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This Is (Really) Us

The bathroom is the only place in the 700-square-foot apartment I share with my partner where I can be alone. I’ve been locking myself in there a lot lately, sitting on the floor with my back braced against the tub. This is the quiet space where I can separate myself from him and take some space from us.

I want to land something off the bat: I love my boyfriend, B, with everything I have. I can’t imagine myself with anyone else. But we aren’t perfect.

We’ve been fighting every other day for the past six months.

   There are days where I look at him and burst into tears because I love him so much, but I don’t have the energy or words left to express my feelings. There are days where I look at him and I feel bitter and resent him. There are days where I don’t feel anything at all, because I’m spent.

Physically and mentally we’re disconnected. Five years in, the honeymoon phase of our relationship is long over. My libido is low. I have a hormonal imbalance and I’m struggling through a trauma I suffered as a teenager that keeps resurfacing. We don’t have sex as often as we used to, and, while he’s always been the initiator when it comes to physical intimacy, he’s gotten tired of making the first move. Now, he says, it feels like a chore.

It also makes him feel unloved and unwanted.

“Is it me?” he asked a few months ago, a pained look on his face.

“No, it’s me,” I say genuinely. “And I don’t know how to fix it.”

Our priorities are different. For the past year I’ve been focusing on building my career; I’ve put him and our relationship second. I haven’t made time to work on us, our problems, or the things he wants me to work on in myself. He’s open about craving a deeper connection and better communication, but I haven’t taken the lead at all.

The build-up of these issues finally led to an explosion, a tectonic shift in our relationship. At the end of last year, he declared he was falling out of love with me.

We were at a Christmas party. B spilled red wine on the carpet, and one of our friend’s jumped up from the sofa to grab a towel from the kitchen; another made a joke that B had better watch himself or he wouldn’t get lucky that night. B sat motionless. From the corner of my eye, I could feel him staring at me. I knew it was coming—the honesty. He’d had too much to drink, and he is painstakingly honest when he drinks.

“I haven’t had luck for a month,” he announced bitterly to the room.

I felt my face flush, hot with embarrassment. Our friends laughed, trying to cut the tension. B’s leg brushed mine as he inched closer to me. Then, leaning into me, he whispered in my ear, “We can’t brush things off any more. We need to work through our shit. We need to put everything out in the open.”

He paused for a moment. I already knew what he was going to say next.

“Because I’m falling out of love with you.”

I scanned the room to see if anyone had heard. My eyes watered.

Still, this wasn’t a shock. Deep down I already knew how he felt because I felt it, too. But it still hurt hearing the words out loud, knowing there was no going back after that.

  Most days, I wonder how we got to this point. Shouldn’t we be married by now? Our friends are thinking about having kids and planning their futures together. I’m thinking about what to say that might save us.

Our shit has been out in the open ever since. It’s been raw, emotional and, simply, hard. We’ve exchanged words that have been extremely unkind and spiteful.

I have a bad habit of leaving my dishes in the sink, and the other day I came home to him washing my dirty breakfast dishes while simultaneously cooking dinner.

“I feel like I’m taking care of a child,” he declared.

Some days I feel like I can’t win and that things will always be my fault. Last month I forgot to sign the key documents we needed to open a savings account, even though they’d been on the kitchen table for weeks. When B received a call from our advisor, asking why we hadn’t sent them through yet, he flipped. “Why can’t you be a fucking adult about something that will literally take you five seconds?” he yelled at me.

There are days where I look at him and burst into tears because I love him so much, but I don’t have the energy or words left to express my feelings. There are days where I look at him and I feel bitter and resent him. There are days where I don’t feel anything at all, because I’m spent.

These are the days I lie against the tub in the bathroom and cry.

Most days, I wonder how we got to this point. Shouldn’t we be married by now? Our friends are thinking about having kids and planning their futures together. I’m thinking about what to say that might save us.

This is where I’ve realized that I have one overarching feeling towards our situation: anger.

I’m angry at myself.

For too long I’ve brushed off certain sentiments in our relationship because I didn’t have the courage to deal with them. Bringing everything out in the open has made me realize I’ve been harboring a lot of deep rooted personal issues of my own, which I’ve carried, unresolved, from my adolescence into our relationship.

I’m angry at the pressure.

