In my last post, I put words to an energy inside me that I was just starting to uncover. A deep-seated pride that causes me to take up the reins of my life and attempt to steer myself clear of pain, fear, and unfulfilled longing. Oftentimes this self-reliance looks like strategizing, positioning myself, and being unwilling to grieve. It is an attempt to escape my crushing insecurities, be seen by others, and dull my pain. It robs God of working in my life and the lives of others.
My strategies are tools I designed to avoid sitting in the agony of my pain. They keep me from experiencing God’s healing and building a genuine trust in Him. Naming that has been a huge breakthrough for me, but the real work is not in the naming, but in living with that knowledge afterward.
The opportunities to see that energy at work in my life have been countless. It is with me constantly. Paul talks about the law revealing covetousness to him in Romans 7:7-8. After it is named he immediately sees how rampant it is in his life. Do you want to know how many times I rehearsed for the first counseling appointment my wife and I had with a new clinician? Too many to count. I thought about how I want to come across in the session and the things I wanted to say. I thought about what the counselor might see and how I might position myself in the conversation. I would think along these lines when I felt fear or pain and have started to see these moments for what they are. Control. I have begun to simply say, “God, there it is again. Right now I don’t trust that you are working and see that I am trying to take control. That’s why I’m doing this right now.” This is one small example. My strategies come into play most during even the smallest interactions with Jess. A word choice, a tone, or a mood that I create.
The first few days of seeing this were excruciating because of how tightly my hope for my marriage was wrapped up in my strategies. As I began to lay down my methods for controlling my world instead of clutching at them, I was at the same moment feeling my hope die. The only thing I could do was writhe in agony and cry out. These were the most hopeless few days of my life, and I wept often. Releasing my strategies by naming them continues to be terrifying. It means I am left with the very feeling I was trying to escape from, hopelessness.
It was in that place of hopelessness that the Lord stirred my heart in an unmistakable way, something that caught me totally off guard. Strangely enough, I felt stirred in a way that doesn’t intersect with the way I see reality moving right now. But that’s okay. Instead of setting it up as a new idol I want to continue to acknowledge it and hold it loosely.
It’s also worth sharing that staying with my pain sometimes brings out anger and frustration towards God. At times I’ve pointed my finger at Him and accused Him of being cruel. It’s strange to admit that but He is big enough to handle it. That’s why He is God and I am not.
If a crisis goes on for long enough, it ceases to be a crisis and weaves its way into a new normal. There has been a weightiness to my new normal, and its heaviness can drain my strength without warning. Pain or shock can hit me out of nowhere and totally deflate me, even when my spirits seem up. That heaviness will need to be emptied with time, bravery, and by resisting the urge to numb my pain. I feel grief over things like long-term plans, preparing meals for four instead of five, navigating the holidays, and answering innocent questions from my five-year-old. I desire to protect the sacredness of the family unit that is now the kids and I. There is the grief of not feeling whole right now, but I still love creating for my people. For Christmas, we ate crab, snuggled in for a Christmas movie, and piled into the truck to look at Christmas lights. A dull pain has underlined everything, rising to the surface at times. It was hard to find the easy enjoyment of watching the kids open their stockings and gifts this year. It’s so sad to feel like a piece of me is missing. There is a depth to this pain that goes far beyond the visible gashes of the last few weeks.
It’s astounding, but during this separation, I have caught glimpses of a strength that seems to be forming in me. At times I hear its quietness even over the noise of my circumstances. “Maybe I will make it through this.” “Somehow this might be used for my good.” I’m seeing a stronger person peek through now and then, and it feels good. I’ve had a chance to be more in touch with what I want, and have seen more directness in the way I communicate. I’ve surprised myself by pushing conversations well past where I would have felt comfortable in the past, advocating for things I feel strongly about. I know more what I am about, and what I need to do to honor that. At times I’ve felt growing curiosity, surges in creativity, clearer long-term vision, and more intentional movement towards others. Somehow doing laundry has been less tedious, and the kids’ bedtime routine has felt more sacred. This energy ebbs and flows as I battle to sit in my circumstances and not scramble to change them. As I consistently wake up earlier than I ever have to meet with Jesus daily; to be fed by the Bread of Life rather than my own appetites and idols. I just read this tonight in one of my favorite books by George MacDonald. It resonated with me.
