At midnight last night, I sat in my darkened living room and listened to the sound of fireworks and my neighbors celebrating as the New Year began. Every now and then, I saw sparkling gold and red streaks of light as one of the (probably illegal) fireworks set from in the valley behind my house gained enough elevation to be visible through my kitchen window. I was not celebrating – in fact, I was melancholy as I thought back on this very difficult year and pondered what might be in store for the future.
The night brought to mind, vividly, a New Year’s Eve three years ago. Doc and I had stopped at a restaurant to grab some dinner on our way home from running errands. We perused the menu and placed our orders – and then sat in uncomfortable silence, watching the other groups of diners around us laugh and talk – something we hadn’t done for much too long. Even worse, there were lovers at small tables for two – gazing into each other’s eyes, touching, and obviously captivated by one another – a painful reminder of something we no longer had.
I had wanted to talk to Doc about our relationship for months – maybe even years. I wasn’t happy and I could tell that he wasn’t happy. However, in our marriage we rarely spoke about anything intimate or important. We had no trouble talking about the kids, problems at work, our family, and even money. Surprisingly, we excelled at discussing and agreeing about the remodeling projects that we had been doing in our home for the past few years. But when it came to expressing our feelings, disappointments, or expectations – we just didn’t. We didn’t even argue! When upset or angry, we both would become even more silent and withdrawn, distancing ourselves emotionally, more and more.
I had finally gathered my courage and began a conversation, “Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?”
Doc scanned the restaurant, “Not really.”
I paused, nervous to continue – and then, “I have a New Year’s resolution.” When he finally looked at me, I felt defensive and tense, and responded how I usually did – my tone becoming sharp and clipped. “We have a shitty marriage! I hate it! I want to have a good marriage – a happy marriage! I want us to want to be together! I want to have sex more than a couple of times a year! I want to work on the marriage and make it better – do you??”
Doc’s eyebrows raised at this unexpected turn of events and startling conversation. He responded gruffly, “Yes.” I got the impression he was frustrated or angry, perhaps feeling that I had ambushed him in a public place – but of course, I didn’t ask for clarification.
“So, you’ll come to counseling with me?”
“Yes, I’ll go to counseling.”
I had my commitment, but I was left feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. We returned to eating – again silent and edgy until the meal ended.
We did go to counseling – for several months. With the encouragement and coaching of the therapist, we spoke about issues that had long been ignored – sometimes leaving more frustrated than before. Doc would promise to change his behavior – and then would promise again, and again. I certainly wasn’t perfect – I wanted to be closer and more loving, but when I felt disappointed or upset, I would often fall back into my old behavior of withdrawing. I would ask, and ask, and ask again for more physical affection, but Doc was not often interested. I suggested monthly weekend getaways – alternating which of us would plan them. They were always wonderful – but after taking three turns, Doc seemed to lose interest. When I asked why, he contended that we had to save our money for our upcoming trip to Europe. Even before that, he had stopped coming to counseling with me – stating that he would find his own counselor. He didn’t. Doc said he wanted to be married to me and would do what it took to make things better – but in the end, he wouldn’t – or couldn’t.
As I sat in my living room last night, listening to the celebrating outside, I was sad. So many things this year didn’t turn out the way I expected or had hoped. It was full of heartbreak, fear, and uncertainty. However, it’s also been a year of change, growth, friendship, and hope. Hope that, this year, things will be better, that I will continue to grow and learn, that I will love and be loved, that I will be happy more days than not. Hope that, like the darkness, which was occasionally illuminated by the fireworks outside and would soon give way to the light of a new day, my life will be illuminated by moments of wonder and joy. Moments that will become more frequent and prolonged, until that illumination is the norm instead of the anomaly.
Happiness, love, peace, and joy – that is my hope this new year – for myself, my family, my friends, and you.