content warning: emotional abuse
It is October 2016 and I am sitting in the sanctuary at Sixth & I in Washington DC with a few hundred other people listening to Tara Brach speak. My spouse sits next to me. I wonder why he came at all; as I do the work of the offered meditative practices, he sits fixated on me and clearly completely unnerved by my emotions. He even asks me after one exercise, “Shouldn’t you work with something less upsetting?”
I’ve come here because I know I need support and guidance; I’m completely miserable and don’t know how to turn it around. So I do the work–I don’t shut it out, I sit with my tormented inner landscape. Tears run down my cheeks as we all sit together in silence and face ourselves–except for my spouse who wants his discomfort with my emotions attended to as one additional burden on my pile of troubles.
It is December 2018 and my therapist asks me to describe a conflict with my family when I was a child. I remember that my sister and I fought, she told our parents and I was scolded and punished. When she asks me how I would have liked that to be handled instead I rack my brain and consider attachment theory, developmental stages and how the needs of everyone involved might have been accounted for. “But Laura,” she asks, “What did you need?”
There’s the attachment stuff at work again. The most important thing I can conceive of is relationship, and I think I have to account for the needs of everyone to prove myself worthy of love.
“I needed to know that I mattered. That I would be listened to and seen, that I was safe emotionally, that I was loved.”
She asks what I felt instead.
“Pushed away, dismissed, alone, unloved.”
…and that’s how my cursed relationships keep playing out.
She talks about how the cycle of rupture and repair is a normal part of relationship and how people cannot feel secure unless it happens. I think about the icy silences in that house after a conflict–and my fear.
I remember Guy, an ex from ten years ago in New York. We would argue, I would be pushed away. Once I was so upset with how he shut me out that when I finally made it home from his place I broke a framed photo in sudden, violent rage that seemed to roil up out of nowhere.
I remember how Ric couldn’t even break up with me; he told me he needed a break to think about things. Two weeks went by without a word. I asked if we could please talk about whatever was going on. He needed more time. It was brutally painful and I eventually told him by email–the only communication his avoidance permitted me–that I couldn’t tolerate being shut out anymore and that it really hurt for silence to be the way he communicated not wanting to be with me. He didn’t even respond; I still resent that. It was November 2011.
I remember so many times during my marriage that I was shut out–days in a row of the silent treatment for whatever perceived slight I’d delivered. There were nights spent sleeping in my office where at least I didn’t have to tolerate sharing the bed with someone who treated me with disdain. Sometimes he’d wake me and chastise me as though it were my duty to sleep beside him–he once tore the blankets off me while demanding I return. He would stalk right past me like I didn’t exist one day and slam doors the next. I never quite knew what I was going to get. Sometimes avoidance, sometimes intrusion. Hell, sometimes he was kind.
Rupture and repair? I haven’t lived that—I want to live that. I want a relationship where it is safe to say “It hurts when you shut me out; I need to know what’s going on for you.” I don’t need the perfect answer, but I need something. I want to apologize when I fuck up and be apologized to in turn. I want the secure connection which is facing conflict together. I want a relationship where my partner won’t be repelled if I’m haunted at night by ghosts from my past. I want a partner who trusts me.
I don’t know how to break the cycle; I thought I had broken it, it felt like so much was possible. I was wrong.