The world feels heavy right now. Beyond what is happening economically and politically, beyond all the deaths. So many relationships I know are going through transitions, or breaking apart.
My friend Nina’s is one such relationship. She has been married to her husband Ty for 18 years, but for at least nine of those years, I have heard her complaints that she feels neglected, and like he doesn’t love her or want to spend time with her. When I asked her once what she loved about him, she told me that he’s a great husband. I asked her to elaborate. “If he’s such a great husband, then why are you telling me you feel neglected and like you’re not a priority in his life?”
She thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well, he’s a good provider, and a great dad, who makes it a point to show up for our sons’ soccer matches or piano recitals.”
I nodded. “So he earns a lot of money, and he makes your boys feel important to him. That makes him a decent dad. But unless money is the thing you care about most in the world, it seems that you’re getting short shrift.” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Sure, finances are important, but so is spending time together. So is connecting and flirting, and intimacy.”
I asked if they played together and she told me that they like to golf and take family vacations with the boys, but nearly all their outings involve other people. They meet friends to go out to dinner. They take their boys on vacations, or they vacation separately; She goes on girls’ trips and he hangs with his guys.
Now that her boys are older, don’t need her as much, and will be heading to college soon, she has come to the realization that she wants to be done with her marriage. Nina wants to be free to find someone who will desire her, and get excited to spend time with her. Oh, how I remember that ache.
Recently, she screwed up her courage and told him that she wanted a divorce. He was sitting on the couch reading and a show was playing in the background. And rather than asking why she felt that way, or what he could do to fix it, or what she needed that she wasn’t getting, Ty simply peered up at her over his book and said, “We don’t get divorced; We’re Catholic.”
Nina laughed bitterly. “We won’t be the first Catholics to divorce,” she told him. “But I am done with this. I’m done feeling like this.”
Reality didn’t set in at first. He didn’t believe her because she didn’t immediately take action, and she delayed filing. She didn’t move out, but she did start to withdraw her attention from him. And then one day at work, he had a panic attack, suddenly believing that she meant what she said. His first priority was what everyone around them would think. What would his family think, or the people at church?
Nina replied, “I don’t care what they think; tell them whatever you want. But I am tired of being dismissed and ignored. I want a divorce, and I am planning to go talk to a lawyer. We can make this easy and amicable for the boys, or not; that choice is yours, but for years, I’ve been giving my all to this marriage and this family and I feel like I have been bled dry.”
It was only then that Ty started to believe her. It was only then that he started doting on her and paying attention and attempting to solidify their connection.
The problem was that by this point, Nina was tired of waiting for him to show her love and care. She was tired of sitting around on his back burner, hoping he’d think of her and pay attention. She was tired of being his wife, his accessory, his caretaker. She was just plain tired.
She felt like a wild plant that had been dug up, tenderly put into a pretty little pot, and then set on the windowsill. She had been ignored and neglected and underwatered for too long and was shriveling up. And only then, when big blinking warning lights flashed and a final alarm sounded did Ty think to water her. But instead of giving her the water she needed all along, which would keep her soil moist and her roots supple (not the double entendre you think it is), he was drowning her and water wasn’t able to be absorbed into the soil. It was simply overflowing from the pot and spilling onto the floor, while the wild plant continued to dry up.
I don’t know; Maybe he thought he could just run out to Home Depot and pick up a fresh plant and reuse that same pot. Maybe he just didn’t know how to nurture this plant. Maybe she didn’t come with instructions.
In this (perhaps poorly used) analogy, underwatering is ignoring the relationship, caring too little, thereby sabotaging closeness and intimacy. Whether you’re a wild plant or a person, underwatering is neglecting the relationship and will kill love. In contrast, the overwatering that Ty was suddenly attempting might be construed as caring too much, but it’s actually just trying to counteract a habit of laziness and disinterest. It comes from desperation to not lose the plant, but that too will wither love.
For now, Nina and Ty are just taking it a day at a time. I don’t know if they can recover or if the plant needs to be returned outdoors, but I’m glad they are finally having real conversations about what they each need in order to feel loved and appreciated in a relationship.
These little dribbles of water are the first step.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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