When You’re Married to One of Us

You talk about “people like us” who hide their true selves to be loved and accepted. What about the “what you see is what you get” types who assume others play by those same rules only to be stunned when the resentful manipulator shows his true colors. Same problem from a different angle, no? Still hard to know who/when to trust. I always value your take on subjects like this.—J.

First of all, when I use the expression “people like us,” I’m referring to those of us raised in dysfunctional households with a rigid set of rules that do not allow us to communicate our needs, thoughts and feelings.  That leave us puzzled, unsure as to how to get our needs met in the adult world.

It’s hard to be this kind of person:

  • To be constantly afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.
  • To be mute when all you want to do is scream.
  • To be constantly confused about what it is you really want because you’re way too attuned to what others require of you.
  • To think you have to deal with troubles all on your own.


Second of all, it’s goddamned hard to be in relationship with someone like this, as you so aptly noted, J., because you can never be sure you’re getting the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You can never gauge the seriousness of a problem simply by listening to what’s being said.

You’re straightforward in your communication, J. because you are not a people-pleaser. You have no trouble expressing your wants and needs, your displeasure, your opinion, because you’ve never experienced SERIOUSLY negative consequences by doing so, at least as a child.

No wonder you’re confused.

You didn’t realize that words are meaningless to people like us—your words, and ours—because the most important people in your childhood actually meant what they said.


How could you know that words MEAN NOTHING to our kind; that behavior MEANS EVERYTHING?

See, people like us express displeasure through behavior, passive aggressive behavior.  We think we’re speaking volumes by staying out until 2 in the morning, or undermining parental authority, or buying $3000 bikes instead of paying down debt.  We get to punish you AND deny there’s any problem if things get too hot. We’re all about plausible deniability.

People like us think that you should be able to take a hint, read the signs and know their meanings, because that’s how we make sense of the world.

What you’re supposed to do with that information, I’m not really sure, but you should at least know there’s a serious problem at hand, even if we refuse to acknowledge it.  And you should do something to fix it. Even though we don’t know what that would look like ourselves.

If you look back on your relationship, J., you can spot the signs of serious trouble.  Hindsight is funny that way, it being 20/20.  You can see when key behaviors began to change, when certain topics were suddenly avoided like the plague, when connection and interest began to wane. It’s the stuff you eventually chose to ignore.


I learned the hard way that problems don’t disappearThey grow and grow and grow until someone works up the guts to finally call it quits.

That’s how people like us operate.

When I told H. that I wanted a divorce, he looked so shocked, so hurt. I remember his face as if it were yesterday; as if he were still alive, sitting there on my mother’s couch.

I still marvel at his stunned reaction, painful as it was.

How had he not heard my complaints? I’m sure I voiced them.  How had he not seen the signs—the wedding ring left on the bureau, my new-found tendency to pick fights, my sudden addiction to self-help books, just to name a few?

Sure, he knew there were issues—I mean, WTF, I’d refused to go back to Iran with the children—but he couldn’t seem to grasp that they would eventually lead to me kicking him out. “You and I are one person,” he’d said, after years of telling me that he could live without me just fine. “If I can deal with my mother living with us, and the lack of privacy… so should you. That’s what marriage is about.”

Except, not.

Even now I scare myself. I know the damage my reluctance to speak has caused, can cause. I don’t want to be an enigma, to me or to anybody else. I’m not sure I’ll ever trust my communication skills, no matter how self-aware I become. Because this shit is seriously hard-wired. Silence is a survival instinct, like throwing your hands out when you fall.


Walt, too, is wary of my natural tendencies.  He watches for the signs of unspoken trouble:

  • The disproportionality: When the magnitude of my upset doesn’t match the stated facts.
  • The disconnect:  When what I’m reacting to seems incongruent with what we’re talking about.
  • The surprise attack:  When I hit him with a criticism or complaint seemingly out of left field.

If I were sitting across the table from a date,J, what would I look for?  How would I gauge if he was trustworthy, or if I had another potential sphinx on my hands?

For me, I’d be most interested in a person’s level of insight and self-awareness. I’d be asking lots of questions there.

And then of course, I’d ask about his family of origin, about the gifts he received, and the issues he felt he had to overcome.  What an interesting conversation that would be!

That being said, it’s a fucking crap shoot, Babe.You just have to ask the questions and express the concerns. ALL of them. All of the time.  You don’t let people slide off the hook.You insist on intimacy. Or walk away.


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