I know it’s been a hot minute, but life got a little crazy. Still committed to doing this, though! Catch up on all the chapters in my “Book” category, here
“I feel like I have no idea how to get him to listen.”
We were sitting in our therapist’s office, discussing a huge, explosive fight we had on our way back from a trip over the weekend. So far, no progress had been made.
“Alright…” Jennifer said slowly. She had been our therapist since before we were married (yeah, I know, if we were going to therapy before we got married, probably another sign that we shouldn’t have gotten married) and I didn’t like her very much. It wasn’t that I felt like she was biased, it was more that I felt like she wasn’t smart enough to keep up.
A horrible, judgmental thought, maybe, but one I had often. Not Steve-Fucking-Jobs yet, though, so I was probably just an asshole.
“Well, what happened?” Jennifer asked. “And Jack, you really need to stay quiet and calm throughout Anjali’s talking. When we’re done, you can tell me what you think happened but in order for us to discuss it and in order for me to help, we need to get through the actual fight.”
This was a warning Jennifer had learned to give Jack over time, since he had a penchant for interrupting me at every possible opportunity. He was that way in our married life, too, she just didn’t see it since she wasn’t around all the time. Every day was a normal episode of “Jack Knows Best” in our marriage.
“Yeah, the beginning of this awful bullshit goes back to two days ago, over the weekend, when we were driving back from upstate.”
Jennifer shot me a warning look, which was meant for me to understand I needed to keep the cursing to a minimum (“Does foul language add anything to the situation, though, Anjali?” Yeah, bitch it does if it prevents me from punching you. Or him.) I ignored her look and went on.
“We were driving home and I ended up getting a really terrible headache – like, not exactly migraine status, but almost. Jack wanted to stop somewhere and get me some aspirin. I wanted to get home. But, as usual, he thought he knew fucking best: he kept pushing that we should stop somewhere and get something. I kept pushing back that I just wanted silence and I wanted to get home as quickly as possible, because even the 15 minutes for us to pull off the highway and stop at a drugstore would be excruciating for me. I just wanted to be home in my own house and get to bed in a dark, quiet, cold room.”
Jennifer shot me a look, for the “fucking” I threw in my description and also because she seemed to know what was coming.
“Yeah, okay, he was trying to be nice and helpful, but I wanted to get home. I was in a ton of fucking pain, I couldn’t even see straight, and it wasn’t worth it to me to pull over when we had meds at home. But he would not fucking listen. So what does he do? He fucking gets off the highway and drives to a drugstore!”
Jennifer was about to open her mouth to warn me about the cursing, but seeing the infuriated look on my face, decided better of it.
“He pulls off the road – and by this time, I’m way more than fucking pissed. So what happens? Well, as is characteristic of my dear husband and me, we get into a fucking screaming match. He wanted me to be grateful that he pulled over – despite not listening to a fucking word I said for 10 fucking minutes in the car – and when I wasn’t falling all over myself to thank him, he got mad. Then I got mad. So we’re sitting outside a fucking CVS screaming at the top of our lungs, while I still have a headache, and now I’m dealing with this shit too, all because he thought I couldn’t make my own decision about what was best for me in the moment.”
At this point, Jack couldn’t take it anymore and interjected. Right before he started speaking, I saw Jennifer sigh, knowing what was about to come.
“I was trying to do something nice!” he yelled. “Every time I try to do something nice for her it turns into a fight!” He was screaming at the top of his lungs.
Jennifer couldn’t stay silent anymore and at this point, turned to Jack and said, “I know, I understand that, but we have to let Anjali finish and then we’ll talk about your view on it, Jack.”
Jennifer glanced at me, indicating I should continue.
“I fucking get that he thinks whenever he doesn’t listen to me, it’s doing something nice. But this is where we ended up: me with a splitting fucking headache, pulled off the highway for 20 fucking minutes arguing, until he goes inside to get the meds – which he literally throws at me in the car – and me deciding whether it’s worth it to just get the fuck out and take a cab the rest of the way. Because I couldn’t stand sitting in the same car as him. He goes and does whatever the fuck he wants, doesn’t give a shit about my feelings, and expects me to be grateful. I’m fucking sick of it.”
I slumped back in the oversized loveseat Jennifer had in her office, not realizing I had been getting more and more tense with every word.
“That’s fucking it.”
Jennifer gave me another pained look then motion for Jack to tell his side of the story. It was exactly what I thought it would be: he tried to “explain” that I didn’t know what the best choice of action would be because my head was hurting so bad and that he was doing a nice thing because if I took the painkiller, I could enjoy the rest of the drive and blah blah blah onward and bullshit. I stopped listening when he got to the point where he said I didn’t know what was best for me that day.
Because, truly, he always thought I didn’t know what was best for me. In fact, he always thought I didn’t know much of anything.
After Jack finished talking, Jennifer drew in a huge breath of air, preparing, I knew, for the difficult part of her job.
“Okay,” she began. “It sounds like a really awful situation. In my view, the problem is that you had a communication breakdown very early on and then continued to fight, despite that you should have both taken a break.”
I rolled my eyes, preparing to zone out again, but was surprised when she leaned over to Jack and said, “And you need to learn to validate Anjali’s feelings and treat her like she’s her own person.”
I was completely shocked. Normally, she figures out some way to spin it so that we’re both a little bit wrong and a little bit right. Maybe, this time, she was beginning to see the pattern I was living.
