The Secrets Only We Know

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse

A secret only you, him, and your parents know. You are married. No one else needs to know until a wedding can be planned, one year, max. You don’t want to hurt any feelings by not inviting people, and his grandparents can join if you wait. You can travel to them. Maybe even get married in the same church they did, in a small village in France.

A secret only you and him know. Something is different in the house, a new atmosphere. It seems unspoken rules came with the wedding vows. You had been unaware, but he hadn’t. You know how the people you love have the most impact on your self-image? When he tells you that you are inadequate, you will believe him. When he tells you he doesn’t want you to kiss him when he walks into the door, you will stop. When he asks you not to sit so close to him on the couch, you will put some distance. When he says you shouldn’t make decisions, you will question yourself when you should have an answer. When he says you couldn’t survive on your own, you believe it. You do need him, he doesn’t need you. You aren’t being all he needs, why do you keep making the same mistakes, don’t you learn? He’s right. You won’t make a good mother. It’s a half-vacuumed house. The coffee pot doesn’t go there. Your pants are tighter than they used to be. You aren’t meeting his needs; what if he meant it when he said he shouldn’t have to be faithful and that he no longer believes in monogamy? Why are you crying all the time? Why do you feel like you are drowning when you do basic tasks? Why haven’t you called your family or friends in a month? It’s because you are just so busy and you guys have so much going on and that’s all. Right? That’s all. If you say it enough times, maybe it will be true. You can’t tell them what’s happening. They will look at him differently, and you too. Because you are the one making the mistakes, you are the reason it is like this in your home now. You don’t want to go home anymore. You fantasize you will get in your car and plow into that metal sign off the side of the highway, day after day, until it starts to sound real enough to scare you. You start a different route home, even though you don’t want to walk through that door. You don’t want to know what you messed up today. Or be rejected anymore. You think you want quiet, but then you realize it is quiet, all the time. That your pleas are considered whining. You are just being dramatic, nothing’s different. No, he doesn’t want to go to counseling with you. You are the problem. Not him.

He leaves on a trip with your family, but you are married so your family is his family now too. You can’t go, because graduate school doesn’t care that your family is going on a vacation.

A secret only you know. You find after three days, you are starting to sleep again. Which is a relief, since it’s been over a year of insomnia. You find you have missed your friends, and that maybe you should talk to them about what’s going on. You can feel yourself lightening, the warmth returning to your cheeks, the smile returning to your lips. You know you are supposed to feel this way, that you cannot keep letting his shadow overcome you. So, you resolve that you will not be living with him upon his return, and he will be invited to couple’s therapy.

A secret only him and your family knows. Your family’s return also brings news. Your parents caught him with another woman. He has a reason; of course he has a reason. He didn’t like the person he had become in your relationship. He didn’t like how mean and hurtful and spiteful he had become. He didn’t like that he was treating you worse than the people he actually despised in his life. Because he knew you wouldn’t fight back, you would just accept it. You would take some of his burden off his back. And he didn’t like that feeling anymore. So he cheated. Because it was a fresh start for him. And I mean, of course that happened; they were around the same age in a group of people that weren’t. No, she didn’t know he was married; why would he tell her? The irony of him breaking his wedding band on that trip almost makes you smile. Almost. The story goes on for months with counseling, and attempts, and in the end, the story ends. Because you cannot trust him with your fragile heart anymore. Because you fear him and the power he knows how to wield over you.

A secret you share with everyone. By the grace of God, you survived it. You find yourself again, but it takes time, longer than you thought it would. You reflect sometimes about how dark it was, and then you look around where you are now and you realize what a good life you have. You also realize it’s good to talk about the hard things in life, because even though it’s been years, it still happened.