Sunday, July 30, 2006

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

One of the pleasures of blogging has got to be having more space to ponder aloud the thoughts of other bloggers. One of my favourite bloggers is Fade to Numb, who writes a marriage blog. I like reading him, partly because he is cool and funny, but mainly because, like me, he has a sex issue in an otherwise pretty good relationship.

FTN seems to be able to work at this issue without the issue killing his relationship. And this is surprisingly rare. There are, after all, a myriad of ways a person can respond to chronic sexual frustration in a relationship. Will they revive the passion (or, at least, the sex) in the relationship? Will they start an affair? Will they spiral down into a depression? Will they get so frustrated that they just check out emotionally and let the relationship die?

There is a strong element of suspense about blogs that focus on this issue. Sort of (cue stagey voice over) "Will Arwyn ever respond to Digger's attempts at intimacy? Will Dewdrop's husband ever figure out what the clitoris is for? Will Desperate Husband ever leave or start that affair? Tune in next time, as we play Can This Relationship be Saved?"

Now, FTN recently wrote a post on blogging marriage, outlining some rules for himself. I agree with most of them, and especially Rule #1 Don't make blogging a substitute for working on the relationship. But, darn it, he has written Rule #3 Don't keep secrets.

Don't keep secrets, as in don't keep a secret blog telling the world about your issues with your partner that your partner doesn't know about.


Well, my partner knows I have started a blog. He knows what its called. Its easily findable. And I have told him that my blog is more personal than his. A moment's reflection would probably suggest that a "personal" blog might have him in at least the occasional cameo appearance.

But does he know that our sex life is a major theme of this blog (at least so far)? No.

Has he been completely fine in the past with my telling real-life friends about any relationship issues? No. He is a very private person.

So am I planning to either delete or fundamentally change this blog to protect his feelings? No.

Do I harbour some anxieties about what he would think if he read it? Yes.

I have told him enough that he could find out anything he wanted to about this blog, but he probably won't. Because we have something of an unspoken Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy around here. Its like gays in the military. The army is opposed to certain things. But at the same time, it may know or suspect certain things. But it doesn't need to be told explicitly. It doesn't want to be told. Everything just goes more easily if certain things are not inquired into too closely.

Officially, we don't have secrets from each other. Secrets are bad. Talking is good. Officially, if we don't know something, its not because its a secret, its just that we haven't got around to telling each other yet. But in practice, Don't Ask, Don't Tell works for us.

You see, my partner is a Vietnam Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD tends to distance the person somewhat from their own emotions and from other people's emotions. And although he makes quite a big effort to stay connected with me, it doesn't come naturally to him. His default mode is to be very self contained.

And for me, I am not only his partner, but his carer, due to his physical health issues. And one thing I have learned over the years about being a carer is that I have to keep just that little bit of emotional distance from him.

Caring is hard, because you have to give more to the relationship, more to your partner, than most people do, and your partner doesn't always have the ability to give back in equal measure. It can be hurtful when you want to share everything with your partner, when you keep expecting them to be able to maintain intimacy all the time, because they do not have the energy and those expectations will not be met. Sharing your feelings, your needs, can be a beautiful act of sharing on your part - and for them, it can be a dumping of your emotional crap onto someone who already has too much to deal with. A lot of the time, you need to hold back just a little yourself and expect that they will do the same.

And I think it is partly a man-woman thing, too. Have you ever noticed the way, after a big relationship discussion, the woman is happy, the woman feels better, she has got that incredibly pressing issue off her chest? And the man staggers away, looking exhausted and freaked out, and as if someone has attacked him with a blow torch?

Also, to some extent, a chronically sick person is a somewhat depressed person. They are tired, they are in pain, they are horribly bored, they are having trouble maintaining hope that they will ever feel good again. And they get down.

I used to try to stay totally connected with him. I used to ask him about everything. I used to share all my thoughts and feelings as they came to me. I used to not go out and do things because he couldn't come with me, and it seemed cruel to leave him in the house alone. But over long practice, I have learned that this is not the way to go.