But who can tell what a nature may prove to be after feeding on good food for a while? The queen bee is only a better fed working bee. Who can tell what a soul may become when it has been plowed with the plow of suffering, when the rains of sorrow, the frosts of pain, and the winds of poverty have moistened and swelled and dried its fallow clods?
I will continue to try to stay with my pain, accept new circumstances, and follow the promptings of the growing strength inside me. I’ll also need to keep taking things one day at a time, allowing myself time to stand up after losing my feet. It happens often.
My first three blog posts came out of me quickly and surprisingly. It caught me off guard how readily the words came out, as if they had been waiting there for a long time. It has been therapeutic to identify what I’ve been experiencing and helpful to dig deeper. I named my story, shared about my last few weeks, and finally explored what had come to light about myself. Where I sit now feels messy and uncomfortable, and everything in me grates against that. I never thought I would be navigating a separation with my wife, and am in many ways still trying to regain my footing. The landmarks in my life have rearranged themselves and I’m trying to leave behind the broken compass I’ve trusted for so long.
I am in the first stages of fighting something new. It was a huge step to identify the unhealthy ways I held my marriage, but living out something better is another story altogether. It’s something I need to sit in and experience. I have trained myself to think in a particular way for so long that I can’t trust my instincts right now. I see I need boundaries and space from my relationship with Jess. It is going to be a painfully slow process to break myself of the notion that the only way I will be ok is if I have somehow won her love, respect, or admiration.
This week I’ve needed to guard myself vigorously and begin to allow the damage I’ve sustained to rise to the surface. I’ve needed quiet moments and patience with myself. I’ve needed to put scary words to my wounds and start to grieve that for what it is. Those things are hard in the midst of a busy life with three kids and a million distractions. But I found myself less interested in numbing the pain today and more interested in seeking a quiet place to sit and feel. I want to notice what is going inside myself and not be enslaved to it. I want to push in instead of leaning out.
There is a massive knot to untie inside me and so many emotions. So far the path is laborious, obscure, and full of false steps. I’ve fought immensely with anger and have needed to take life hour by hour, moment by moment. My time with the Lord in the mornings feels like a necessity in a way that it never has before. I need help to make it through the day and absolutely cannot think about tomorrow. It feels like a great effort to keep in touch with what honors my heart right now, to defend my boundaries, and to protect myself from more blows. I notice how tempted I am to betray myself. It’s shocking to see how willing I am to swallow poison in order to feel safe. I’ve taught myself to disregard my pain and immediately pursue any softness I feel towards Jess because I’ve always been convinced that softness is a dependable path back to security. I’m uncovering how I’ve laid down my plans, given up dreams, changed directions, taken on burdens, and swallowed my words in order to keep the boat from rocking. I was and still am willing to give up my soul at the drop of a hat. It’ll be a long process, but I’m finally starting to move out in a better direction.
I also see that I strategize. About everything. I feel safest when I can wrap my head around my circumstances, see a clear path forward, or cling to something solid. I do NOT do well sitting and simply existing in discomfort, fear, or pain. It sends me into a spin and makes me frantic. When my insecurities rise up, when my longings aren’t met, or when pain knocks the wind out of me, I begin to strategize to avoid pain. This is so new that I am still learning to recognize when I do it. There’s a feeling I’m starting to associate with it that has come over me especially strongly during this separation as I feel lonely or insecure. A desire for control. It’s the feeling of wanting to get my fingers into my situation and meddle with it. To fix it, run from it, or make it quieter.
