Ladies, I know it’s tempting to think your husband purposefully tries to be insensitive to your deepest insecurities and fears, but the fact is, we often aren’t even aware of them. You’re struggling with major body image issues, and we think you can’t figure out what to wear. You feel isolated and friendless, and we think you’re just being needy.
Guest writer Rachel Wilhelm vulnerably takes us into what has been going on in her mind over all these years as she and her husband have gradually come to understand each other better. Thanks for putting yourself out there, Rachel.
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I’ve always been ashamed of myself as long as I can remember.
I always feared making a choice, stating a preference, giving a real, heartfelt opinion. I envied people who thought they were so important that they deserved what they wanted. I didn’t fault them for it, but when it came to me, it was different.
I was never worth it. I never needed anything, I could always do without – and please don’t pay any attention to me, because really, I’m not worth the trouble.
I realized this recently when talking to a close friend. She asked me a pointed question about why I don’t want anyone focusing any attention on me, and I looked up at the ceiling and involuntarily burst into tears. It was really embarrassing and totally uncharacteristic. Plus, I was in a public place. Awkward.
Afterward, creating more awkwardness, I gave my husband a call to tell him I was on my way home.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Oh, it was nice. I pretty much broke down crying, but it was good.” Immediate regret.
“What? You what?” I don’t think he heard me. At least, I hoped he didn’t hear me.
“Uh, nothing . . . I’ll see you in a bit.”
Please don’t remember I said that. Please don’t remember I said that . . .
I wanted to walk into the house as stealthily as possible. Guilt, my friend, rejoiced when it saw that my husband was asleep and unconcerned. He must not have heard what you said. You’re safe.
The fact is, when I was an adolescent, I got negative attention when I was emotional or struggled with something – but that’s if anyone even noticed. My family was so big that usually, no one had time to deal with my inner turmoil. So I learned the art of pretending to be okay – I learned how to be ashamed.
My friend’s question got me thinking. She made me face it. And I remembered the incident one week before my husband and I married. We were dusting the landing of my parent’s house with a broom. Because my fear of heights was less, I was the one at the top of the ladder sweeping away the cobwebs while my future-husband held the ladder steady.
“There’s a spider up there!” I yelled.
I am afraid of spiders.
“Brush away from you,” my fiancé pleaded.
Of course, I did the opposite. Down fluttered the spider and down I jumped, a whole flight of stairs, from the top of the ladder.
On the way down, I hit something on the side of my thigh, but I was otherwise okay. I crept to the couch in the other room, in massive pain, fighting back tears.
My fiancé can’t see me cry.
“Are you okay?” he asked
“I’m okay,” I said, biting my lip. Don’t mind me, I’ll just go over here to this couch behind a wall and die a little bit.
I had a bruise the size of a basketball on the side of my right thigh. It was so dark and hideous that I was afraid that on my wedding day it would show through my slip-style 1920’s dress.
The dress wasn’t the problem – the hot tub was the problem. On the honeymoon, I tried to get into the jacuzzi and hide my massive, ugly bruise by unnaturally sliding in on my left side. Pretty tricky, huh?
Sadly, it didn’t work.
“I’ve already seen the bruise,” my husband said.
I blushed crimson, and I didn’t even know why. I mean, he knew I had fallen off the ladder. What did I have to hide?
Marriage shattered my whole frame of reference. I went from receiving no attention unless somebody wanted something, to having someone in my face because they loved me. I wanted to be free in the relationship, to be the person I hid growing up, but shame silenced me. And I had so much to be ashamed of – my teenage pregnancy and the death of my mentally ill sister that I cared for, to name a couple.
Quite frankly, being married while having an ongoing relationship with guilt made marriage hard for a while, because the two were pulling me in different directions. Guilt kept telling me to hide my blemishes, but marriage exposed them. Guilt said pretend to be okay, but my husband kept coming back to me even after seeing that I wasn’t.
Guilt told me not to have a personality. Guilt told me to never let the real woman out. Guilt told me to never deal with my greatest fear: being the real me.
Recently, after 15 years of marriage, my husband and I had a dispute about something I actually can’t remember. I was so tempted to muffle myself, but instead, I decided to break out of my cage once and for all.
With tears streaming down my face, I interrupted my husband and said, “I know you love me.”
And then I asked the question I was always afraid to ask. I felt like he finally earned it, worked for it, gained my trust – I could finally be brave: “Don’t you want me to be myself? Don’t you want me to be who I really am?”
And he stood there, still, with my life before his eyes – my whole life, naked and unashamed – for what seemed like a solid minute. Honestly, I was scared out of my mind.
“Yes, I’ve always wanted you to be yourself, yes.”
He wanted me – me.
So there you have it, folks. All those years of hiding for nothing.