So many of my fears and frustrations come from comparing myself to other people. Instead of focusing on where our relationship is, I’ve been caring a lot about where I think our relationship should be. My perception of other people’s partnerships, which surely only reflects a fraction of their actual experience, has been making me doubt my own.

I’m angry at the sugarcoating.

No one talks openly about how hard relationships can be. I’ve had to learn for myself that relationships are made up of as many bad and challenging moments as they are good ones. My truth is that when couples have problems it doesn’t mean they’re destined for disaster; it just means they’re couples.

This was an aha moment for me. Admitting to our problems didn’t mean the end of us; but not admitting to them probably did.

We decided to go to couples counseling.

I’d be lying if I said this were an easy decision. At first, it felt like a last-ditch effort: If we couldn’t work through our problems on our own, what were we even doing together? And, I was afraid that some stranger who knew nothing about us would get to dictate the nature of our future together.

Mostly, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to find out that we were going.

But walking through the door, I felt ease. The last place I’d felt that calm and safe had been with my back against the tub.

I followed a few steps behind him into the office. We hadn’t spoken to each other the entire way there.

Our counsellor was a small woman with huge, curly blond hair. She was holding a notepad tight against her chest. I could see through one of the pages from her previous sessions and noticed words circled in bright blue pen. I wondered if this was good or bad, and what she was going to write about us.

“Have a seat,” she said, pointing towards two chairs. There was a table on either side of us with a box of Kleenex. The wastebasket beside me was half full of tissues, some covered with faint traces of mascara. I wondered how many other people had seen her today.

“I’ll give you both fifteen minutes to share why you’re here,” she said.

I could hardly speak without choking back tears, but I didn’t hold back sharing my side.

“We have issues with intimacy and connection,” I started.

“There are certain traumas I suffered in my childhood and adolescence that contribute to sex and my relationship with my body. I’ve started to accept and work through them over the past year, but they’re always at the back of my mind. It affects my ability to be intimate. I’m trying to work through them,” I repeated. “But it’s painful.”

I looked over at him and noticed tears in his eyes. I knew this was painful for him, too.

“I feel like his expectations are high, and I have a fear that I’ll never be enough for him or our children when we have a family.

“He likes things his way and I’m afraid to want things my way, because that won’t be good enough for him.

“Even the little things drive me mental, like when he unloads the dishwasher after I’ve loaded it because he wants it a certain way, or when he bickers over folding his laundry wrong.

“I am never right, or enough.”

I could feel him tense up beside me.

“And when I don’t do something right, or the way he likes, he can be domineering, overbearing, and angry.

“When he gets angry he often doesn’t think before he speaks. And the repercussions of his honesty and actions can be extremely hurtful.

“It also bothers me that he treats me like a child when it comes to making mature decisions on my own, but he doesn’t give me the opportunity to be an adult.

“I want him to let me make mistakes, and learn from them. I’m afraid to misstep around him.”

I took a deep breath.

“At the end of the day I just want him to love me,” I said. Tears were streaming down my face.

“I want him to look at me, and see me. Really see me. I want so badly to be acknowledged by him. To feel genuinely loved. I haven’t felt that from him in a really long time.”

I took a tissue from the Kleenex box. B grabbed my arm, and we looked at each other. His eyes were glazed and red as he tried to fight back his own tears.

“Is that it?” the counsellor asked, a small smile forming at the corner of her lips. I wondered if she thought I was fucked up or a bad person.

“More or less,” I shrugged.

She placed her notepad in her lap. “I want you both to know something,” she said.

“Everyone in the world goes through issues in their relationship, they just go through different situations and instances that are unique to them.

“Hardship is normal because relationships are hard, and they take work. It’s not going to be easy all the time. There will be moments where you love each other and hate each other and that’s okay.

“Talking about your issues and bringing them to the surface doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doomed. It means you care about fixing your problems. And by focusing on these problems, you get better for each other and yourselves.”

It was raining when we walked out of the counseling office. Standing on the street corner waiting for the light to turn green, he grabbed me and pulled me close. We stood on the street hugging each other in silence for a few moments, letting ourselves get wet.

I buried my face into his chest.

“This won’t be easy,” I whispered. “But I’m ready to put in the work to fix this if you are.”

The light turned green. We let go of each other, and he grabbed my hand as we walked across the street.

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Kailey Buchanan
About the author

Kailey is a communications expert who lives in Vancouver, BC. She is an avid lover of writing, yoga and tacos.

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