The One-Sided Marriage
Or, what happens when your husband gives you the silent treatment
My husband, Yasushi, hasn’t spoken to me in a whole year. Not a nod or even a grunt. All I get are silent stares, stiff postures, and a clamped mouth.
I tried everything to squeeze words out of him.
“Please.” I hugged Yasushi’s leather shoe. “Just say one word — just one. About today’s baseball match. About your paperwork in the office. Anything.”
Failing that, I tried seduction.
“How about you take the day off tomorrow?” On the bed, wearing my fishnet stockings, I stroked Yasushi’s boxers. “So I can ‘work’ on you the whole night?” I giggled.
When none of that yielded any results, I relied on threats.
“Look, if you don’t say something, I’ll go to my parents’ house and stay there forever.”
From the kitchen table, Yasushi stared at me with his large glassy eyes and a frozen thick-lipped frown.
“And I’ll take your PlayStation 4 with me!”
More watching and scowling.
“And those dirty magazines I found under the sofa.”
I threw a pillow at him and stormed out of the living room. I had a short temper, but I hated fights. I preferred discussions. However, I couldn’t fix a communication problem with no communication.
So, I decided to seek professional help. A quick internet search led me to Tokyo Counseling Services, a team specialized in helping marriages thrive through reconciliation or separation. Honestly, couples therapy had never made sense to me. Why keep riding on a boat just to patch its holes?
But sometimes you love a boat so much, you stay in it even while knowing it could sink. So much, you’d do everything you can to keep it afloat, sailing through the oceans.
“Your husband hasn’t spoken to you for a year?” Dr. Takahashi blurted, gawking at me with her round eyes.
“Or been intimate with me.”
“I see.” Dr. Takahashi squinted as if I were too bright to look at. “But Mrs. Mizushima…”
“Yes?” I said.
“I don’t want to be rude, but marriage counseling only works when the two parties are present.”
“Well…” I glanced at the vacant space next to me on the couch. “If I could talk my husband into coming here, I wouldn’t need the therapy.”
“But I don’t think — ”
“I don’t need you to think,” I yelled. “I need you to help me!”
“May I recommend a group class to deal with your anger?”
“I don’t need stupid anger management!”
“Remember, Mrs. Mizushima,” Dr. Takahashi said, dropping her pen onto her glistening notepad. “We only shout when our arguments aren’t loud enough.”
I sighed. “Sorry, I’ll be quieter.”
Dr. Takahashi examined my face, finally picking up her pen. “Okay, let’s start from the beginning.”
An awkward silence followed. I hated silence.
“So…” She jotted down words again. “Why do you think your husband stopped talking to you?”
“I’ve been asking myself that question for the last 365 days.”
“I can’t think of any,” I confessed. “I didn’t get on his nerves or cheat on him. Plus, the sex was terrific.”
“Sometimes satisfaction is one-sided…”
“You mean, I wasn’t actually good in bed?”
“I mean, maybe you’re the only one who thinks the relationship’s fine.”
I fiddled with my wedding ring, reviewing the shortcomings of my marriage. “We like to sleep together, but not literally sleep together. No matter what we do, we always wake up tangled up with each other’s limbs and sore.”
Dr. Takahashi laughed. “So cute. I don’t think it bothers your husband.”
“Another problem is I always misplace Yasushi’s things when I’m cleaning. Like his clothes, his watch — one time I even misplaced his glasses. I have a very bad memory.”
“Does he mind?”
I shook my head. “He finds it entertaining. Pretends it’s a treasure hunt.”
Dr. Takahashi held her thumb to her triangular chin. “Your marriage seems perfect — I think we need to think about it some more.”
“If spoken words don’t work,” Dr. Takahashi told me in one of our sessions. “Why not try written ones?”
And so, while Yasushi wasn’t at home, I composed a letter. Initially, I thought of text messaging him, but I wanted to be more personal.
Have you noticed that you haven’t talked or made love to me in a year? I miss it. I miss hearing your husky voice, feeling your plump lips against mine, caressing your chiseled abs (okay, I haven’t seen them since you stopped jogging, but I suspect they’re still there, under that beer belly of yours).
I also miss how you used to wake me up by whispering into my ear, cook your awful spaghetti for me, make me feel heard, appreciated, understood.
In other words — or rather the same — I miss you. I miss my friend, my lover, my husband. So, could you bring him back home?
After unintentionally signing the letter with a couple of tears, I walked to the refrigerator and held it there with a magnet.
It stayed there for a day.
Then a week.
When a month had passed, I grabbed the letter and set it on fire over the toilet. Once it was converted into black ashes, I flushed it down. Together with my hopes.
“Come on, Mrs. Mizushima,” Dr. Takahashi patted my back while I lay face down on the couch. A bit of friendship had settled between us. “You can’t throw in the towel yet.”
“Why not?” I said, still breathing leather. “You know the saying, ‘Winners know when to quit.’”
“You won’t earn anything by quitting your marriage.”
“You’re not insane, just crazy for your husband.”
With a sigh, I pushed myself up and sat straight, face-to-face with my counselor. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a husband.”
“You do,” Dr. Takahashi said. “Just think about the happy moments with him.”
I gazed at the ceiling fan, letting it stir my thoughts. “Yasushi used to tell me about his day. Every day.”
