Excerpted from That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places by Linda and Charlie Bloom
Linda: This vignette occurred in the 1980’s in a challenging time in our partnership, when we had very little time together due to my husband’s demanding career and the needs of three small children. Putting a bubble around our partnership in the precious little time we did have is what kept us from going the way of the divorce statistics.
Linda: Coming back to my commitment gave me strength when I felt weak and wounded. I constantly checked in with myself to see if I could stay in a marriage that had no resemblance to what I really wanted. I knew that I would survive if I decided on separation and divorce, but I repeatedly made the choice to stay. In very dark moments, I diagnosed myself as masochistic and wondered if my self-esteem was falling so low that this was all I thought I deserved.
But then the deep love Charlie and I had for each other would emerge in a magic moment of connection that reminded me of why we were together. We designated time each week when I would set aside my anger and resentments and Charlie would set aside his preoccupation with work, and we would make a meaningful, intimate connection. We would both bring a clear intention that we wouldn’t contaminate this loving time. Our talking and touching usually led to sexual communication that was deeply fulfilling. His unpleasant, arrogant, dominating macho persona would be absent during our lovemaking, and I opened up in his presence. He was always sensitive, respectful, patient, and caring. Without words, which so often sabotaged our connection, touch became the communication that bonded us.
In truth, we shared important commonalties. I was genuinely interested, fascinated really, with the work Charlie was doing. I believed in the value and power of the seminars. For a time, I, too, had been a wide-eyed zealot, proselytizing for the company and bringing in recruits. At the height of my activity in the organization, I single-handedly enrolled twenty-one new students in one course. Charlie was learning about the wizardry of being a trainer and shared with me the process of trans- formation he was facilitating. Without breaking confidentiality or revealing names, he described the unfolding of the students’ deep inner selves, the dramatic catharsis and unloading of pain and suffering accumulated over years, the rise in self-esteem and self-confidence, and the ways in which the students supported each other.
From the very beginning of our relationship, we always had much to say to each other. We are very different in some ways, but the ways that we are alike and aligned are powerful. We both love to read, on all manner of topics, and discuss what we are learning. When we were still undergraduate students, we would meet in the library to study and then while walking home discuss ideas. All through graduate school, we continued our dialogue about how people learn, heal, grow, and maintain their gains. That fascination never dampened. After our academic education was complete, we read all the self-help books we could get our hands on. For Charlie to come home from the library with six books at a time wasn’t unusual.
We did a large part of our reading in bed at night unclothed, touching skin to skin. A particularly interesting passage might stir one of us, and we had complete permission to interrupt the other’s silence for discussion. For me, it was like an intellectual lovemaking, my enjoyment intense. Each of us was genuinely interested in how the other viewed reality from different perspectives. Our discussions and inquiries filled me, and the caresses soothed me. After longing all week to have his arms around me, I loved being held. I loved how he smelled, and I loved running my hands over his thick, downy body.
Even when things were deteriorating between us and resentment was simmering in me, Charlie and I continued to grope our way toward each other. Even while angry at the broken agreement to build both our careers and extreme disappointment at finding myself in a traditional marriage that we had vowed we wouldn’t have, we made a connection. Instead of meeting him with my list of complaints, I prepared for reentry by deliberately setting aside my anger so that we could enjoy some time together. I came to call it “healthy denial.”
The intensity of sexual desire drove us to drop the differences that strained our relationship. We were so hungry for each other physically and emotionally that we consciously chose to create an island of romantic connection even during the turbulence storming all around us. The one day a week that Charlie was home, we closed the bedroom door against the constant demands that were always waiting for our attention. We let go of the confusion about where our family was going.
For a few hours in our crazy marathon week, we were in each other’s arms.
We learned over the months how to make every minute count. The limited time we had together made it that much more precious. We knew it was of utmost importance to check all judgment, anger, and resentment at the door, or the purity and sanctity of the experience would be contaminated. We were unwilling to have our precious connection time disturbed. I began to refer to this process as creating sacred time and sacred space. When we were together in this way, for a limited time my doubts about whether Charlie really loved me would be set to rest. His gentleness, tenderness, care, and respect for me were all evident and abundant during this brief interlude. These times of exquisite intimate connection reminded me of the harmony we had once enjoyed and gave me hope that one day we would consistently experience that love again.