November 21, 2016

I can't do that anymore

I think a lot of what connected my ex-husband and I initially was how we complemented one another - we had quite a bit in common, yes, but especially, we had needs and offerings that could assist each other. For instance: Matthew is nearly always pessimistic, but I'm deeply optimistic (to a fault sometimes) - he'd see the worst in a situation, and I'd bring him back up. He'd lose something and get upset, and I'd logically step back and retrace our steps to locate it. He'd get frustrated with his job and feel like it would never get better, and I'd reassure him while also helping review his résumé and find positions to apply to.

It didn't feel like being taken advantage of. It just felt like love. I like helping people. I like being that friend, that family member - the one who is calm and collected and rational when things aren't going well.

The greatest compliment I received during the divorce process was one I heard somewhat often: that I handled everything with such grace. It's easy to name call, it's easy to broadcast what happened to the world and let them judge. I am someone who holds her head high and carries on, even when I'm not sure what the road ahead looks like, because I like to be brave for the people in my life who need it. I saved the stories for here, a private space where I can clear my mind - and publicly, most people didn't even know I was getting divorced until it was done.

The problem now is figuring out what my role is in his life, and what his is in mine, beyond co-parenting as best as we can with a thousand miles between us. It's not easy, and the distance makes it perhaps more of a challenge. It would be one thing if we saw each other often and could navigate through bigger issues based on our smaller interactions. But with several states and many miles separating him and me, it can be hard to determine what the appropriate course of action is when something comes up.

Last week, he went radio silent for a few days - not unusual, as sometimes he's busy with work and there are long gaps between his calls with his son. But typically, even if he's got something else on his plate, he'll send a quick message explaining the situation and let us know when he'll be able to chat.

But nothing.

Finally, we were able to video chat with him, and Noah wasn't talking for a few minutes before Matthew started to cry. I asked what was wrong, and he said the post-election unfolding of events was really getting to him. He talked with Noah for a little more time, then signed off.

That's where it gets hard. Finding the balance between wanting to care for someone who still has a big role in my life, even if it doesn't mean what it used to, and letting him be an adult and be responsible for himself. My family is very quick to offer judgments, and I don't necessarily disagree: they say he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants the love and support of a wife without the responsibility of ever having to return the favor. He wants someone to talk him out of his dark places instead of finding his own path to the light.

Add in that Matthew has other concerns at hand, namely that as a result of being on the spectrum, he's processing things very differently than other people. He thinks things are bad even when they're alright - so when something feels actually quite bad, he feels almost paralyzed by fear and concern.

I messaged him, I asked what was wrong, I asked if he wanted to talk through it. I listened as best as I could while also making sure not to shoulder the entire weight of the responsibility for what happens next. It's painful, because he never opened up to me like this when we were married - he just isn't much of a talker. He'll write you messages for hours, but won't sit down and chat for five minutes. It's one of just a million things I wondered about when I was considering ending the marriage - it's not that he doesn't open up, he just doesn't open up often, or in the way you'd expect. We struggled so much with communication, not just one of us or the other. It is so critically important to the health of a relationship - without it, we fell apart.

I don't love him anymore, but I know him better than anyone else, and my heart aches to understand what he's going through. I know he's hurting so badly - but I also know he's not my husband anymore, our mutual decision, so I feel deeply conflicted about what - if anything - should be my response. The right words are hard to find - he's not my burden anymore, he's not my responsibility ... neither of those feel quite right. Too hard, too cold. It's not authentic to who I am.

It's not my nature to just turn away from someone who needs help. Matthew hurt me more than I have ever been hurt by anyone, he broke my heart in ways I never even knew it could be broken. But when he's hurting, when he's struggling - when anyone is - I want to do what I can to help. I want to make things better. I want to cheer people up. I don't care what our history is, this is a new situation and a new opportunity to change the course of things.

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