It’s funny: I’m looking through my posts, and about two weeks ago I posted an article by Mort Fertel that deals in part with the topic of this post: avoidance. The title of that article was “How to Know if Your Marriage Will Survive” and, while I have no doubt that my marriage will survive, the idea of avoidance has reappeared in a sort of ironic way in the past few days.
To recap that article, one of the most reliable predictors of whether your marriage will hit trouble lies in the avoidance of conflict. This is a big counterintuitive, as one might typically think that a healthy relationship is a harmonious one. But, being a student of harmony (seriously: this has been my profession, i.e. musical harmony) there cannot be any interesting relationship that progresses without some form of dissonance. It is the dissonance that compels the movement forward to resolution, and pretending that there is no dissonance in a relationship just stores dissatisfactions and other sources of potential conflict to arise at some later point.
Thus it was in my marriage, by and large. My wife and I did not fight very much, and we often just let problems ride. Over the 1-2 years preceding our marital crisis, these problems began to resurface and demand attention. Neither of us really knew what to do, nor did we have the skills needed to deal with them. So, it was kind of inevitable that there would eventually be a blow-up of sorts.
This week finds us me in a different kind of avoidance. I am literally being avoided by my wife. Last week there was conflict, but it wasn’t an actual fight. Instead, it was her prevarications and justifications meeting my firm position of standing my ground for our marriage, a stand that was coupled by an occasional stern phrase or two. I don’t think I’m wrong in sensing that she was under a lot of pressure, and that she really did not want to have to deal with all of the issues she has created and exacerbated over the past year; instead, she’d just like to walk away from them all and allow them to disappear into the ether, like so much mist that disperses as the sun rises. Indeed, she exhorted me to just “walk away,” which, of course, I refused to do. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying now that she likely realizes that she is in an intractable situation, one in which she truly has lost control, and in which she will not find her imagined “happy ending.” No, there’s just tragedy ahead for her and the adulterer; that’s predictable.
Last week, she made many threats. She threatened to cut me off entirely, to never see me again, and to take the dog away and never allow me to see her again, either. I was prepared for her to begin to act out on some of those threats, perhaps in an unpredictable and likely incomplete way. But I was a bit more prepared for what she’s doing now, which is just to ignore it all and hope it will all go away. At least, that seems to be what’s happening right now.
She was in town yesterday and the day before. I know this for a fact, because I have seen the purchases she made on our bank records. I know she was here. Wednesday came and went without any contact from her. Thursday did likewise. I had an unexpected cancelation in my otherwise packed schedule yesterday that left me with a couple of free hours, so I went home to do a bit of thinking. Well, actually I went home and did a bit of self-hypnosis first (you’re all aware by now that I do this regularly). Then, I had an idea occur to me: I could deliver the gift my wife had rejected last week to the colleague’s house where she had been spending the night. It was the middle of the day, so I was reasonably sure that she would not be there, but would almost certainly return before the adulterer picked her up — in his brand, spanking new pickup truck (it’s a grey Chevy that looks like it gets about 18 m.p.g.; I’ve seen the pictures) — to take her back to his place out in the sticks. A magazine had come in the mail for her the day before, so I thought it a good opportunity to deliver that, along with the gift that I had readied.
I had already wrapped a couple of the gift items up, using paper that is exactly her taste: I wrapped up her copy of the letter to her parents, as well as a little box of chocolates. These I placed inside a mailing envelope, along with the magazine. I wrote her name (in Japanese, no less) on the outside of the envelope, and then set out.
I got to the colleague’s house, and indeed nobody seemed to be there. I quietly left the package on the porch and then drove away. Arriving at my next appointment, I emailed the colleague to let her know that I’d left a package, and to apologize for any intrusion, although I was sure she’d understand. I also emailed my wife to let her know that I’d left the package there before, although she likely got the email after she found the package. The colleague later emailed to let me know that it was fine, and that she would make sure my wife got the package; she further said that she would be happy to help us in whatever ways she could. She said that, although she didn’t really know the full extent of the situation between us (actually, she likely knows far more than she is letting on, and certainly knows far more than she should), she hoped that things would work out to our between us. I did not avail myself of the opportunity to tell her that, if that were truly her wish, she should not allow my wife to stay there anymore, and that she should not allow my wife to talk about either our marriage or her relationship with the adulterer. In fact, I did not avail myself of saying anything beyond thanking her and telling her that things were fine for me, but very busy.
My wife never contacted me at all. That was to be expected.
The other thing she did not do was to stop by the house to pick up the dog. I half expected she might do that, and then leave me a note of some sort. Instead, it seems like she has just side-stepped the whole issue.
One thing I know for sure about my wife at this point is that her life is wholly incoherent. She is unable to make a plan that she can stay with for more than a few hours, it seems. I don’t think she can plan things out even for a week at a time. It just appears to me that she is nearly totally ruled by her emotions at this point, and that these emotions are thrashing her up against the jagged cliffs of her conscience again and again. Her response is just to pretend like those cliffs are not there, and that her internal emotional life is not turbulent. She can do that, but I’m pretty sure that I know the consequence of this suppression: panic attacks, eating problems, and insomnia. This is pretty much what happens to her every time she avoids things.
Also in avoidance are her parents, from whom I’ve heard absolutely nothing in the intervening days since I sent them the letter. It’s been almost two weeks now, and I’ve not heard a peep. I don’t expect to, either. I’d hoped they’d reach out, or at least send a card or letter, but it seems like even that is too uncomfortable for them. I can understand their shame of their daughter having betrayed me, and how difficult it must be for them to deal with this humiliation. I can imagine that they feel quite powerless.
Not in avoidance is me. I’m engaging and will continue to engage. The end is in sight. I do believe this is true. The pushback is a good sign. The avoidance is a typical after-effect. The next week or so could be critical.