I’m seeing now that this is ultimately self-reliance and an unwillingness to grieve. It has no other name than pride. A deep-seated, ugly pride that was hard for me to pin down or even identify. I was never ready to see it until now. All this time I have been invited by God to sit in my pain and allow him the opportunity to heal it, but I have never let him. Deep down I’ve thought I’ve known better than Him how to meet my longings, avoid pain, deliver truth, and make my life work.
My latest counseling session was different in the sense that I was ready to hear this for the first time. To trace it back through months and years and name it for what it is. It was quite a humbling thing, but I’m grateful for it. These words were given to me, and they hit as near the mark as possible. They are words from Henri J. M. Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love (emphasis mine):
Stay with Your Pain
When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When, underneath all the praise and acclaim, you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing –to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.
It is not easy to stay in your loneliness. The temptation to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing.
God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart. The person who was able to touch that place has revealed to you your pearl of great price.
It is understandable that everything you did, are doing, or plan to do seems completely meaningless compared with that pearl. That pearl is the experience of being fully loved. When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for healing. But no human being can heal that pain. Still, people will be sent to you to mediate God’s healing, and they will be able to offer you the deep sense of belonging that you desire and that gives meaning to all you do.
Dare to stay in your pain, and trust in God’s promise to you.
Sitting right here feels overwhelming and unsustainable, but I am gaining confidence that God has a bigger purpose in this separation. In my fragility, I have needed to hear his truths more than ever. He wants to build me up and strengthen me through during this time. I took comfort in Ephesians 4:14-15:
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
My life has been intense lately, and my world has felt like it is crumbling under my feet. After writing my last post, I felt a bit of unexpected peace that caught me totally off guard. I hadn’t asked for that or even seen my need for it, but it’s clear I desperately needed peace in the midst of this turmoil.
Under the weight of this suffocating pain, it has amazed me to find windows opened into my soul that I have been invited to look into. It’s a ripe time for me to take these invitations and notice things about myself; I wasn’t able to see them when I thought life was going well. The things that have been brought to light are hard pills to swallow, but also strangely liberating.
I saw that my slowness to move on Jess’s behalf deeply wounded her, and left her alone in many ways. I’ve seen false curiosity and mechanical movements towards her that I had never owned. I was also invited to see how I treat her and my kids, and that I easily slip into a tone of harshness with them. I’ve felt a movement in myself to see these things, confess them, and allow a shift to start to take place. The shift won’t be immediate, but I can’t ignore what’s been brought to light.
By far the biggest thing that I have been invited to see and name inside myself has to do with my style of relating to Jess. This is what I wrote in my last post:
I’ve been made to face that one of my deepest fears was Jess leaving me. All of my patterns of performing were an effort to control my marriage in a way that made me feel safe. Well now that very thing I feared is coming to pass, and God is asking me to sit in it.
I was untying that knot a little more in a counseling session this week and was invited to explore more deeply what is going on there. We started stumbling upon some words for it. When people feel pain in relationships, we often move toward engaging in relational battle or retreating into self-preservation. Fight or flight.
My Fight Response
For me, the fight response would look like unleashing all of my built up frustration and demanding my voice be heard and honored. I might take self-centered action, settle into a pride-filled posture, or directly judge and condemn Jess. These things never achieved my goal of having my pain heard, acknowledged, and healed. For the type of person I am, the fight response isn’t my top choice but sometimes comes out in desperation or frustration. Jess is a fierce woman, and often she would meet me guns blazing. She’s a mental health professional, and therefore has a gift for seeing other people’s junk. Even though I would try to defend myself, ultimately I would never have much to stand on because what she saw in me was often true. It was tough to make any headway in this arena and I longed to feel heard.
My Flight Response
More and more I resorted to flight responses in my relationship with Jess. For me fleeing might look like shutting down, going silent, or taking retaliatory jabs. I might try to manipulate situations to make her feel shame, or harbor resentment. I became good at being the victim or martyr, and acting in self-protective ways. I would still judge her, just more quietly.
