Recently, I traveled North America in an RV with my wife and four kids. We lived on the road for several years and learned things about ourselves and each other that I believe we couldn’t have done in any other way. I’m really glad we did that. I expected that afterwards we’d either get along better or we’d have driven each other nuts. But I never expected what actually happened.
You see, I had a sudden epiphany that called everything about my marriage into question. I realized that my wife wasn’t the woman I thought she was. That my expectations about our relationship were flawed because our relationship, as I had understood it up until then, was a fraud.
The really strange thing is that my wife turned out to be exactly the person she had always seemed to be on the surface – authentic, sweet, intelligent, responsible, ethical and honest. And we got along quite well in our cramped little rolling home.
So what gives?
The Problem: My problem was not with “who” I discovered she was, but with who I had always assumed her to be. And the discovery that rocked my world was the huge gap between her truth and my assumptions about her. The woman I thought I knew so well did not in fact exist. Had never existed. She was a figment of my imagination.
How This All Happened
From early on in our relationship I had sensed something was not quite right, as if my wife was hiding something from me. But I strongly believed that wasn’t true. She always seemed so open and honest with everyone. It didn’t seem in her nature to withhold. So what was going on? What was it that I thought was missing?
For me life is mostly built on thought. And feelings. My inner world is much louder than my rather tranquil exterior. But I saw no glimmers of what went on inside of her head. And it drove me crazy. Not that I wanted to pry. But I craved intimacy – the sharing of my deepest feelings and desires, of my dreams and hopes. And she stubbornly seemed like a stone wall. She simply wouldn’t go there, and I couldn’t understand why.
I figured that maybe I was just imagining things. I knew that she could be shy. And I was confident that she’d grow to trust me – everyone else did – and she’d open up to me as I earned that trust. So I decided to be patient and wait it out.
But after years of trying to win her “trust” without success, I seem to have unconsciously crafted my own “solution”. What my epiphany uncovered was that, unwilling to live with uncertainty, over time I had made subtle assumptions about what I thought were the hidden parts of her mental world, extrapolating off of what I could see. These little assumptions then conveniently acted as a foundation for other assumptions about her, and after many years together I had created an elaborate personality for her built entirely on a house of cards.
And with my epiphany the breeze had just carried it all away.
Alexithymia: After some research and a bit of voluntary testing on her part to try and make sense out of all of this, it became clear that my wife was and is Alexithymic.
Alexithymia is a brain condition that prevents normal emotional development. People living with Alexithymia can often adjust and get along quite well in the world. But they lack any significant inner world. Few dreams or desires. Little imagination. No fantasy life. In other words, pretty much the opposite of me, and a nature that was apparently too empty for me to accept as real.
My mind could not comprehend such a condition, so I subconsciously crafted this false personality for her to fill in the blanks I saw. My marriage was thus built on a fundamental misunderstanding by me of my wife’s true nature. And I had created this imaginary persona unconsciously over more than fifteen years of marriage, raising four children and running businesses together.
How is it possible to do this? To not know the person sitting next to you every day? To fool yourself so completely? What Now?
First, I owe her an apology. It was selfish and uncaring for me to judge her against a standard that had nothing to do with the real and beautiful woman that she was and is today.
For that I am truly sorry. I apologize for rejecting her authentic self as not enough, an act that had to have been deeply painful for her. And now I wonder. How many other basic assumptions about my life and my place in the world are built on such false foundations? Can I be certain of anything anymore?
My epiphany made me question who I actually am. It shook my world to its very core. And I’m still here. My world has barely stopped shaking. Yet life requires that we continue on. It waits for no one. Stuff to do, kids to educate, money to be made, articles to write, etc. etc.
Where my wife and I go from here is uncertain. Whatever we do must be based on honesty and acceptance of what truly is. I owe her the respect of acknowledgment of her true and authentic self – the same and only self she has ever shared with me. And now I have to chart a future, one lived with my eyes wide open.
Where all of this will take me I haven’t the slightest idea. I hope for the best.
Your Take On This?
What do you take away from my experience? Do you have any advice for me? I’m all ears. Please post your comments, ideas and suggestions at the end of this article. I am looking forward to and appreciate anything that you can offer.
Thanks and all the best,