If there's anything I learned recently, it's that withholding sharing your partner's positive qualities (the "say") or affection (the "do") with your partner themselves can make or break a relationship.
Having Matt hold them back from me broke ours, in a way that led not to an explosive end, but a quiet fizzle and a whimper of defeat.
It wasn't just that the "say" or the "do" were withheld; they were replaced with sarcasm, tear-downs, and critical eyes, done because he was "uncomfortable" with sharing any sort of praise or affection. While sex itself was never an issue, there was no warmth, there were no hugs, there was no hand-holding or kisses. There was little appreciation for accomplishments big and small, just wondering what more I could have done.
There was no trusting environment, no place to find solace within the four walls of our townhouse, and after a while, the walls inside my head started to become a less safe place, too.
For the longest time, I thought I had failed. I felt rejected, unworthy, dismissed. After a while, I had little integrity and self-respect. The life was sucked from me despite a façade showing a happy face to the world; I didn't mean anything to my partner, so how could I mean anything to anyone else.
After a while, I started withholding, too. Not to the same extent, but whether because I didn't feel like sharing his positive qualities when none of mine were acknowledged or because I was actually starting to feel less like he even had any positive qualities, I had already started building my fortress, walled myself against the painful lack of affection and sealing my own away.
Talking didn't help. Fighting didn't help. We're three weeks away from being able to file for divorce (thanks, Maryland), and while that's been good for us in many ways, for this, it still hasn't helped.
Worse, I started to wonder if every relationship would have the same foundation: Lacking clear and kind communication, denying romance or sweetness or affection, feeling complacency instead of love, refusing to share good and bad because you certainly could and should have done more, squelching that part of yourself because why bother when your partner will never return it.
A month or two ago, Tycho was throwing a tantrum in the kitchen over wanting cookies and milk despite not finishing his dinner. While I didn't give in to his demand, I did sit on the floor, at his level, and wait for him to compose himself. After a few minutes, through hiccups and tears, he asked again if he could have cookies, and again I said no; the next question he asked:
"Can I have a hug?"
When Tycho is upset, one of the first things I'll offer him is just that: a hug. It's his reset button, and it assures him I'm there for him no matter what. In my arms, he feels safe, calm, and open, and he's more willing to give me his all. My hugs are his judgment-free zone.
I'm much older than he is, obviously, but I still sometimes feel like I need the same: A safe, calm, and open environment where I can truly be myself and know I'll be readily accepted, no matter what. I didn't have that in my marriage; if anything, I had the opposite, and it affected how I cared for myself or what I thought I was worthy of.
I held back so many emotions because I felt unsafe.
But now... now I share myself with someone emotionally intelligent, open, empathetic, caring, and yes... safe. It goes both ways, too; despite still occasionally feeling inadequate or fake (because, after so long denying you feel this way at all, actually expressing it is akin to acting), my emotions and sentiments toward him are entirely real, and I am so goddamn thankful to have that space to share my entire self with someone I love with every fiber of my being, and for him to feel the same.
I sometimes wish I had this in my marriage. It would have made for a freeing and rewarding experience, being able to share yourself fully with someone, for that someone to celebrate you fully, and to return the favor with zeal.
But... while I never it there, I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to experience it at all, share my all, and celebrate him, too. And damn right, I'll be sure to point out every last amazing thing about him. ♥