I talked about it a little bit in my first blog post, but one response that developed into a full-fledged relational strategy for me was to become an anchor in my marriage and for our family. I chose that path because it lent itself to my strengths, it looked good on the outside, and it is what I thought Jess needed me to be. I lost confidence that I was enough for her, and tried to be the self-sacrificing husband and father who could handle anything. I did this because I was convinced that I could earn her respect and therefore feel secure. My goal became to keep her happy because I no longer had hope that she wanted me for simply being me.
I desperately wanted to be loved and respected just for being Rand. Remember that insecure little boy? He yearned to be valued and chosen by his wife. I dared to hope that the type of father I was would stir Jess’s heart towards me. That my growth in confidence would be seen by her. Naming this longing in my soul and seeing the patterns I used to try to meet it has sent shockwaves through my world. I see my strategies rise to the surface and influence me constantly. It is ingrained in my thinking and dominates how I view my world.
I noticed it this week when dismantling a queen bed that she is going to bring to her apartment. I planned to take the bed apart and move the pieces into the garage. After which I would have been willing to haul them over to her apartment for her. But it was so sad to be taking apart the bed. It struck me like a lightning bolt that I was still trying to win her over. I wanted to be seen in my labor and respected for doing such a kind thing. I had to set down my drill and grieve what I was doing to my heart.
It also showed itself in the way I worded a text message to her yesterday. I had something I needed to say but found myself trying to back off my wording subtly to make it less direct. I feared I would push her away if I wasn’t careful.
When life is crazy with the kids, guess who thinks he can save the day and earn his wife’s admiration. This guy. If I take care of this child puking in the middle of the night, I think I can earn some favor with Jess. Something unexpected came up for this evening? You enjoy yourself, I’ve got things handled. Maybe she’ll notice my sacrifice and be drawn towards me. I’ve got supper ready. Will you be impressed? Laundry, check. Dishes, check. Date night, there’s a big opportunity to win her over. Maybe I can woo her by taking her on a trip or getting her a gift. Perhaps she’ll be drawn toward me if I start working out with her. Yoga is important to her so I’ll do it too. Maybe she’ll notice me there. If I improve my wardrobe I bet she’ll be impressed. I’ll handle bedtime. Please see me.
There are years of our marriage I could examine like this. It leaves me speechless. This heartbreaking pattern of neglecting my own heart and trying to control my marriage lies hidden amidst some of my greatest gifts. I love to serve others and provide room for them to be themselves. It’s a strength of mine that I’m seeing the more sinister side of.
How many of even my smallest decisions were tainted by this lens? Too many to count. It is still rampant in my life. It is manipulative and insincere and has ultimately left me parched in my marriage. Do you see what I did to myself? I’m still recognizing it. I developed a pattern of betraying myself and not honoring my own heart all while trying to feel secure in my marriage. I fortified my emotional prison by working harder and harder. It was and still is effortless to blame Jess for our issues, and natural for me to feel self-righteous and calloused. I was convinced that each sacrificial action and decision was bringing Jess closer to me, but it was often adding to the growing wall between us.
That wall seems so high now. How do I make sense of it? How do I engage with it? I don’t want it there but I can’t really go there right now. I do see that I can stop adding to it. I can listen for what my suppressed heart has to say and try to trust it. That’s a scary thing, but I can’t unsee what I have seen through these windows.
I never expected to be walking the path I’m on right now. It’s an especially terrifying path for me because I can’t see where it ends and each step is excruciating. I’ve been laid so low that at times all I can do is weep. Friends, acquaintances, or Rec League teammates who say in passing, “How’s it going?” or “How are you?” have been getting more than the bargained for from me lately.
“Hi, actually things are going very badly.”
“Hey, yeah, it’s been a really terrible couple of weeks.”
