DON'T TOUCH ME
I haven’t washed a dish in eight years. Hate me yet? Because I kind of do.
I also kind of hate myself for what I’m going to say from here.
I haven't let my husband touch me in months. Months. And I'm not even talking about that hanky panky kinda stuff. I'm referring to even a kiss, a handhold, a brush of the elbow. I've shied away from it all. He loves me so much, and serves me so well, but I won’t let him show it. I've become distant, disconnected even. Maybe that handhold would lead to sex, or even worse, spending time together—and all I want is that coveted time alone. I'm touched, and poked, and prodded all day. Little people put their paws on me constantly. And I love loving them. But what's left of me after the lights go out? I want to be in my bed. Alone. I don't have the energy for a man who thinks I’m beautiful. All I see is another pair of hands invading my space.
The fact is, we are coexisting. A complementary left and right hand working together to just simply get things done. We are parents, and partners, but the passion? That was gone as quickly as the freedom to pee alone was. We are in survival mode. And now I need those hands to help pick up toys, not explore me sexually.
The problem with all of this is that he has become interchangeable. And I know it. Anyone can carry out the trash. My friends can field all my questions about motherhood. My kids give me all the kisses I need. So slowly what has happened is that I’ve lost all intimacy. Not only have I halted the touching, I've stopped the talking. I'm getting everything I need elsewhere, and since I feel pretty asexual, there's nothing I turn to him for at all anymore.
I'd like to say this all changed the night he didn't come home. The night he spent hooked up to tubes and monitors, dressed in a backless gown—dignity exposed, future uncertain. I'd like to say when your world is rocked and you're forced to picture life without a person your perspective changes. You have a newfound lease on life. You jump into the sack and seize every moment. It could be your last day, after all.
But that wasn't the case for me.
In the past two years I've developed a lot of resentment. I married Shawn with the idea of a forever amount of security and stability—two things that were shook from me when his heart decided to stop. I now don't know if I'll have to raise these kids alone, or if I'll be able to afford to raise them at all. On top of all my other responsibilities, I've had to take on duties that were once his. Trauma and crisis are oh, so sexy.
There’s a really high divorce rate for parents of children with disabilities (or child loss). At one point it stood at eighty percent. That’s frightening real, and one of the many reasons I’m writing on this. Because my effort to call attention to my relationship means I still care about it. Fixes come in different forms, and for me, I need to put light on something, let it simmer, and find a solution.
But maybe it’s unrealistic to think the same me—the one that used cutesy nicknames and put post-it love notes on the mirror—will ever reappear. After all, every bone in my body has changed these last few years, so naturally I should expect intimacy to change as well, right? We don’t even do date nights anymore. Of course things have shifted. I go out with my girlfriends, or he golfs, but a dedicated night of togetherness? I can’t recall.
So you can imagine my predicament when a local photographer asked Shawn and me to be guinea pigs in her latest project: a “Re-Engage Experience.” Her idea was to create an environment for couples to reconnect. To share feelings, and words, and memories with each other that haven’t been conjured up in years—and she’d be there to discreetly capture it all. She emphasized that the pictures were secondary, the candid reaction and connection between us was the most important component.
I told her she had the wrong people.
But she insisted, and I’m in a season of saying yes, so off we went to re-engage. No kids, no distractions, just us answering her many questions about the history of our relationship, playing songs that are of importance to us, recreating our first kiss, and so on.
To say it started off awkward was an understatement.
I could barely look at him. Isn’t that awful? I felt uncomfortable with eye contact. So I just started giggling, and then the photographer asked us to recall memories of our dating life and I couldn’t think of a thing. Again, how horrible? Did we ever talk? We must have. I wouldn’t have married someone on mute. So I came up with what I could, and as the process went on I began to ease.
But it wasn’t until the end that this woman’s talent broke through my tough exterior.
She asked each of us to prepare letters to one another. No further instruction. Just whatever we wanted to say. I wrote mine the day-of, basically a summary of this post, how I’m a horrible wife and wish I could change.
But then there was Shawn’s. A letter from my non-writer, non-emotional, soft-spoken spouse.
And it blew me away.
Shawn’s letter wasn’t about our big moments—our wedding, the heart issues, the autism. It was about how he admired me day-to-day. How by eight AM I’ve already done so much for our family that I should win an award. How he couldn’t imagine anyone else handling it all, and how by staying with him, by sticking it out, I have blessed him beyond measure.
He was bawling. I was silent.
No wonder this man wants to hold my hand. No wonder he is patiently waiting for my to return. He sees me in a different light than I see myself. And every time I push him away, he really never moves. He’s there. That same secure, stable man is still there.
There’s an inevitable space that occurs once you introduce little humans into your household, and certainly when life hits. Because life is hard as hell, and people are complicated. So combine forever with flawed humans and you’re going to have some speedbumps. Anyone who lives in the honeymoon stage forever is fooling you or themselves.
My conclusion from “re-engaging” with my husband is that loving each other is going to be hard. I didn’t walk away from that photo shoot wanting to swing from the chandeliers, but when I got the pictures back I saw something on my face that I don’t always feel: connection. Love. A lightness. There’s a girl trapped in there that desperately still wants to refresh her marriage and thanks to this experience I got to see that. And keep seeing it forever. These images made me realize that if we want things to change, we need to invest more time in each other. We need to reminisce on memories, and make new ones. Maybe even spend an afternoon in the woods with a handwritten letter and a paparazzi lens.
But for us, none of that is going to come easily. It’s just not. And that has to be okay. I’m going to have to work on my marriage like I work on this blog or Shawn does on his business. Spend time in it and care about the outcome.
We always have a choice: do we stay or do we go? And for some it’s a daily decision. Marriage is full of free-will—that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to be in it, but if you are, it might be difficult. There might be dry spells of disconnect. I wish that was worked into my wedding vows. There’s just no relationship on this planet that takes zero effort and still produces a desirable outcome. Not one. How silly of me to think I could coast by in my marriage and still have it be fruitful.
I can’t make the decision for you whether the hard work is worth it or not, but today I am choosing to roll up my sleeves and commit. Because I am not a statistic. I’m just someone who doesn't want to be touched (right now).
And if you find a person who says that’s okay, and waits patiently in the wings for you to circle back around, then in my opinion you have no other choice than to say “I do” to the dirty work.