And so, after some of my anger had dissipated, I began to take a long, hard look at myself. I had to admit that I was partly to blame, not for Sam's affair—that was his own stupid decision—but for the cloud of disappointment and annoyance that had become a permanent feature of our marriage. I had grown to resent him when our kids were babies—a time when his needs, even his love, felt to me like just one more tiresome burden.
Oh, I'd never stopped being generous and sweet to Sam in small ways, but deep down I had gradually divested myself of our marriage. Many years ago, I read in a magazine (Esquire, I think) that men care less about how their wives look than about how they look at them. In other words, our extra ten pounds matter far less than our critical, disappointed gaze. It had been a long time since I'd bothered to regard Sam adoringly. How could I when he neglected to call and tell me he'd be home late from work again? Or left his underwear in a wad behind the bathroom door again? Or was too busy to help when I prepared a dinner party for our friends...again? We were in a standoff—neither of us getting what we really needed, and neither of us willing to perform the first act of generosity. It felt easier—kinder, even (for the fight it avoided)—to give up, to just not care.
Of course, not caring is fine as long as you really don't care. But in our case, we actually did. A habitual mild bitterness, a casual scorn, became my default attitude toward Sam. He, meanwhile, was boiling with anger. He just didn't know what to do with it—until Daphne came along and offered him an outlet.
It is very hard to fall back in love with someone you know as well as you know a spouse after 12 years. You have none of the momentum of early love to propel you forward, and all the habits that drive you crazy to drag you down. But we both cared for our marriage enough to want to give it a chance, and to try our best not to damage it further. So we set some ground rules (which, okay, we broke fairly regularly): First, rather than blaming each other for what went wrong, we would each talk only about ourselves and how we felt—hurt, scared, unappreciated, whatever. Second, we would try to put aside our own anger sometimes and really listen to each other. And third, we'd spend as much time as we could not talking about the affair, but just talking—about the news, or our friends, or our crazy siblings. We'd go to concerts, and on hikes and bike rides with the kids. We'd cook together. We'd hold hands.
Finding a way to love again