The first time I got married, I was young, naïve and foolish. I didn't genuinely understand what it meant to share a life with another person even though I was absolutely convinced I did. I also wanted to do my marriage differently than what I'd seen my parents do.
I'd witnessed the hostility, frustration and dysfunction first hand. Instead, I wanted a healthy, loving relationship. But because my mom, dad and stepdad were my role models, I ended up re-enacting what I'd experienced even when it was the last thing I'd planned.
Meanwhile, my heart craved something else entirely, something other than what I was creating. It longed for intimacy, love, connection, to feel understood. These sounded romantic and simple but eluded me.
What I had and what I wanted were miles apart only I pretended that wasn't the case and acted as if everything was perfect. Until it all came apart.
Looking back I see that the main challenge, the thing that successfully unraveled my relationship, wasn't one singular event. It was the opposite. It was the small, every day, ordinary moments that poked the holes.
What am I talking about?
Here's a scenario:
It's a Friday night and we're watching a movie, one of those heart wrenching, soul mate tearjerkers. Naturally, I start crying. My husband rolls his eyes and snorts, implying that I'm pathetic.
I instantly feel hurt and reject him back, turning away from him in bed, holding my wounded-ness like a cloak around me.
I could have told him how I felt. Instead, I justified my silence with thoughts like: He doesn't understand or care. Rationalizations that were probably untrue but re-enforced my pain and hurt.
These moments seemed trite and inconsequential when they occurred but added up over time, they eroded trust until one day, a decade later, I looked up and realized I was standing on the opposite bank of an emotional gulf from my partner.
How did that happen?
From all the little hurts -- me nagging about the laundry, him disappointing me by working Saturdays, me criticizing him about a monthly gym membership he'd never use, him not getting me a card for my birthday... and on and on. We didn't talk about these little upsets and chose to go to bed feeling hurt and angry.
Needless to say, our relationship splintered and I decided that I was done. Done with power and control masquerading as love. No more partners.
Instead, I'd take care of myself and my girls. I wasn't ready for another relationship and I certainly didn't want one that wasn't really about love.
It was time for me to learn how to be loving which began with me learning how to love myself. I also had to understand how to make room for other people and that meant surrendering my need for control. And most importantly, giving up criticism.
It took awhile and frankly, I was skeptical that real love even existed.
Then I got surprised. Love came to me, as it usually does, when I least expected it.
This time my partner and I agreed to do things differently. Consequently, he and I talk about everything. We're open about our feelings and even about how we want to be with each other. This led us to creating agreements that govern our relationship.
One of these is to not go to bed angry. I'll admit that sometimes this is really hard to do. Especially when I feel hurt or wronged.
In those moments it's hard to be emotionally vulnerable. It's much easier to fall into blame or feel like a victim. But I value what we have together and I remember how going to bed angry whittled away my previous relationship.
I know it's worth speaking up because then those little things won't accumulate. They won't slowly push me away emotionally so I stop opening up and sharing.
Instead, when I do finally speak my words of upset, those words of truth, the opposite occurs.
I feel even more seen, heard and loved. I am honored and taken care of because I choose to share my vulnerability instead of holding in the hurt.
It's been 11 years and I can honestly say that my current husband and I are even closer today than we were all those years ago. A big reason why is because we consistently try to honor this agreement and not go to bed angry.
So the next time you feel hurt, disappointed or upset with your partner, try talking about it.
Tell him or her how you feel. See if your partner can understand your point of view and perhaps offer some insight into theirs. It may bring you to a new level of intimacy with one another and deepen the bond you have.
Shakti Sutriasa is the Founder of DecideDifferently.com, a personal development company offering life coaching, counseling and workshops. Her unique approach combines modern psychology and spirituality to support people seeking positive change and self-transformation. Shakti is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has an MA in Education. Learn more at DecideDifferently.com