“You have to be willing to be hurt by me.” His body language was casual as he said it. He leaned back against the kitchen counter, his hands folded in front of him. But his words were anything but casual. Almost like a plea, they hung in the air between us for a long moment as I froze, absorbing his meaning.
I sat across the room from him at the dining table. The distance between us was short but full of emotional wreckage- the kind that quietly builds up over years and then tumbles out everywhere, touching everything. The tears collecting in my eyelashes finally spilled over onto my cheeks.
My husband is a man of few words. He thinks before he speaks, whereas I tend to throw words around like confetti at a parade. I knew he’d considered his next words because he said them gently and with care.
“I will never intentionally hurt you. But I’m just a man. I’m going to get it wrong sometimes. You have to be willing to GO THERE with me. You can’t close yourself off and leave it all up to me to draw you out. I can’t do that all the time. I can’t be the only one. It’s too much pressure. I want more. I want your vulnerability”
For once, my inner monologue was stunned into silence. He was right, I knew it in my gut.
My knee-jerk reaction was to scoff. To point out that this was nonsense- that I am anything but closed off. That I am open and giving and unguarded all the time. Does he even read my blog? Vulnerability is basically my whole deal…On the surface, yes. In other settings, yes. But deep down, I knew he was right.
Somewhere along the way, a few years back, I started building a wall. Brick by brick, piece by piece, it grew higher and thicker like an invisible shield around my heart. One at a time I picked up each brick, turned it over in my hands, felt it’s weight, and then set it down between us.
That time he didn’t even ask about my weekend away- BRICK. All the times he unknowingly made me feel foolish for dressing up on date night- MORTAR. That time he was too tired for sex- BRICK. All the times we told our friends the full length, detailed version of our day and then tossed each other the cliff’s notes version, almost as an afterthought- MORTAR. Every seemingly insignificant detail, all the things we used to ask and tell and inherently know about each other that somehow fell away to bigger, more important things over the years- ALL BRICKS IN THE WALL.
Like a fool, I busied myself with my bricks while he valiantly tried to scale the wall. I built and built and I didn’t look up, so I never realized how tall and imposing the wall had become. Somewhere along the way I’d subconsciously decided that it’s better to be guarded than wounded, so I retreated behind my invisible wall and the false sense of security it provided. Without even realizing it, I quit being vulnerable in the way that mattered most.
With each little hurt I retreated further and further into my stone tower, while my expectations of him to pursue me, to fight for me, to climb the wall and rescue me from my own insecurities grew more and more unfair. With each little hurt, however small or accidental or innocent it was, I became less and less willing to ever be hurt again.
The trouble there, is that it’s an impossible standard to maintain in marriage. When two people become one, it does not mean that those two halves will never wound each other again. It’s not that simple.
I recently wrote about intimacy and how in marriage it must be fought for and sought after and protected. I wrote about how habits, courage, and foregone conclusions are all tangled up and directly related to intimacy.
He stood across from me and gently pointed out that my guarded heart and unwillingness to be hurt were thieves of intimacy. He asked me why I’m able to write about things more clearly and openly than I am able to express them to him. I told him I didn’t know. I told him that he was right, that I was sorry.
My husband and I love each other very much. We have a lot of fun. We are faithful to one another. We get along. We love spending time together. We are attracted to each other. I have never doubted that he is my person. Our marriage is strong and rooted.
Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s immune to cracks. This particular fault line ran deep and long and had gone surprisingly undetected. Neither of us noticed it until we felt the tremors- until we both realized we want and need something more from each other.
We want each other’s first and best and most vulnerable pieces.
He crossed the space between us and put his arms around me. I cried with fresh sadness because I finally saw the wall I’d built for what it was. It was ugly and looming and it was all my own doing. I had labored over it, burdened by the weight of each brick, and in the end all it did was lie to me. It didn’t keep me safe, it kept me separate.
Then I cried with fresh joy because I finally saw that it is better to be open and sometimes get hurt, than it is to be closed off and always hurting.