Trials of the heart
My first marriage at age 18 was a predictable disaster. Coming out of an emotionally abusive family, I settled for the first person to say "I love you" without further questioning. My first husband had the emotional distance of my absent father and the abrupt rages of my depressive mother. After two children I woke up and left him, but only after he had an affair. The physical and verbal abuse wasn't enough to make me leave for good -- only his rejection of me got me out the door.
Many years passed -- 15 -- before I was willing to take a chance on marriage again. I had grown accustomed to single life and autonomy. I had the control over my environment that I had lacked in my childhood and first marriage. Now I was willing to share that control and to trust that this man would also keep our home peaceful and safe.
My second husband embodies many of the qualities missing in my early life and first marriage. He is funny, gentle and kind, he never yells at me, never insults me, is always willing to listen to any complaint I have and work out a solution. He makes me feel sexy and loved. The first few years went by quickly and happily. I never took for granted the peaceful way we worked out our differences. I knew what a rare and precious thing that was.
Then disaster struck. I was diagnosed with heart disease and immediately needed a quadruple bypass operation. I was 42, the same age as my mother when she had her bypass operation. I had thought I might make it to my 50s before the disease that killed both my parents struck me. My lifestyle was somewhat better -- I was vegetarian and a nonsmoker. I thought this would buy me time.
I am 14 years older than my husband. He was not expecting this old-age disease in our young marriage. He was in shock. He tried to soldier on. I tried not to burden him with my very real fear of dying. He tried not to burden me with his fear of my death or disability. We stopped talking in the deep, connecting way that keeps a marriage alive. And so our marriage began to die, slowly, almost imperceptibly at first. We gradually found ourselves going through the motions.
We knew we needed counseling, but we couldn't afford it. We would make feeble attempts at connecting as if trying to act out a memory of the love we once felt so keenly. Deep down we were encased in our shrouds of fear, my fear of dying or of being abandoned if my disease made me too needy or disabled, his fear of losing me or of becoming an around-the-clock caregiver.
Finally our financial life improved, we moved to a cheaper apartment, and we looked forward to finding a counselor and getting the help we needed. It was at this unexpected moment that my husband became drawn to a co-worker and began to move toward having an affair. Fortunately, the woman decided against it and I caught on to what was happening almost simultaneously. This forced us to deal with our problems, finally.
We are now in couples counseling and making progress. I am trying to find the faith to trust that he won't have an affair or abandon me if I have another heart attack. (I had one right after my surgery.) He is trying to find the faith to trust his ability to handle whatever happens to me. We are talking again and sharing our fears instead of bottling them up. I feel like I am falling in love again.
I can understand the temptation of divorce, and I have felt it myself. I can easily imagine creating a fortress in which no one can ever hurt me again. Yet I believe that there are lessons I can learn from sticking through these hard times that I will never learn by running away. It takes more than love to make a marriage work, and yet that love is what keeps me trying and keeps me believing our marriage is worth saving. I still love the kind and gentle man I married, and I know he still loves me.
The subject of extra-marital affairs has come up for me this week as the story broke in my forum about a member's affair. Infidelity is such a painful thing for all involved. I hope this incidence can be resolved in a manner that is least hurtful to all.
I am grateful that I was given a chance to save my marriage and watch it flourish these last two years.