Some people engage immediately and others were caught off guard. I don’t blame them, who answers that seriously? I never have before, even if things haven’t been going well. I push those things under and say “fine” or “good”. Inviting others into my pain has never been something I was brave enough to do. It’s only just now coming about in my life because of an arduous and ongoing journey in a counseling office, and under specific circumstances.
These are the circumstances. I’ve honestly never felt this low before; my world feels like it’s been unraveling before my eyes. Jess made the decision to move out, and yesterday she did. I won’t risk misrepresenting her by trying to explain why. It’s not my goal to move all of this into a public debate. I just want to continue to share my story, invite people in, and normalize struggle.
The best way to describe the last few weeks for me is like being lost in huge, dark waves. In the low points, there has been nothing for me to do but weep and cry out. And it is in these places that I’ve felt deep gashes and crippling fear. I’ve been faced with utter personal rejection. I have heard that my wife wants someone who is everything that I am not. That crushes me and haunts me.
Also in these deep places, I’ve wrestled with my insecurities while sensing deception, and have sat with the anger and breathlessness of a trust-shattering event. How can any of this be repaired? Can wounds like this ever heal? I’ve slept terribly, and have noticed that sometimes I put off going to bed because I know it will be torturous to sit with my racing thoughts. I see now that there’s really nothing to do but ride the waves. But I’ve definitely tried other things.
Anger has poured out, white-hot and loud. It can come out fast, especially around my deepest insecurities. That’s when I have been demanding and hard towards Jess. Luckily those moments haven’t gone on too long, because either she or I will exit the conversation. There are better places to vent that anger, like in the counseling office, towards a safe ear, or onto paper. Even though I bent my good pen during some particularly furious writing, my journal has been a good place to dump my rage. Some of those pages are filled with the most cutting words I’ve wanted to shout, the most shaming things I can think to say, and the most vindictive paths I’ve wanted to take.
The anger is a mess but I’m not ashamed of it. It is real and expressed in a safe way. We should never feel the need to continually bury our anger or make it disappear. It spends itself if you interact with it and reveal it. Just do it safely. It may seem like a never-ending source of darkness, especially if it’s built up over a lifetime, but you’ll only get to the bottom by continuing to pour it out and engage with it in a way that is not harming others. I’m only starting to lift the lid on some of my anger from these last few weeks, and it’ll be a long road.
At times I’ve been proud of my boundaries. I might say, “I’m not able to talk about that right now.” or “I’m not in a good place.” I’m still learning how to make boundaries well, and it’s hard for me, especially now. My bad boundaries easily lead me to take on a victim mentality and harbor seething resentment. Without boundaries, I notice I have felt terribly rushed during this separation. I’ve felt blindsided by a mediator and swept off my feet with the speed of Jess’s move. The decision was made, and the logistics started coming. It caught me off guard. I still want to learn to say “Wait!” in the midst of this.
This storm has me clinging to God for dear life. My time with him has been consistent and my prayers unceasing. Messy prayers. Accusatory prayers. Shouting prayers. Broken prayers. Pleading prayers. The whole works. He’s uncovering things that I never knew I needed to look at. I saw more clearly that the tone I had established towards Jess and the kids had many elements of shame. I see ways that I still try to control my life to feel safe. I’ve seen new depths of my failure to cherish Jess. My insecurities have been exposed and laid bare. My pride has been flattened. I’ve been made to face that one of my deepest fears was Jess leaving me. All of my patterns of performing were an effort to control my marriage in a way that made me feel safe. Well now that very thing I feared is coming to pass, and God is asking me to sit in it. It strikes me as funny that while I’ve felt completely trampled, there have been more things heaped on top of me. Really hard.
