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Shana Novak
Shana Novak
Relationships

Help! My Period Is Ruining My Marriage

What’s the point of lingerie when I barely let my husband near me?

At least once a month I perform a ritual during which I spread out a towel, laying claim to a lumpy enclave near the edge of my side of the bed. The faded mousey brown is the perfect color to bleed onto when the tampon-plus-pad combination fails in the middle of the night, which it does at minimum once every 20 to 28 days. My period cannot be bothered with consistent timing. Often, I pray for menopause.

These used to be my favorite towels before I sacrificed them to save the sheets, save the topper, save the mattress, save my sanity. A few once-loved towels are no match for the pull of not having to launder, well, everything. Unfortunately, the towels aren’t the only casualty. I’ve stopped letting myself love things my body seemed keen to destroy: quality linens, pretty undergarments, my marriage.

As both furious Queen and sole resident of Ugly Towel Island, I send out “don’t even think about touching me” vibes to my husband, asleep across the ocean of sheets. When it’s that time of the month, I’m terrified I’d accidentally bleed on his leg if we were to spoon. But what’s my excuse the rest of the time? Not so long ago, our preferred way to fall asleep was with his arms wrapped tightly around me, my legs firmly snaking around his. Now, I barely touch him at all.

Instead, I leave damaged drawers out as a clue, like a flag signaling to his oncoming ship why I am suddenly being so cold. And then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear to me, that coldness stretched beyond the five days of my menstrual cycle and splashed over into the surrounding weeks. The weeks have since become more than 100 days of isolation, as I remain moored to my side and my husband stays unknowingly anchored to the opposite side of our king-size bed.

As soon as I get up in the morning, the isolation shrivels. But back in bed at night, I spiral into an angry shame: I should be over this by now; I should know when my period is coming; I should feel less disgusted with myself, my body, my womanness; I should stop hating my body for doing its job; I should stop hating my body, full stop; I should not be camping out on the far-flung corners of the mattress for months at a time, especially when I’m not even menstruating; I should let my husband in.

The bed is personal. It’s our safe space, designated such in childhood. The marital bed is additionally sacred. As I spend increasing amounts of time in the farthest reaches of that allegedly comforting sanctuary, I’m rolling farther away from my husband, from intimacy, and from knowing myself. This is a man who has spent a decade with me, has a child with me, built a life with me.

“But the sheets!” my brain warns anxiously, as though my husband hasn’t seen my menstrual blood before, in trashcan tampons and on those many pairs of skivvies left lying about the house. As though having to buy new sheets will be the thing that makes me unlovable — and not the fact that I’m slowly shutting out my life partner as I spend more and more time on nonbleeding days on the other side of our sacred world.

I’ve had my hormones looked at (normal) and my short cycles mapped (just fine), and taken depression questionnaires (not it). Though the level of fixation is clearly unhealthy, there doesn’t seem to be a medical reason for this self-imposed isolation, nor any major event I can point to and say, “There! That’s what happened to kickstart this madness!”

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder: Do I need to know why I behave this way to do something about it?

I hit my breaking point during my most recent period. Lying on the towel, seething and suffering and staring at the ceiling, I thought, “I have to stop doing this.” I wanted to cuddle up next to my husband and get on with life. I listened for the serrated sounds of his breath, wondering if he was awake. Meekly, I whispered, “Would you like to come over here?” Without any fanfare or reply, he happily rolled over. In that instant, it immediately felt like he’d never been away at all.

As I drifted off, I remembered what life was like before I started pushing him away, before I let body shame put an imagined wedge between me and my longtime love. Maybe it’s time to toss these ugly towels — or at least downgrade to cheaper sheets.

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Shana Novak