Because my experience is that, if you do this, if you allow your own life to be totally governed by their illness, if you allow yourself to get caught up in their every emotion, you, too will spiral downward. Because the honest truth is that, if you truly dwelt on the pain of watching your beloved suffer, if you thought every day about the total effect of that illness on their life, on your life and your relationship, if you truly counted each loss and mourned it fully, it would just be too sad. You wouldn't be able to get up in the morning. You wouldn't be able to work, to look after your baby, to look after them, and do all the other things you have to do. And you wouldn't have a life yourself.

When you are the well partner of a sick person, there is some balance you have to find between being connected with them, and being connected with your own feelings about the situation, and being able to distance yourself sometimes. Maintaining this ability to move in and out of full emotional intimacy has been a hard lesson to learn and has taken me years. But its like developing sea legs. At first, you feel sick, you stumble around, you can't understand why the ground keeps shifting under your feet. But ultimately you get it. Your body remembers how it works. And one day, the waves get choppy, and you just balance without even thinking about it.

But the result? A certain distance.

And a knowing certain things about each other, without knowing the full story, and without necessarily wanting to know the full story. And now this strange, unspoken, knowing-but-not-knowing, not-wanting-to-inquire-further, about this blog is part of our life.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

What about you? How much would you tell?


Blogger Rob said...

"What about you? How much would you tell?"

I would act exactly as you have Emily. You need that distance. So does he. He needs to feed off your happier lifestyle. I think that he would feel bad if he felt that he was dragging you down to the level of his unhappy mental state due to his health issues. So I think that is very acceptable for you to have this blog, allowing you to better cope with life, to vent as and when you need to, to receive support and opinion from us. To not get discouraged with life. So by all means - don't tell because he knows better than to ask.

7:47 PM  
Blogger loz said...

wow, it sounds incredibly complex. I've experienced the same sort of issues to a degree (injuries, medical conditions) both within & since my marriage, but I doubt it's been as tricky as what you've described. I feel you though, it must be a tough thing to have to deal with, especially emotionally in all the ways you spoke of.

I agree with rob, you need an outlet whether it's this blog, friends or family. I wouldn't tell either, if I were in your place.

good luck! x

2:40 AM  
Blogger Satan said...

I think a 'secret' blog, as long as it isn't full of bile and hate about your partner, isn't necessarily an inherently bad thing. Though the bile and hate blogs serve a purpose as well.

I don't come home to my partner after being out with my best friend and outline everything we've talked about. So that's 'secret', isn't it? I think there is such a thing as too much disclosure, especially in a very close, long term relationship. You have to be able to live with this person . . forever! Keep some distance/mystery.

3:49 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

Cool and funny? Really? Stop it, I'm blushing.

I think you've got quite a different situation than I do (well, quite a different situation than most people). And from what I've read of your blog so far, you haven't really written anything negative about your partner (does he have a name yet, or did I miss it?). You are just lamenting some issues, the main one being a lack of sex. Like a few others (Satan, for instance), that makes your blog different -- A very visible love is there, you just wish you were having more sex.

One of the main reasons I didn't want to keep my blog a secret from my wife is that I was just a few months into the whole "getting out of porn" thing. Accountability was a huge part of that, and having a secret blog at that point would have, I believe, been a very bad idea, no matter what I wrote about.

But I still do think that overall, the secret blog can lead to problems. But usually only if you let it. Perhaps it depends on whether you use the blogging community as a "support group," or just a place to vent and complain. :-)

7:09 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Hi all

Thanks for the positive feedback.

Rob - Thanks especially for that point about him needing to feed off my having a happier lifestyle. That is true,and yet I haven't realised that before.

FTN - what differences in risk do you see in using commenters as a support group and just treating a blog as a place to vent? I'm not sure I follow

2:13 AM  

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