When I’m not in the depths of them, the high points of the crashing waves can be relieving, beautiful, and merciful. I’ve found I’ve needed wilful distraction, support from friends and family, help with the kids, and breaks from the emotional intensity. Self-care. The Lord has really astonished me in this. Here is some of what that has looked like:
A last-second weekend visit by Jess’s parents to help with the kids. Men who ask caring questions and engage in real conversation (get yourself some friends like mine). Safe fortresses of people to process with. People reaching out to me who I haven’t talked to in years. A welcoming atmosphere when I broadcasted my story. A friend praying for me in the coffee aisle at Target. A Rec League teammate praying for me on the bleachers. So many people praying for me and with me. Fortnite with my squad. Rewarding workouts. A timely meal. A trip to the movie theater. Getting into a new show on Netflix. Supportive coworkers. Hanging out for lunch. Being able to build my dream gaming PC. Losing myself in the garage for a few hours while the kids were awake. And basketball. Probably my favorite thing in the world. I’m on two teams and it’s the best. I just received a hugely encouraging text message tonight:
“You got the game ball tonight! Good work bud! Everyone was talking about how good you are. Played with confidence and passion. Glad we got you on our team!”
My soul needed all of these things so badly, and writing them all down makes me feel so much gratitude, even though agony has surrounded and penetrated everything. It’s been unspeakably painful but I suspect utterly important. Walking this path continues to be terrifying, painful, and obscure. I plan to focus on whatever is next, find my boundaries, invite reconciliation, share my pain, own my part, and avoid lashing out. I woke up this morning on the downside of a wave, but am finishing the day feeling better. I think I may just sleep ok tonight.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I’ve found out a bit of my story this year, and have seen in my personal relationships that I seem want to share it. It’s the kind of story that will be at the root of my future stories, a story whose discovery thrust a marker into my life and clearly defines a “before” and “after”. The ripples will spread from here on.
I grew up in a wonderfully loving home, with tender parents who owned their shortcomings and gave unconditionally. They loved with their actions and modeled humility. This jumps out to me because as a parent I know how hard it is to do. Oftentimes the last thing I want to do is confess my sin to my children. Kids can be demanding, so I feel justified in my actions.
“Eloise, it was wrong of me to make you feel bad about being late for dance. Will you forgive me?”
“Reid, I was wrong to yell at you for accidentally spilling your milk. Spills happen. Will you forgive me?”
Even when their sin is mixed up in it, I feel it is important to separate out my part and own it in front of them. I hope it models for them how to do that in their own relationships. I received this as a child and was treated gently. What a mercy.
I was a quiet kid who was very introspective. I took the longest time picking out a toy at the toy store, not wanting to make the wrong choice. I loved to tinker, build, create, and get lost in things. I could spend hours with legos or some old electric motors and tape. I read books, played sports, and competed with my siblings in the safety of our home environment. My twin brother Bryn was my most consistent companion (and adversary at times). We played and fought and did nearly everything together. He was naturally more outgoing, leading with his face and moving toward what he wanted. And I was right there to join in.
Looking back I see that my journey has its origins here. I was naturally sensitive and remember feeling fearful socially. I was seen as smart and nice but was ultimately insecure about my ability to move powerfully, charm others, and stand my ground. Even though I was physically a late bloomer (still working on facial hair at 28), I was probably the most confident with basketball and soccer. Because of my length, I remember knowing that I could jump high and hit three-pointers. I also remember knowing that I was fast enough or in the right position to take the soccer ball away from someone. I had one relationship in high school, but am embarrassed about how badly I lacked confidence in it. It was a short one. I emerged out of childhood with a friendly smile, an agreeable personality, but also with deep insecurities.
Some photos of me. Ages 5, 13, 15, and 17.
Seeing these photos can bring me to tears because of these things. I see a little boy struggling with confidence and unsure whether or not he could actually move in the world. He was smart, creative, and happy. He won “Most Outstanding Senior Boy”. He had academic scholarships. He felt loved and safe but also harbored fear.