“Jack, I recognize that you were trying to do something really nice. And I think Anjali does too – that’s not the problem. The problem is that it seems like Anjali often feels that you don’t validate her at all, or even, really hear her, and you treat her like a child. She’s not a child, she’s your wife.”
I looked at Jack, expecting him to be completely dumbfounded – and he was. He couldn’t believe he might be to blame in this situation because he never thought he was to blame.
“Anjali’s probably had bad headaches before – most people with headaches have them their whole life. She knows what works and what doesn’t work. And beyond that, only she knew how much pain she was in, you did not. So by stopping to get painkillers over her protests, while you might have felt like it was the best course of action, in reality, it just made her feel like you hadn’t heard a word she said. Is that right Anjali?”
“Yeah,” I managed to mutter, still completely shocked. “He does this constantly. I’m an adult, I managed to make my way through law school and practice law and live in New York for several years alone. And it pisses me the fuck off that he doesn’t listen. It’s not just this situation – it’s most of the time. He doesn’t give a shit how I feel about things and just charges ahead with whatever plan he’s already made – whether it’s stopping to get me painkillers, or picking a night out with anyone but me over an evening in.”
“Can you see how that would make someone feel frustrated, Jack?”
Jack looked from Jennifer to me, not knowing what to say. “I guess…” he said softly.
Jennifer took a few more minutes to talk to him about what went wrong and then looked down at her watch.
“Okay you guys, we’re out of time, but I would suggest that you go and spend some quality time together tonight. Don’t discuss the session, don’t discuss the fight, just go see a silly movie or have a nice dinner – be together and reconnect.”
Great, I thought. That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I would much rather have gone home alone or called a friend to get some coffee, but I guess there was no escaping “quality” time with Jack.
We walked out of her office and to the elevator in silence. Jack pushed the button, and as we hopped in, he said, “Well, what do you think of stopping at the new vegan place on the West Side? They have fudgy brownies with ice cream, I heard.”
I couldn’t help but smile. It was a dirty trick to get me to open up by mentioning chocolate, but it worked.
“That sounds pretty good,” I said. “Let’s head over. Maybe we should eat some dinner with our chocolate.”
He laughed and nodded. We had reached the bottom floor by this point, so we walked out of the building and towards the train station. Jack was still silent, and so was I, but this time, it didn’t feel as though we were both fuming.
“You know,” he started, “I think Jennifer was just being nice to you.”
Back the fuck up. “What?” I asked.
“Yeah, you know, you’re so sensitive. I feel like she was just trying to make you feel better.”
He couldn’t be fucking serious.
“Are you telling me that you think she just said everything she said to make me feel better?” I asked, incredulously. I stopped walking in the middle of the street.
“You’re going to get hit by a car,” he said as he continued walking towards the next sidewalk.
“I don’t care at the moment – what did you just say.”
“Well, you’re really sensitive. She couldn’t exactly say you were wrong for getting mad at me when she saw how upset you were. So I feel like she just threw you a bit of a bone. Don’t be mad, it’s fine, I’m not still mad about the fight. I just think maybe Jennifer realizes how sensitive you are and doesn’t want to upset you.”
I actually took a moment to prepare my lungs for what was coming. “Are you FUCKING INSANE?!” I screamed, in the middle of Manhattan traffic.
He didn’t say anything, but gave me a look that clearly meant “shut the fuck up, people are looking.” I didn’t give a shit.
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.
We spend an entire therapy session reviewing an argument. Jack gets told he may not have done things perfectly. He pretends to accept it, only to walk outside and reiterate his belief in his own correctness.
I wanted to continue screaming at him. I wanted to call him the most narcissistic person I’d ever met in my entire life. I wanted to hit him or disappear or go back in time and not get married.
But I didn’t do any of those things. I walked over to the sidewalk where he was standing, looked up at him sadly, and walked away.
He only called after me once or twice. He didn’t bother following and I didn’t bother turning around. This was what our marriage had become: accepting that our best option in any given situation was to walk away from each other.
I was experiencing one of those moments where you see your entire future in a flash and realize there’s nothing you can do to keep from crashing. He was never going to change. This was never going to change.
I couldn’t continue to stay married to him. I had to get out. I had to get the fuck out.
We were doing everything, theoretically, “right”: we were learning how to communicate, we were working on ourselves (supposedly), and we were going to therapy. When a neutral third-party, a neutral third-party that is being paid, for fuck’s sake, tells my husband that he did something wrong, and he can’t even accept that, it meant my marriage had been over for a long time.
I walked towards downtown and found a train station that would lead me back to NYU. I didn’t know why I was headed there, but I just knew I wasn’t headed home. I didn’t know if I’d ever be headed home again.
This must be one of those turning point moments in life, I thought, where you realize things can’t keep going the way they are, but you’re also not entirely sure what to do about it yet.
I had been banging my head against the wall thinking that at some point, all of this work was going to pay off. But I neglected to account for the possibility that I was the only one doing any real work. If he was convinced he was never the problem, it meant he was also convinced I was always the problem.
We’d been married less than 9 months. I was 26 years old. I couldn’t get divorced. But I had to.
What the fuck was I going to do?
The train came to a stop and I hopped off, not at all sure where I was going, what I was doing, or where I would end up.