My husband Matthew is an optimistic, cheerful, happy-go-lucky person. He cares what others think, and he cares how other people feel. While his positivity is often a blessing, I sometimes wonder why he married a woman as candid as I am; someone often authentic to a fault. The ensuing tension between my candor and his face-saving positivity can occasionally make for tricky party dynamics, particularly when we as a couple are in the middle of a major life upheaval that has me struggling for a joyful outlook.
For instance, when we found out we were pregnant with Kate, we had only been married for two months. I didn’t feel ready to be a mom and spiraled into perinatal depression. Matthew internally struggled with the rapid pace of change himself, but – at least from my view – he never let on that he was anything but thrilled with the news of our impending family growth. He has since told me that he felt the pressure to emphasize the positive to counteract my negativity. Regardless, I subsequently felt that I had to reiterate my struggles endlessly to him because his over-cheerfulness created in me a sense of invalidation; that he viewed my emotions as wrong or invalid. I did not feel heard by him, so I became a broken record of negativity.
When we told friends and family the news, everyone was ecstatic – bubbling over with excitement about the new baby on the way. I felt as though their expectations of my reaction outweighed my own need to express my emotions. I felt the weight of an expectation to respond cheerfully, like I was tasked with maintaining a sociable atmosphere by tailoring my tone to their feelings rather than the other way around.
Unfortunately, I am no actress, so my attempts at enthusiasm typically just created awkwardness. When we told my husband’s family that I was pregnant, I let Matthew do most of the talking, sure I would be unconvincing if I tried to conjure up the glowing mommy-to-be aura everyone anticipated. Though I didn’t say much, I specifically remember my mother-in-law turning to me with obvious confusion on her face and asking pointedly, “Well aren’t you happy, Christy?” To this day, I still struggle to know in such situations if I should respond authentically or with the answer everyone wants to hear.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the past 11 months of stability (if the first year of parenthood can be called such! At least comparatively speaking for us, it has been!). But now we are embarking again an unexpected adventure of more transition: moving from the house we just bought a year ago to a new town where we know no one so Matthew can start a new job at a new company. And I find myself yet again struggling with the change.
We are only a week in to accepting the job in Midland, but the unhealthy cycle of dissecting one another’s words, intentions, and subtext has already begun. I am struggling to navigate our marriage, and I know Matthew feels the same.
When we told our families (both of whom live near our current home in Houston), Matthew’s mom and sister were overjoyed and kept saying how proud they were of him for his hard work and success in landing such a wonderful job offer. My mom and sister-in-law cried – Mom sobbing so uncontrollably hat she could barely catch her breath. Matthew kept apologizing to my mom for taking her daughter away from her, and he has since asked me why I can’t respond more like his family. “Why can’t you just be proud of me and see this move for the blessing that it is?”
When we told some of our friends, I was honest, telling them that I was sad. Matthew picked apart my response, saying, “It would be nice if you could say something positive, like that you’re proud of all my hard work.” So the next time we told a circle of friends, I specifically said the sound bite he’d given me. I said nothing at all negative, but on the drive home, I was chastised for my unconvincing tone. Matthew modeled for me how he wished I would respond when asked about the move. Whether it’s true or not, his way of communicating with me – at least this week – makes me feel like he cannot see the tension between knowing it’s a blessing and feeling the sorrow of all we have to leave behind.
Moving 500 miles away from friends and family is doubly painful when husband and wife are not unified, and I think we are both feeling that we can no longer communicate our thoughts if we want any peace in our marriage. I know we will reconcile, as we always do, but perhaps – for a time – only on this blog will I be fully