‘In sickness and in health’ is a pretty broad spectrum isn’t it really? You wouldn’t sign a mobile phone contract that said the same. With those terms and conditions, many of us would struggle to pick a phone at all. If we did, we’d spend our time wondering if we’d committed to the wrong contract, fearing the potential regret of the choice we had made from the options available and realising it too late. But at the end of day, many of us want a mobile phone.
When I think about it like that, what two people are actually committing to when they stand in front of everyone important in their lives and say their vows to one another, I can’t work out if it’s a wholly unrealistic act of naivety or the most beautiful act of faith, trust and vulnerability. Either way, I challenge anyone who is married to say they aren’t a risk taker.
I speak from my own jaded experiences of course. Obviously, people are not phones, contracts are not love and I’m massively oversimplifying. I’ve said those vows twice in my life. The first time, felt like I was being sentenced. It took saying the words to realise I wasn’t in love anymore. But when I said my vows the second time, I truly did mean them. It was forever, no if’s, no but’s. For all the problems we’d had, that would be the point we left that all behind. A new start. No guests, no party, no white dress, no place cards and expense. This was about he and I, because only we knew where we’d been and what we were made of. The day was perfect in my eyes. And yet now, 4 years down the line and living apart for over a year, I’m trying to understand exactly to what lengths those vows are supposed to apply.
We both have our demons and we’ve lived through some next level emotional trauma with one another. We both have very different personalities. I don’t think we have an awful lot in common. Our children are from our previous relationships. On paper, we never should have worked. And yet we love each other deeply, laugh together, we still after almost a decade have amazing chemistry and our now ‘rich tapestry’ (as our marriage counselor refers to it), makes me wonder if this really is exactly what the ideal of marriage is supposed to be.
He knew I had an eating disorder before we started our relationship. He was the first person to confront me on it and was met with denial and anger at his forwardness. The first time he said he loved me, was within the sentence ‘I’m not just going to stand by and watch the woman I love kill herself’. I was bowled over by his insistence that he had to help. He certainly caught me at a time that I didn’t believe I had a problem whatsoever. I remember arguing with him that I didn’t need to eat that day because I’d already had a packet of salted Hula Hoops that week and it was 123 calories I didn’t need to have. That was my argument and I said the words with complete conviction, confident I was right. I can’t imagine what that was like to hear. When I really look back throughout the years, I feel ashamed of what it is he has actually been trying to deal with in living with me. I think of all the moments I’ve been locked in tight with my ED. All I have to compare it to is being brought up in a home where alcohol was the issue and I’m not so sure if it were me, ‘in sickness and health’ would have compelled me to abide the oath of forever.
This is what happened in the beginning, after he pushed for me to get help. When I finally found myself at my first rock bottom, I wrote to my doctor and confessed to my situation. It broke me to do it and it took all I had, but I wanted to get better. I was also very much in love and petrified I was losing my chance to have that amazing, stable, normal relationship I thought was just within my reach. I went back to see my wonderful GP a few times, but even with the substantial weight loss, even when I was regurgitating blood on my binge/purge cycles, I was told unless I was clinically in deep trouble to go away and deal with it. He never took bloods, said there was no point in asking to weigh me as I’d refuse, chuckled at my bottle of diet coke and continually made me feel like I was just a clusterfuck of a human for even asking for help. That was 8 years ago and I’ve never asked for help since. Seeing my hopelessness, my husband has never pushed me again.
So how do we manage it within our relationship? Historically, we basically pretend it doesn’t exist. When we were still living together, if he could see I was entering starvation mode he’d text me the words ‘are you struggling?’ and he’d get the denial. I’d feel completely awful for lying and so would say ‘the other day when you asked if I’d eaten, I hadn’t. But I’m ok now.’ A half-truth made me feel slightly better, even when I knew I hadn’t eaten in the days since either. I knew he knew. But I also knew, he wouldn’t probe me any further and actually, he didn’t want to know and I didn’t want to worry him. At bad points, I’d go to bed fully dressed and frightened to cling on to him for warmth, in case he felt the bones beneath the fabric. On so many occasions, with my heart beating frantically and painfully in my chest as we lay there in the dark, I wanted to cry to him out loud that I was scared if I went to sleep that I wouldn’t wake up. I would agonise over how much he would hate me if I were selfish enough to allow myself to die in our bed and be there for him to find, without so much as a heads up. But as with every night before that, the morning would follow and I would wake up, so my fears were all in my head and not worth the dramatics. I’d convince myself repeatedly, there was nothing wrong. I don’t have an ED. I don’t need to talk.
In our marriage counseling session this week, I brought it up as representative of our communication style, something I’ve only recently convinced myself should actually be mentioned. Saying it out loud, in front of the counselor, I watch his whole body language shift. I see him press his fingers onto his eyes as she searches him for his views on the subject. He says he just doesn’t understand it. I thank him for basically tolerating it as a third party in our relationship for all these years. He doesn’t have the answers, he admits. He looks at me and explains he’s tried everything and accepts that he can only tempt me, suggest foods and not nag. He says he’s found one of the best ways to get me eat if he knows I haven’t for a few days, is to make himself something he knows I’ll want to eat and then wait for me to take mouthfuls from his plate. He explains he never knows when I’m truthful about when I last ate and that he has no choice but to accept what I say. That broke my heart to hear, because I just always assumed I was flying beneath the radar. ‘I can’t fix you’ he says exasperated, ‘this is all I can do unless you drop on me’. I smile sympathetically and say ‘I’m still bloody here, aren’t I’. I apologise for how difficult it must be to live with me and we end the topic agreeing to try and talk more about it. He knows I’m writing a blog about it and I offered for him to read it, knowing he wouldn’t want to. He politely refused saying he didn’t think it would help our relationship. The counselor looks at me and says ‘I get the impression that suits you just fine, doesn’t it?’ and cautiously I reply ‘Yes. Yes it does’.
