A Fixer Upper


Tonight is a night of reflection and of hope for anyone out there who is struggling in their marriage.

Why can’t he?
When I was married I said that a lot.  Why can’t he be happier, more out-going, loosen up, talk more, open up?  The more I wished for him to be different the less happy I was.  I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  Dissatisfaction left me feeling frustrated.

How hard is it?
Along with why can’t he was the other phrase I repeated in my head over and over which was, how hard is it?  I just didn’t get what was so hard about forgetting about the other people in the room and just enjoying yourself.  Or why was it so hard to talk about your feelings?  Similar to the frustration I feel when my son accepts a mediocre effort on his part which results in a mediocre grade in a class.  I don’t get why he doesn’t just do what seems so simple to me in order to “fix the problem!”

When we were married there was hope.  We had careers ahead of us, many exciting choices and dreams waiting to come true.  We had potential.  We were a “Starter Home”.   We would sit and dream about what color to paint our lives and we’d often say and want the same color.  We’d spend hours planning room additions, and porches, and planning where to put the plants, mirrors, and photographs that would liven up the space.  It was fun.  Life was fun.  Life had possibilities.

But somewhere along the line he lost interest in lots of things.  He got tired.  He lost some of his will.  I saw it and worried about him.  I had so many exciting things happen in my life and he was stuck in a dead-end job during the week.  When he was home he wanted to eat, watch tv or window shop at a mall.  That is pretty much it.  Projects seemed less fun and more like a chore.  The walls got dingy, handles got broken, scratches built up and the house wasn’t so new and shiny anymore. And I wanted to take care of it.

Our house started getting neglected.  Instead of taking care of it we did other things.  Avoided hard discussions.  I still saw the potential of what we could have but he didn’t want to be fixed.  He got upset anytime I brought it up and saw me as being overly critical.  But I was only trying to do some repairs to our house.  He just wanted to be left alone.  Anytime I tried to draw him out of his shell to talk about what I knew was bothering him he usually shut down.  Every now and then he let it out and when he did it was literally like flood gates had opened.  This fury came out of him.  Shaking, tears, worry, pain, rage was unleashed from inside of him.  It frightened him and me when the valve was turned on and it all started to flow.  I was so used to seeing the very even-tempered person who had little to no reaction to life.  It frightened him so much he would twist that knob as tight as he could to shut it down and blamed me for releasing it as if it were a very bad thing.  He didn’t want to be fixed he wanted to pretend like everything was fine.  Kind of like pretending that the closet isn’t an over packed mess as long as you can shut the door.  Anyone who opens it lets out the mess and it’s their fault.

He started really limiting where I could go in the house.  There were some things that I just wasn’t allowed to talk about.  They were off-limits.  There was the front room, the hallway and the kitchen, but everywhere else the doors were shut.  Pretty soon all we had left was polite conversation.  Stifling.  Sometimes when I thought he was in a particularly good mood I would run upstairs and knock on the bedroom door but it was locked tight.  The more I banged for him to open it the harder he fought me from opening it.  That is what it felt like anyway.  Maybe because he feared if it opened so much rage would come out he wouldn’t know what to do with it.

I tried to be loving and bring home plants or a new vase to keep our house pretty, but he would just set them down as if he couldn’t be bothered with decorating.

What was so hard about wanting to make things better?  What was I doing wrong by caring and being helpful.  I wanted a good, strong, healthy marriage.  Come to think of it this all started long before the phone rang with the angry husband on the other line.  It was probably 10 years in the making.  My striving to improve things with suggestions and enthusiasm with little to no change on his end.  He got sick of me trying and I got sick of him not seeing the possibilities.

Its a hard place to be cause I tried to be loving.  I tried to be understanding but truly I didn’t really like him for him anymore.  I wished he were different.  More like me.

And there is the rub.  I couldn’t fix him.  I couldn’t help him.  I was shut out.  And then I was left to live in a shell of a house that was a true fixer upper.  I had to manage on my own.  Somehow.  It was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. So much to do, so much to fix but now on my own.  What a heavy load.

But having a fixer upper does something to you.  It teaches you through your mistakes.  For me it allowed me to be more of a risk taker since I had not much else I could lose.  It taught me to appreciate what little I had left and how it was enough.  And it taught me one other very crucial lesson about relationships.

It’s okay to have crooked pictures on the wall, paint dribbles in the corner and dents in the doors.  None of that matters.  I probably should have kept my mouth shut on 90% of the stuff I thought needed to be fixed.  If there is a good foundation of communication that is honest and open and if you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and together do some housecleaning from time to time to keep those closets cleaned out, you won’t ever be faced with a problem you can’t handle.  But as many of us will attest…if it does pile up and the problems seem to overwhelm you – don’t file a chapter 11 and just abandon your efforts for a fresh start.  Keep working at it and little by little the rooms will be clean again.

Tender loving care is what is needed not harsh chemicals and certainly not neglect.

There is more I wanted to say there will have to be a part 2…more about caring and wanting better vs being controlling and a nag.  Tomorrow perhaps.  G’night all.

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7 responses to “A Fixer Upper

  1. Hey Livvy! This is so good – what SCREAMED at me was your statement about not being able to fix him. The key to life … you have to want to fix yourself and do it. There are no fixer uppers in my life anymore and it is fab. xo iz

    • hey stranger…yes that realization about trying to fix another person is what I’m chewing on today and trying to get out on paper the way I want to say it…its a tough one to get passed.

  2. You have a real gift when it comes to writing. I feel your need and want to help him and fix him, and the realization that you can’t. Very nice

  3. Pingback: Tackling a Remodel « Improvised Life·

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