I had felt alone before, I had always felt that somehow one day she would ‘wake up’ and change.  This time it felt conclusive and unchangeable.  It was the start of the ‘Marriage Of One’.


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