In a vacation environment totally devoid of any stress, I couldn’t stand to be in my husband’s company.
After my husband and I boarded the plane, I began my ritual of praying for safe travels. I paused and looked several rows in front of me to where my husband sat wearing his large noise-canceling headphones, craning his neck to observe things around him. My stomach sank as I thought about the disaster that had been our vacation. Just the time spent together en route was making me nauseated. This trip was supposed to have been an easy, fun, bonding experience for my husband and me. Instead, I was filled with a sense of dread as we headed home.
Because of layovers on the way down to Florida and back home, we had to board four different times. Each time my husband and I had been unable to sit together and he had thrown a fit. He was always willing to escalate situations in public, and it embarrassed me more each time. Plus my husband had already become upset during our hour-long wait for this last flight. Waiting in our area was a wife who was giving her husband loud, negative feedback along with some pretty stern commands. While reading my book, I was aware of what was happening but tried to block it out.
My husband sat in the other leg of the L-shaped rows of seats making noises of disgust. He pointed my attention to the woman, but I shrugged my shoulders to show I didn’t know what their issue was. My husband grew more irate over their discourse. His face turned red and he made louder noises of disapproval like steam was escaping him.
Sometimes he would shake his head and grunt “pathetic!” or “unbelievable!” in response to the woman’s behavior. I grew increasingly anxious and was genuinely concerned that my husband was going to explode. This occurred frequently in our home and sometimes in public. At one point I looked at him and patted the air down, the universal gesture for “please calm down.”
I was so grateful it was time to board the aircraft before my husband blew up. As we stood in line, he ranted about that “dreadful” woman until he remembered we couldn’t sit together, and then he switched to that topic. Once I was on the plane and in my own seat, I took a deep breath and leaned back. I was immensely grateful to be seated far away from my husband.
My hands and breathing were shaky and my heart was racing. I had noticed the tell-tale signs that he was ready to explode: sharply pulling up his arm sleeves, crossing his arms, and sniffing quickly and aggressively. I guess this was how he amped himself up. And even though he had not had a chance to create a big scene, I already felt jittery and sick. Normally, I would try to calm him even though he would redirect his anger towards me. For once, I wasn’t in the mood to pacify, and it dawned on me that many of my husband’s behaviors were having a big effect on me.
When I tried to go back to my prayer for safe travel, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a safe return to our home to continue living my life with this man. I shifted into reflection mode and skimmed through the events of our vacation. They were a reflection of what had been occurring throughout our marriage: toxic behaviors we’d discussed numerous times.
Why did they happen during our vacation when we didn’t even have to cook, clean, parent, commute, plan or work in any way? I could see how a relationship might be strained during hardships or even the daily grind of raising a family. However, I didn’t think I could accept that this was our norm, that this would be what I could expect even during what should be our best of times.
I was beginning to see our vacation as a pivotal event. In an environment totally devoid of any stress, I couldn’t stand to be in my husband’s company. The reality of our dysfunction stood out starkly against the backdrop of beautiful oceans, tropical destinations, and sunshine. He’d always given me “good” reasons for his poor behavior: the stresses of grad school, being employed by his father who drove him crazy, owning a business, and more.
Even if I heard another excuse for his most recent actions, I realized our trip was forcing me to see the truth of my reality. I mentally ticked through the events that had stood out the most. He had ordered me around the entire time, almost knocking me down a flight of stairs once on our cruise as he jerked my arm to force me in a different direction. He’d slumped in his seat and pouted when our dinner mates and I accidentally left him out of a conversation. He directed me through each minute of our on-land activities though he had no experience or knowledge of what he was “teaching” me.
He yelled at me for reading during the cruise because I was wasting my life, and his behavior after he drank was very embarrassing. And throughout the whole cruise, he badmouthed the other patrons as trashy, overweight drunks. But for some reason, my least favorite part was his behavior when we stood in line for lunch. He has a habit of trying to get people around him to join in with him when he laughs at others. In this situation, he made snarky comments about the bigger people who’d filled their plates. “Now that’s carb-loading!” he said. The people around us snickered with him. I always felt badly for those on the receiving end of his snarky comments.
As the pilot made an announcement, I was brought back to the present moment. I’ll confess that I finished my travel prayers by asking that we never make it back home. It brings tears to my eyes to remember how I felt in that moment, so tired and defeated. It was another couple years before I asked for a trial separation. Looking back, I know our vacation was the moment I started considering divorce as an option.
I had been totally unwilling to even think about ending our marriage. Sometimes the truth of our relationship is revealed during the moments that are usually reserved for strengthening our bond and spending quality time together. If our marriage struggles even during the best times life has to offer, we are obligated to investigate further. And when we are geared up for happiness, relationship problems feel like a huge disappointment.
Whether it’s a ruined vacation, celebration, or a holiday season that provides this clarity, it can feel rough but we need to accept the clarity it brings. Oddly, it could be the gift that keeps on giving.
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