“Unusual from a husband…”
I nodded. “And they were all about little things — how he picked his polka-dot tie instead of the striped one. What mobile games he played on his way to work. Why he felt like calling me on his lunch break.”
“You didn’t feel bored?”
I shook my head. “I love him, so nothing he says is boring.”
Dr. Takahashi flashed me a warm smile. “You seem to love him a lot.”
I gave her another nod. “I love him, hate him, admire him, despise him. He’s every feeling I’ve had for the past 10 years.”
“And I’m sure he’ll make you feel much more.” Dr. Takahashi slumped herself down into her lounge chair. “I say this because you two are in a dream marriage. And dream marriages always have a happy ending.”
For the first time that day, my lips curled upward instead of downward. True, this wasn’t a fictional story. But reality had its own magic.
As a last resort, Dr. Takahashi suggested I try the atomic bomb of marriage reconciliation tactics. Going on a date. Which is a strange thing to do with someone you see every day. Someone you share your bed with. It’s like trying to catch a fish you already ate.
However, I liked the idea. Yasushi and I hadn’t been on a date since he stopped talking to me. I texted him that same day.
We haven’t spoken in a while, but I had fun with you last time we talked. How about we hang out again? We can do it at that Italian restaurant where we first met. I’ll be waiting there at 6 p.m at the same table. No pressure. But if you don’t show up, I’ll slice your little friend into spaghetti strands tonight.
And I pressed send.
The restaurant looked the same as 10 years ago, a life-sized picture. Old-style lanterns, rusty brick walls, arched glassless windows overlooking Tokyo DisneySea. It brought my mind to the past. To the first time I met Yasushi. The only memory I could play in my mind like a movie.
That day, 10 years ago, I came to this expensive place to prove that I wasn’t ashamed of being single on Valentine’s Day. That I could have fun alone — actually, this yearly ritual made me feel even more lonely. Anyhow, you got to show the world you’re strong.
However, I displayed my bravery to the wrong people, a couple two tables from mine enjoying a double espresso. They stole mocking glances at me, probably thinking, “Look at her. She’s a future crazy old cat lady.”
I didn’t mind. Let them enjoy their last happy moments together — before they began fighting about things that they wouldn’t even remember. Before they were so fed up with each other they’d do extra time at work.
Ignoring them had been useless.
As I turned my eyes to my tuna spaghetti, a shadow hovered over my plate. I looked up to face the guy from the couple’s table. Crew cut, pudgy lips, thin-framed glasses.
Great. Adult bullying as a Valentine’s Day gift.
“It wasn’t enough to laugh from your table?” I said, casting my eyes down again.
“I wasn’t laughing,” the guy said. “My date was.”
“Well, go back to her. I’m busy here working on my spaghetti.”
“I can’t. She’s not at our table anymore.”
“What?” I peeked over his broad shoulder. He was right. The table hosted only two lonely espresso cups. “Oh, I get it. You had a fight with your date, she left, and now I’m going to be your backup plan. Very smart, Mr. Romeo, but I don’t like being the second choice.” I gobbled down a mouthful of spaghetti.
“All right.” The guy spun around. “I’ll leave you alone then.”
Before he could arrive at his table, I asked, “So, what happened? What was the fight about?”
He looked back. “I didn’t like the way she was laughing at you.”
I swallowed again. This time my words.
That was how I met Yasushi: him losing a companion and me finding one. I was grateful. Thanks to him, I had my first two-person date on Valentine’s Day. My first time not feeling lonely.
We spoke a lot. Well, it was mostly Yasushi doing the talking. I enjoyed listening to him, though.
“You have this talent for making everything sound interesting,” I commented. “It’s like magic.”
“The magic isn’t coming from me, but this space between us.” He traced an invisible line from my chest to his. “A line that I’d like to shorten.”
He accomplished that in less than three weeks. However, 10 years later, that line became wider than ever.
Or maybe not?
With tear-blurred eyes, I spotted a shadow on my empty plate. At last.
“Yasushi!” I yelled, raising my head to — Dr. Takahashi?
“May I join you, Mrs. Mizushima?” She set herself across from me with a somber expression.
Wiping the evidence of my sobbing with a handkerchief, I asked, “Why are you here?” I’d only told her about my dating plan. Not invited her.
“Sorry for coming. I don’t usually meet clients outside of sessions. But I didn’t want you to spend the evening alone.”
I blinked at her. “What? You knew Yasushi wouldn’t come?”
Dr. Takahashi nodded. “I found it very strange that your husband wouldn’t come to our sessions. So I’ve been doing some research and found out he — ”
“Yasushi is alive!” I shouted, cupping my ears with my hands. “He’s just not speaking to me.”
“Mrs. Mizushima… I know how hurt you are and how much you want that pain to go away. But if you don’t accept reality, you’ll never fix your, um, marriage.”
“You lied to me.” I brought the handkerchief to my eyes again. “You said it would have a happy ending.”
“Because I didn’t know the beginning — or rather, the end.”
I knew the end.
It began with a phone call from the police. It continued with them explaining the details of the car crash and with me explaining how I had misplaced Yasushi’s glasses. It ended with me crying next to his sheet-covered body in the hospital.
From then on, he couldn’t talk to me, nor could I listen to him anymore.
And it’s the same now. But who knows, perhaps — if Heaven or even Hell exists — I’ll meet Yasushi again. So he can tell me about his day.