The last time my ex and I had spoken was months and months earlier. Knowing him quite well, I imagine he set some time limit in his mind and thought, “I will not speak with her for 12 months. By then she will have gone crazy. One year. And if she does not ‘behave’ between now and then, I will extend the period by two months.” You get the picture. I hate to use the word “victim,” but I was clearly the victim of his silent-treatment sentences during the marriage. In the last four years of our married life, we would go days, sometimes weeks without talking. I would plead, but eventually, I would get it. He is stronger willed, or more hard-headed, than I am.
Even if the subject was our children, once the silent treatment was in place, we would all need to wait out the sentence.
In the end of our first lengthy post-divorce silent-treatment-sentence, I called a meeting to discuss our children. We agreed to meet at Starbucks near my home. It was Wednesday, which is to say he picked up the children from my house to take them to school. I was in my running gear (ready to hit the trail two minutes after their departure.) I would have time to run, spend the morning at my office and then meet him for a brief talk, before late lunch with my colleague.
We spoke, rather cordially. I found it refreshing. At the end of our discussion (which, by the way, got us no-where in terms of the children’s agenda) he announced he had a question and then he stalled. “Shoot. What’s your question?” He beat around the bush for a moment. I would not be late to lunch with my colleague, so questioned whether this had anything to do with the children. “No? O.K., well ask whatever you want, whenever you are comfortable. If it is not related to the kids, I really don’t have time now to hang out.” And I was out the door.
Over the course of the next several days, we had a few telephone talks. Nothing conclusive. In my mind, it was fabulous that we were even communicating. Having been through months and months of therapy, I thought I was getting a handle on how to communicate effectively with my ex-husband. (That sense of accomplishment would come and go over time, til this very day.)
One evening, he called to talk well after the children had gone to sleep. Once again, he announced he had a question. I had nearly forgotten all about the question from Starbucks, but all of a sudden the moment came rushing back to me. I welcomed his question and he started, once again to beat around the bush.
Ex: O.K., I’ll ask you, but please stay cool.
Me: What do you mean, “stay cool?
Ex: I don’t want you to blow up, the way you usually do.
Me: I promise you I will stay cool. (I said this as I bit my lower lip to prevent myself from blowing up at his accusation….)
Ex: No. It’s not a good time. I’ll ask another time.
Me: Wait, is this the same question from Starbucks?
Ex: Yes, it is.
Me: (now my curiosity is piqued.) Go ahead and ask. I promise I will not blow up.
Ex: No, no.
Me: Listen, if it has nothing to do with the kids, then ask whenever you want. I gotta go.
Ex: No, wait.
Me: What is it? Do you need money? Are you getting married? Do you need my blessing? Do you need to move in with us? Are you moving overseas? What?!
We went back and forth at this for forty minutes. FORTY MINUTES!
Finally, he has gathered the courage to proceed with his agenda.
Remember at Starbucks how you get all dolled up for me? You wore a super-sexy skirt, high heels, looking all lawyerly. You look great in that new jacket, the jewelry. I couldn’t believe you would go all out, dressing like that just because we were set to meet to discuss the kids. Well, I got the signal and I understood the message. And considering that so much time has passed since our divorce, and so much emotional dust has settled, I think we’re both better positioned now. What I mean to say is that neither one of us has feelings for the other. It’s not like there’s an emotional connection between us any more. It would just be a physical thing. Plus, we know each other’s bodies backwards and forwards, inside out and upside down. That’s how it is after spending over a decade together. It would be a great way to just take care of our needs without worrying about emotional attachment or diseases. You know, there are many divorced couples that go back to just having sex. It is great for each one, and of course, what is great for both parents is surely great for the kids too. They would benefit from having us more relaxed. And, we could part ways every time without feeling any longing. What do you say?
Nothing. I could not get a single word out of my mouth. It’s not that I was trying to “not blow up.” No. I was in shock. I couldn’t form a single word.
I’m so happy you agree. And I appreciate you did not blow up, like I thought you would. By the way, I have been watching you with the weight loss. Every time I come and pick up the kids for school, you are looking awesome. I get it that you are not seeing anyone, so this would really work out well for both of us.
At some point, I could feel the shift in my brain, sort of challenging my mouth to please, please utter something!! And finally the words came out, albeit very quietly.
I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. I did not respond because you asked me not to blow up. But the answer is no. I don’t even know how to say no without hurting your feelings, because that is not my goal. There are plenty of emotions between us. This would be a potential mess. I’m sorry.
Wow. What I could not say: The emotions between us, at least from my perspective are mostly anger and hatred. What I could not say to him: this body that he’s admiring, he had never, never seen this body before. It’s a transformation I poured my heart into – - and surely not for his benefit. Plus, what he saw was not a well-dressed woman. What he saw was a self-confident woman who enjoyed the silent-treatment-sentence time to review my self and to break away from all of the toxins in my marriage. What I could not say is that I would rather take an oath of celibacy than to sleep with the monster again. Listening to him left me 1% flattered and 99% violated. What I could not say is that there was very long period in my life I would not sleep with anyone out of fear that sex would amount to nothing more than I had with him. I refused to allow myself to feel violated. What I could not tell him is that the first time I slept with a man following our divorce, I saw my ex-husband’s face. I wanted to vomit. I felt sick. I cried. I literally cried. What I could not tell my ex-husband is that I had placed myself, my body and my renewing self-confidence in the hands of a very capable lover. I was enjoying an emotionally and physically satisfying relationship.
In the course of his ramblings I realized, he had set himself up for rejection. I could not help but wonder the length of the new silent-treatment-punishment.
Life is good.