My husband has cheated on me more than a few times. Sometimes emotional, sometimes physical. I’ve asked myself why, repeatedly over the years. We have been so ridiculously happy at times and I can see it in him, yet there has still been someone else in one way or another in the background. Even when we got married. And yet I’ve still been the one to make the choices to stay with him, regardless. I went through the ‘I’m not good enough’, through to realising no matter what I did, it happened anyway. He still needed to lie. He still needed to fulfill some sort of need that I had no idea how to plenish. What finally broke me was his decision to have a vasectomy and take away my want for another baby together, something we’d agreed on in the years before and made plans for. I love being a mum more than anything in the world. I credit the role with keeping me alive. It’s what makes me fight for the safe points. One day he literally just changed his mind, no discussion at all. If I brought it up I was met with silence. Just like that, the decision was taken away from me. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to have his baby, like in some unspoken way, he was calling me a bad parent. He referenced my ‘wellness’ as a concern only once, but once was enough.
Has it had an effect on my ED? Not in all the ways you’d expect. Obviously, I cannot help but compare myself to the women he cheated with. The last one would have been perfect for him and I’ve told him this, willed him to leave reconciling with me and follow that up and try with her instead. That’s out of love for him believe it or not. I’m sure he didn’t have to sit across from her down the pub, shifting around wide-eyed at the bowl of chips in the middle of the table. I’m sure they talked about everything. I bet she didn’t make him feel like a parent, rather than a husband. I bet he gripped her ample boobs and bum when they had sex. I’m sure maybe, he would have found himself happier with her given time. I have to live with the fact when we very first separated, of which I instigated, he was already lying and back in contact with her, having been busted years before. I have to accept, he apparently unconsciously lives in a ‘plan B’ frame of mind. He’s scared to be alone. He just wanted someone, he says. Most importantly, I’ve had to take responsibility and ask myself why. I don’t condone his behaviour and given how happy we’ve been, I don’t understand it. If it’s because I have an ED… well I want to say the thing I shouldn’t. He knew it about me before he fell in love with me. My suspicion is, he actually did think he could fix me. Maybe he views the fact he didn’t as his own failure. In any respect, it feels somewhat unfair that I am now demanding he changes all his behaviours, no matter what the cause, if coming from the same old stand point on my own. It’s not my choice to have an ED, however it is my choice to shut him out and lie to him. Aside from the very beginning, I’ve rarely used him as a reason to really, really try.
So now, him having ended the affair and confessed all, months of anger and me throwing all his attempts to make up for his mistakes back in his face, I find myself here. Listening, but from a distance. I am now a little more remorseful and I realise nothing is as straight forward as ‘if you loved me, you wouldn’t do it’, as I thought before. I’m worried he wants me back out of pity. I don’t need it. I was doing alright, thank you kindly. It hurt more than I ever could have imagined to mentally let him go, already aware he’d moved on but I was doing it. I missed him, but I was at peace with the thought he was maybe happy and I was thankful I’d had any sort of love to grieve so deeply for. And yes, my weight did plummet, but as it had done on and off whether we were in the throws of martial bliss or not.
The idea of coming back to live together in terms of my ED, is daunting. I currently don’t have to eat if I don’t want to. No one is here that will question the untouched food in my fridge from the week before when I was having a ‘I’m really going to try’ moment, cruising the isles of Aldi. Having said that, the idea of him wanting his life with me back, after everything, is a comforting one. Maybe I do get some things right? He’s been free to go and chase the life he choses, yet he’s chosen me and the love he insists we are capable of. I don’t see a risk in trying again. I’ve survived every single emotional storm I’ve found myself in with him. We’ve fought our way back countless times, still coming back to each other.
Oddly, the risk for me lays on not trying. Knowing everything I am and all my ED traits, to have to meet someone again and expect acceptance, expect love, seems too much to ask. It made me really realise who I have been, what I’ve brought to our table. I am content alone, but as anyone does, I love to be held. Even when his mind does not comprehend the workings of my own, my husband has been there to hold me when I cry at my own desperation. To nod along on the endless ‘I’m going to try this…’ bouts of enthusiasm. There is still love here, not always obvious, not always fully understood, but it’s here. Forgiveness is the hardest part of all. Not just to forgive him, but to forgive myself so that we can both really move forward.
Maybe, this is exactly what marriage is about. Not keeping historically repeated and broken vows, but the ability to be human in the presence of one another and be accepted and loved, regardless. Time will tell for me I guess. But from me, a massive shout out to those in love with someone with an ED. Your love can’t cure us, but giving it and supporting us anyway, can provide a safety and a hope like no other.