“I promise I’ll try to clean tomorrow,” I say. I feel terrible. I didn’t clean at all. The house is a mess. The floor hasn’t been swept for days, who knows what the dogs have tracked in? The sink is full of dirty dishes, the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that needs to be unloaded. Laundry hasn’t been done in who knows how long; there are clothes to wash, and clothes to fold and put away. The house is a disaster area.
“It’s okay. I’m not worried about it,” Hubby tells me.
I don’t believe him. I just don’t. Of course he is. Of course he needs me to keep a clean house, that’s part of being a perfect wife, that’s one of the standards I am not currently meeting….I’m not good enough, and if I’m not good enough….oh. Oh, crap. This is a problem. If I’m not good enough, how can he love me? After Monday’s session with Bea, I know where this is coming from, where these beliefs come from, of course. I’m aware now how far back they go, and I can see it’s not actually a case of me not being good enough. It’s more of a deeply ingrained message given by my parents of needing to earn love or acceptance by meeting a certain set of standards.
It’s late, Hubby has to work tomorrow. It’s not the time to start talking. I know this. But I need to talk. I need him to understand, to know that I have these ideas in my head that he needs me to earn his love.
“Well, today was better than yesterday,” I tell him. I hadn’t told him what I had talked about in therapy, only that it had been a hard day, and I had cried. So, he had known it wasn’t likely to be a great evening.
“That’s good, and tomorrow will hopefully be better.”
“Just in time to go back to Bea the next day,” I joke.
Hubby laughs, but then he turns serious, “I’m sorry this is so hard on you, hun.”
“It’s okay, really. We weren’t even talking about trauma stuff on Monday. We were talking about my parents.” I want so badly to tell him what I have realized, but I am afraid. I don’t talk about relationship things, or feelings. They scare me. I’m afraid of them. It’s uncomfortable. So I have to test the waters, see if he will talk, because I can’t put myself out there if he isn’t in the mood to listen.
“Yeah? Your parents? What did Bea have to say about your parents?” He sounds curious, like he wants to know her take on them. I’m sure he does. I think he wants to know how two “perfect” people could raise such a damaged child that he now has to deal with the fallout 31 years later.
“It wasn’t that kind of talk. It was about me. I talked, she gets stuck talking so often that she doesn’t talk when she does not have to.” I can feel myself going away a little, not wanting to be fully present and having to feel the emotions all over again. “We were talking about how my parents expected a lot……even when I was really little, they just……had high expectations……..they needed me to be perfect……….” I’m starting and stopping, stumbling my way through this. How do you tell your husband, who knows your parents, who has to be around your parents, that you grew up feeling that you had to earn your parents love by being perfect? And what if he thinks I’m just being a drama queen? What if he doesn’t believe me? Dissociating further, I say, “I think, Bea thinks, it was unintentional, but the message was that I had to be perfect to be accepted. I had to meet a certain standard to earn their attention, to be cared for, to be loved.” Even this far dissociated, I’m fighting tears, but I’m far enough away that I win, easily.
“That had to be so hard. So hard. And so hard to realize. Of course Monday was hard,” Hubby says. He is really trying not to jump in and “fix” anything for me.
“I think…..um, well, you know, I think I just assume that everyone in my life has a set of standards I have to live up to in order for them to want me, accept me, love me.”
And that’s when understanding hits him. He’s silent for a minute, but he grabs my hand– carefully, because we are laying in bed, and now that he knows my history he is so, so careful not to trigger me.
“I can’t imagine how hard that is, thinking you have to earn everyone’s love. It’s not like that though. I just love you. I want you to be happy. There’s no list of standards in my head, nothing for you to meet. If I care that much about something getting done, I’ll just do it. I don’t need perfect, I just need you, now, how you are. That’s who I love. I love you who doesn’t clean up, and you who does. I love you who cooks dinner and you who says we have to go out. I love you who gets angry and yells and you who is calm and happy. I love you. Just because you are Alice. The same as you love Kat for being Kat. I love you for being Alice.”
I sigh, and curl up against him. He puts his hand on my back, and I try not to cry. He loves me for being Alice. But what does that really mean? And can I really trust that? It sounds nice. I want to believe it. But it sounds like a fairy tale, a children’s story. Not something real, not something meant for me.
“I want to believe that,” I whisper.
“I’ll keep reminding you until you can,” Hubby says.