In college, I branched out a little but was never very far out of my comfort zone. My brother and I were roommates, but I remember deviating from my him for one of the first times in my life. I planned to spend the summer after our freshman year in a different place than he did. I was going to go to San Diego for a mission trip. I was excited but also nervous. I didn’t have that relational safety that I was used to. But it went well. I made some deep relationships and had a dark-horse run to come out as the “Most-Eligible Bachelor”, which was a semi-joking, jocular discussion amongst the guys all summer. It definitely boosted my confidence, and I came back riding that high.
I even moved towards a girl I had a crush on. I saw her as exciting, interesting, and comfortable with herself. I was so drawn to her and loved being around her. I had the feeling that anything could happen because she loved spontaneity and made things happen. She was deeply compassionate, and I could see that she was going to mark the world. I fell in love. This girl was curious about me and thought I was “mysterious”. I don’t know how but she fell in love with me too.
Jess and I were married before our senior year, and a whole new journey began. It’s a disservice to summarize it, but hopefully, I can draw out some patterns. I had so much growing up to do. We immediately felt our differences and the pain that came with that. We sat down with our counselor to try to make sense of it. I saw anything new or exciting as requiring monumental effort because I lacked the confidence to rock the boat. Anything new was inherently scary. I was fearful that I would utterly fail at providing financially. My focus was to avoid getting chewed up and spit out by life. These things were painful for Jess and she would lash out at me. I felt unseen in my fear and exposed in my weaknesses. The pain was blinding and confusing.
I longed for emotional safety, feeling sure that if I felt loved by Jess I could start to grow in confidence and move more powerfully. I longed for security but defended myself with arrogance. My wife was trying to tell me what she needed but I was unwilling to hear because of the way it was delivered, in an angry and vindictive way. I knew what healthy looked like and she wasn’t loving me. I had the moral high ground and wasn’t open to listening unless something was seriously falling apart.
To this day we are still working to untie this knot, but I deeply wounded my wife. I struggled to move and create on her behalf. She was forced to make change without a strong person by her side, and also against all odds. I was hurt by her, yes, but I wouldn’t own how I was damaging her. She started walking her own journey, which she shares a lot about.
I also need to come to terms that my own wounds started here. I felt assaulted and hated for my weaknesses, where I longed to feel compassion. It was a huge effort for me to move in the world, but I was trying. I needed to be seen in that and loved in the midst of it. Instead, I felt exposed, exploited, and kicked.
It complicated things that we started having children, too. Jess assumed the role of stay-at-home mom, a painful role that did not match her. I was agonizingly slow to listen to her pleas for change and fell into the pattern of resisting movement until it couldn’t be avoided anymore. She was pursuing higher levels of education, discovering her story, and trying to honor who she was. Finally, after our third child, we made a change and found childcare. Working with nannies was scary and hard, and I wish I would have seen that God was inviting me to rise up to that for our marriage. But I was learning to fix these things not out of a place of confident compassion for Jess. My real motivation was to continue to feel secure in my marriage. It was survival. That little boy who lacked confidence and was fearful of what others might do to him was figuring out how to stay safe.
Being introspective, it came naturally to me to develop strategies to find security in my marriage. I tried to hide behind certain strengths. It took me a while to build confidence with parenting in the first place, but after facing it for long enough I found that I felt equipped to provide emotional security for the kids. Spontaneity was still hard and scary for me, but it was worth it to fight to be present in our day to day grind.
That movement continued for me, and I started to come into the role that I saw modeled to me as a child. I wanted to provide a safe environment for the kids to prosper in. I was also building confidence in my career and saw some success made through dogged determination and an eagerness to learn. It felt rewarding, and my old fear of the world quieted a little bit. That was a huge movement of growth for me, though I didn’t see it at the time. I also see those successes now as a gracious mercy. It was deeply encouraging to take a swing at life and make solid contact. I have a place in this world! Home life was a little different. Jess was pursuing things that had been shut down in her life for so long. She was coming alive, and I was trying to support her through shouldering more at home. She was trying different fitness classes, pursuing becoming a Yoga instructor, and carving out her place in the mental health field. I took on more responsibility with the kids, but it was exhausting work and I also started building resentment. I longed for a teammate but felt like I needed to become a solid rock for my family.
