This post discusses abuse and could be triggering for some readers.
My husband said something sh*tty to me. I can’t even remember what it was. I only remember how my body seemed to cave in on itself, like I was trying to protect myself from being hit.
I looked up and met the eyes of the husband of the couple sitting across from me. He looked so sad.
He later told me, "I’ve never seen you get so... small."
Watch: What my partner doesn't know. Post continues below.
My husband had that kind of power over me, to shrivel and diminish me with just a few words.
We were out to eat at a restaurant with another couple, hoping to get some help on the recurring issues in our relationship, particularly our problematic and ugly fights.
I’d just come back from the salad bar and was staring distastefully at the weird set of foods I’d decided to load my plate with. Why on earth did I get banana peppers AND raisins? I was thinking when my husband said what he said that crumpled me.
After that regrettable incident, the lunch with this couple we knew proceeded as planned: they walked us through some better communication and fighting strategies.
I nodded vigorously and nursed a tiny kernel of hope that maybe, just maybe, these would be the kind of tools we needed to finally have the kind of relationship they had, the one I wished we’d always had but still didn’t after years together.
If I’d known then this very important lesson, I could have saved so myself so much pain and heartache.
If your relationship has no emotional safety, your relationship cannot improve.
That relationship with my then husband was rife with abuse. He shouted, called me names, broke furniture, punched walls, and physically intimidated me. He gave me the silent treatment for days on end and ignored most of my attempts to connect.
A relationship with abuse cannot have emotional safety. A relationship with no emotional safety has no hope of ever being healthy or more intimate.
It’s simple, really, though it wasn’t to me for too long.
I believed if I just learned how to appreciate him more, communicate better, initiate time-outs when we fought, or any other popular relationship advice, then our relationship would improve. We’d feel closer and be more emotionally intimate.
I spent untold sums of money on therapy (individual, couples, group), coaching, couples workshops and retreats, and relationship self-help books. In my free time, I listened to relationship self-help podcasts and audiobooks. I watched TED Talks.
I wanted so desperately for my relationship to improve, and I thought in the next session or book or podcast or whatever, I’d learn THE key to unlocking the door to the relationship of my dreams.