Two very special friends from my recovery group for partners of sex addicts had wedding anniversaries this weekend. I first wrote the word “celebrated” but replaced it with “had.” Because although one was a celebration, the other, not so much. And I can’t stop thinking about the transformation that has occurred in my marriage from the not so much to the celebration.
The first friend wrote in an email “We have plans to celebrate our anniversary this weekend.” Even included a smiley face. I responded with “Happy Anniversary! The best part is that it really is happy, isn’t it?! A joy and gratitude filled celebration.”
I learned of my other friend’s anniversary via my Facebook newsfeed. As I scanned the messages of “Happy Anniversary to a wonderful couple!” my heart sank. My first reaction was “Uh-oh.” Because I know, oh, I know, the sting of those words that do not always bring joy. I knew in this instance, that as they had for me, each proclamation would be a poke and twist into the wound of unhappy days behind and uncertain days ahead.
My wedding anniversary became a mocking reminder of just how long I had been mistreated, neglected, unloved, in pain. With every congratulatory acknowledgement I received over the years came the assumption that I had a happy marriage. Or that I would at least have a happy time celebrating it for one day. I failed at both.
Anniversary cards would come in the mail from our parents and church. Some years I opened them and left them out for my husband to see. They might garner a quick glance. Or a snicker at the corniness. Nothing more. No sweet sentiments for my starved soul from him. Other times I would open a card, hold back tears and throw it in the garbage. The words inside too hurtful and so far away from my reality that they didn’t have a place in my home.
For our tenth wedding anniversary, I received a commemorative Precious Moments plate from my parents. It made me cry. As a teenager growing up in the eighties, my bedroom was filled with Precious Moments figurines, many received as gifts on special occasions. This is what my mother thought she was doing now. It should have been a perfect gift, but instead it was so very wrong for my wounded heart. I kept it for another seventeen years. This spring I threw it away along with the painful memories it generated.
My parents and in-laws were the only people who celebrated our anniversary over the years. Not the husband and wife within the marriage. It was another bitter rejection that my husband was not willing to sacrifice one evening of his year to spend with me. The one day, that maybe, just maybe, he would choose to be with me rather than the television or computer or his fantasy world. It seldom happened. Once or twice if there was something he wanted to do. We went to a movie once that he wanted to see. Cast Away. I remember because we don’t go to movies together. There is no theater in our town. It requires a drive to the city. Which would also require spending three hours with me in a vehicle. As it also happens, there are no decent restaurants in our town. Going out for dinner was never an option in his mind. The food choices seemed to be more important than the company (me). It didn’t take long for my mind to make the connection that I was not worth his time.
Less than two months into our recovery for his sex addiction, our 25th wedding anniversary occurred. A momentous milestone with every possible conflicting emotion attached to it. The week before, I mustered up the courage to tell my husband that I wanted to go out for supper. We would have a date for our anniversary, and I would pick the restaurant. He agreed. Now that I had dared to communicate my need, panic set in. My mind was spinning with choosing the “right” restaurant. I was still wary of his disapproval in my selection and trying to find the balance of keeping him happy while staying true to my newfound desire to use my squeaky little voice. And honestly, I knew he wouldn’t want to drive a long distance for our date, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend that much time in a vehicle together either. Supper conversation would bring us enough unease for the evening. I researched restaurants and menus in nearby towns. I hummed and I hawed. But I didn’t discuss it with him. As challenging as it was, it was very important to my recovery (and in retrospect his) that this decision be mine, not his.
We observed our 25th wedding anniversary together. Celebrated would not be quite the right word. It was not a light, party atmosphere in our section of the restaurant. We were both self conscious and uncomfortable. Conversation was awkward, tentative, but very polite. As an added bonus, we were keenly aware that less than a week later we would be sitting in our counsellor’s office hearing his disclosure. And what I also knew was that he was about to be blindsided by mine.
The pain between us was palpable that evening. We shared it. Each of us holding more secrets in our hearts that would soon be exposed. Each of us searching for hope in each other’s eyes.
We have returned to that same restaurant now to celebrate our 26th and 27th wedding anniversaries. It is never too late for a bride and groom to begin new traditions.
Maybe that evening was a celebration. Maybe God was looking at us with a twinkle in His eye. A smile on His face that His plan for redemption was in motion. Because it was. It most definitely was.
He has taken me to the banquet hall, and His banner over me is love. Song of Songs 2:4