By this point, I had the victim role down pretty well. I felt used and stepped on in my marriage, which was made even more painful when I reflected on the security I had felt at home growing up. I still longed for that and tried to communicate that something was amiss. Unfortunately, the main tool I tried to communicate with was shame. Jess could walk in the door and sense my frustration. She could hear it in my voice when she called me to tell me she had made plans and that I needed to watch the kids. My mood didn’t always line up with my words. I can see now that I was performing to maintain peace.
This part of the journey isn’t completely black and white, and that’s a beautiful thing. I can sense that a deep love moved inside of me towards my wife at times, too. My motives fluctuated quite a bit and yet my capacity for love grew. The Lord used this time to teach me confidence even without emotional security. I saw I had more patience with the kids, with myself, with Jess. I tried to consistently enter hard things with parenting, with household chores, with cooking. Venturing out of my comfort zone enough times was paying off. Three kids at the doctor’s office? I’ll try it. Swimming lessons, dance practice, and laundry today? We’ll take it moment by moment. Family wedding in California? I’ll plan it, save for it, and we’ll bring three kids five and under on the plane. We’ve moved five times in the seven years and have had half a dozen nannies. There’s been career transitions, mental health challenges, family loss, new vehicles, spontaneous trips, and professional trainings. We’ve been through a lot and pushed our boundaries.
These last two years or so I thought I saw my role in our family more clearly. I was the anchor who endured all emotional jabs and was the king of “Go ahead, I’ve got it covered”. I thought my role was to stretch and grow outside of my comfort zone, to always own how I was wrong and try to fix it. If Jess and I were disconnected or in conflict, I would cover that ground to try to hear her pain, ignoring mine. For me having my pain heard wasn’t as important as being connected again. It wasn’t worth the effort to be heard. All of this made me feel more unseen and fortified my role as a victim in our marriage. I didn’t ask for help and wanted to be able to handle everything the kids needed by myself. I didn’t have very good boundaries and was resentful that I still wasn’t loved or treated very well. I noticed that curiosity towards Jess wasn’t very genuine, which is wounding and has caused her immense pain.
So this summer I started on my journey with a counselor to see these things. One day in the counseling office it became crystal clear that I was ultimately performing in life and in my marriage, and that it was killing me. I was seeking security and trying to control how Jess felt about me, all in an effort to feel loved, respected, and safe. It resonated so strongly because I was so completely terrified to lay down those strategies and release my perceived control. To trust the work God has done Jess’s life and let her move toward me. Absolutely terrifying.
Up until that point, I hadn’t seen any sign that my needs would be met in my marriage without me orchestrating it. Coming out of that place has been really hard. I still struggle with that. How do I break deep-seated patterns that were put there subconsciously to get my longings met? The answer is very slowly and painfully. I soon found that it was easier to use my resentment to defend my fledgling self. It wasn’t as hard to say “no, that doesn’t work for me” when I’m seething inside. This was some sort of movement, but still destructive. And that’s where I’m at now. Trying to get to know myself, keep in touch with what I need, and work up the courage to ask for it. Harder still is trying to stop being a victim. I’m good at being flexible but need to find the line where I am betraying myself.
All I can do is share what I’m trying to move toward, and own it when I lash out.
I want to offer my pain in an open-handed way, gently and without shaming those around me. My wife, my kids.
I want to trust how God is working in my wife’s life and stay on my own yoga mat.
I want to be in touch with my needs and ask for space to meet them.
I want to ask for help and be more inconvenient.
I want to align with my wife and follow the Spirit’s promptings towards her.
I want to move powerfully for my family if it matches me. But be gentle if it doesn’t.
I want to be vulnerable and lay down my pride. I need support.