Dear Love: Can Honesty Do More Damage Than Lies?
Things are really heating up in therapy and I think we’re knocking down some walls. But the aftermath is pretty terrible, some days. Whitney keeps telling us that the truth is never wrong, but the way Rich and I avoid each other once we’re home alone, feels wrong. All the truth we tell leaves a lot of hurt feelings and frustration and anger. Whitney insists that we have to push through this part, no matter how rough. She says we’ll never get comfortable until we get uncomfortable, but this discomfort is whooping our asses. I just feel like we’re creating more wounds. What do you think, Love? Can honesty do more damage than lies?
“Okay, so did you guys do the homework that I assigned last week?” Whitney asked as Rich and I got settled on the couch in her office. I nodded, unsure. The assignment had been about learning to focus. We were supposed to come to the session with one thing—the most important thing—that we thought we were missing in our marriage. I had my one thing ready, but I was nervous, both about what Rich would say and also about his reaction to what I would say. Rich turned to me, nodding also.
“We’re all ready, Doc,” he said. Whitney smiled. She took out her notepad and a pen, gesturing to him.
“Great. Then why don’t you go first, Richard? What do you feel is the most important thing that you and Shahira are missing?”
“Okay, well I think what we’re missing most is understanding. I don’t think me and Sha ‘get’ each other anymore, if that makes sense. I feel like everything I do in the house is wrong. Every move I make she complains about. I don’t get her, or what she wants. And she… she doesn’t really get me. She doesn’t understand that I’m not going to be the same guy forever, you know? People change,” Rich said, looking down at a piece of paper he’d pulled from his pocket. I sat there, breathing hard, trying not to react. I knew my face was showing everything I was feeling—hurt, anger, betrayal—but I couldn’t control it. I just… I didn’t get him anymore? How could Rich say that? I stared at my husband, feeling tears gather in my eyes. But Rich kept looking down at that piece of paper. He refused to look me in the eye.
“Okay… that’s interesting. Shahira, how does that make you feel? Do you agree that’s an issue you and Richard have?”
“It makes me feel… angry. And betrayed. The only thing I complain about at home is his complete nonchalance about being there. He acts like his real life is somewhere else all the time. Like our home is a stop-through to where he really wants to go. I have to throw a tantrum to get him to sit at our fucking kitchen table and eat breakfast with me!”
“Sha, please. I’m not nonchalant about home. I just… it’s the same house it’s always been. Am I supposed to jump up and down when I pull up and cry when I drive away?” Rich retorted. I scowled.
“But I’m there. Me. I am there, Rich. It’s not just a house. It’s a house with me in it! It’s our house! The place where we reconnect with each other!” I said back. I shook my head and moved over, putting some distance between me and my husband. He noticed and his eyes narrowed. He was angry now, too.
“Alright, let’s calm down now. Richard, do you hear your wife? Do you understand how your interpretation of home differs from hers?” Whitney settled us and pushed the conversation forward.
“Yes, I hear what she’s saying. I do,” Rich answered.
“Good. Now, do you want to connect and reconnect with your wife in a way that reassures her?” she continued. Rich nodded.
“Yes. I do want to.”
“Great! So how can you alleviate her concerns? For Shahira, your casualness about home translates to an unwillingness to connect with her. How can you show her you want to connect?”
“I… I don’t know. I feel like anything I do is going to be wrong,” Rich said, sounding miserable.
“Let’s not think of it in terms of right and wrong. Let’s reframe it as ‘Things That Communicate My Intentions Clearly,’ and ‘Things That Don’t Communicate My Intentions Clearly.’ And we’ll never know unless we try. So let’s try something. Shahira says she misses eating breakfast with you. Can you commit to breakfast at home, at the table, with your wife, three days a week? Is that something you can do?” Whitney said. Rich nodded.
“I can do that. I can. I didn’t think it was that serious, but I see now that it makes Sha think I’m dying to get away from her. That’s not it. It’s not,” he said, finally looking me in the eyes. I sighed. Maybe he wasn’t dying to get away from me. But as much as he complained about me not “getting” him, I knew Richard Davis better than anyone. And I knew he was running from something, even if it wasn’t me. I could see it in his eyes. I knew I didn’t know the whole truth. But with all the hurt being inflicted, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know.
“This is good work, you guys,” Whitney said, making notes on her pad, “it’s your turn, Shahira. What’s the most important thing you guys are missing?”
“I think what we’re missing most is passion,” I started, my voice soft. I could feel Rich stare at me and I knew he was hurt. But I kept going, “I don’t mean sex, even though our sex life is a bit stagnant too. I mean, Rich used to want to be with me, in my presence. He used to care about the things that made me happy. He used to listen to me. I used to listen to him. We liked the same things, and we liked doing them together. We were passionate about being together, about staying together. We cared. Now, it’s all robotic and boring.”
“Boring? I bore you because I don’t want to have sex as much?”
“That’s exactly my point. You used to listen, Richard. You obviously don’t anymore or you would have heard me say this wasn’t about sex! We used to cook together, and dance in the living room, and grow vegetables in the backyard! Even when I was headed out with the girls, you’d ask me to model the clothes and tell me how beautiful I was. You’re not passionate about me anymore! Our tomatoes are dead, and I’m starting to feel like we are too!” I said, my voice rising. Rich’s mouth dropped open and he stared at me, hurt filling his eyes. I turned away, wishing I hadn’t added that last part. But no one could make me go nuclear reactor angry faster than my husband.
“Richard,” Whitney pushed in, her voice soothing, “how does that make you feel?”
“It makes me feel like shit. I mean, I work and live for this woman. I’d die for her. I just thought… I’m tired sometimes. And sometimes I don’t want to be that infatuated teenager that waited at Shahira’s locker for her everyday. I’m not him anymore. But I’m still her man. I provide for her, and I’ll protect her with my life. I come home every night. I make sure she has everything she needs. I don’t see why that’s not enough. But I guess it’s not,” Rich said, his voice low.
“Richard Davis, what good are all the things you give me if I don’t have you? I love that you provide for me, and protect me. I love that you make it your goal to make sure I’m okay. I love that. But I love you—just as you are—more than any of that. You think I’d give a damn about the house if it wasn’t the one you came home to? I know we’re not 17 anymore, Rich. I know we’re past that. And I don’t miss that. But I do miss you,” I said. Rich took a deep breath.
“Shahira, do you hear your husband? He’s worried you have an idealized version of him in mind, and that he won’t live up to it,” Whitney said. I nodded.
“Yes, I hear him.”
“Can you reassure him? What do you think you can do?” she pressed. I took a deep breath.
“I can… find out what interests him now that we can share. Instead of harping on the past and the things we used to do. I can try to learn something new about him,” I said, my voice nearly a whisper. Whitney nodded. Rich reached for my hand and I grabbed his, holding tight. But I didn’t feel like we were closer together.
I didn’t have lunch with the girls for days afterward. I was too busy stewing. Rich missed our first scheduled breakfast and we had an argument for the ages. So much for honesty and reassurance.
Love, this isn’t going at all like I planned. What in the world is happening to us? Am I losing my husband with every session? Are we separating in real fucking time? All of this honesty is killing me. And I’m starting to feel like it’s killing us.