by Rand Seay

Tag: Marriage

Posts about marriage and intimate relationships

Where We’ve Walked

Our almost seven-year-old, five-year-old, and three-year-old just got settled in front of the TV, and I just took my first deep breath this morning. They’re watching PBS Kids, which feels better than letting them binge on the kid section of our Netflix account. I’m not sure why, but it does.

I can hear my wife’s yoga class going in the next room, and I just sat down at the computer. We agreed to a 30-minute hiatus before we trying to re-engage with each other. That should be enough time for our triggers to quiet down enough to start to see each other again.

I’m genuinely starting to trust that we will see and reconnect with each other today; that the excruciating work we’ve done over the last year has taken root and will carry us through disconnections like this. Trust has been slow to build in me because for much of our eight-year marriage I was convinced that I was disposable.

Last April, Jessica and I were on the verge of divorce and were deciding to attend a week-long marriage intensive before calling it quits. Even our decision to attend the intensive came as a surprise to both of us. We had been separated the previous five months, and it seemed like our marriage was simply too broken to fix.

It was a messy, brutal, season, filled with pain and trauma. I started writing as it was happening, which seems insane as I think about it. I was living my worst nightmare, and that was when I decided to open my life up to the world. A little backward, isn’t it? I found it therapeutic to write about what I was experiencing and found that what I said seemed to resonate with people. It was a way to let people in, and I’m glad I did. Even though I grimace a little when I think about those posts, I am choosing to embrace them as a necessary part of my growth and healing.

Since I left off writing in February of last year on a bit of a cliff-hanger, I am going walk through what has happened since then, where we are now, and where we are going.

Our family photo from September 2019

Finding our way back

In my last post, titled “Do Not Be Afraid” (Feb 2019), I was coming to terms with the fact that I would be okay if our marriage ended. I starting to accept the death of the relationship and was expecting to receive paperwork at any moment. But it didn’t come. A small seed in Jessica and I grew enough to accept the invitation to attend a marriage intensive together in mid-April.

We drove to Branson, MO (separately) for a Hope Restored marriage intensive, a group-oriented program. There were couples from all walks of life in various states of crisis. I immediately began to see myself in other couples, and a feeling of love and empathy grew out of the vulnerable atmosphere.

To be completely honest, I came to the intensive expecting and wanting the counselors to come down hard on Jessica, to shake her by the shoulders and wake her up. I smugly thought the villain was clear in our relationship and was shocked when the clinicians met her deeply with empathy, gentleness, and truth-filled nudges. In the meantime, one of the things they were teaching was lodging its way into my heart.

“My heart is my job”

It’s a simple statement, but as that concept was unpacked and hammered into our heads, it started to open up language for me to name something deeply problematic about the way I interact with my world. It directly confronted elusive but central beliefs that I held about relational intimacy. I expect Jessica and other core relationships to care for my heart, meet my needs, and provide my value. I took little to no responsibility for my own well-being. This makes sense because I grew up in a safe place where that worked. We all played by the rules for the sake of intimacy and created an amazing bubble of safety and refuge. But when I was outside of that environment, I floundered.

Even as I write that, I get mixed up a bit. Shouldn’t it be okay to expect care and love from core relationships? Absolutely. It is vital for healthy relationships. But I had gotten on a messed up path where I made it a pattern to dangle my heart in vulnerable and dangerous places. Here’s what that looked like:

  • I vowed to take up zero space. I tried to mold myself around Jessica because she is exciting and powerful and compelling. I made myself a stowaway in her story and hoped that she would see me and love me. I’m coming out of this one, but often feel like I’m being an asshole.
  • I defaulted to listening. I felt and still fall back to feeling that the only safe place for me in my marriage is my own private inner world. I was determined to never need my wife. I hid behind listening, trying to keep the lid on the growing pressure inside me. I made myself bear anything she needed to process out loud, which was awful. She’s a verbal processor and a fierce woman, so I often felt like an emotional punching bag.
  • I rescued. Jessica deals with intense battles that I don’t have to face, so I trained both of us to rely on me for stability. I became an extension of Jessica or a resource to be used. I still struggle with this every day.
  • I became a victim and made her the villain. As I tried to disappear it was easier and easier to place all of the blame for my inner torment on her. She was the bad guy and I was the martyr. Yep, still a trigger in our day-to-day life.
  • Last, but not least, I got smug. That shouldn’t be past tense. I get smug. It’s a nasty one, but a common tool in my nice guy toolkit. I communicate to Jessica that ultimately I am right and that her feelings are invalid. The sinister part of this type of pride is that I deny responsibility for judging or silencing her.

I’m glad it’s easy to remember because the phrase “my heart my job” is something I need to hear every. single. day. But I’m learning and practicing. It is mostly through my head that if I am going to have my needs met, I need to lead the charge and give others windows into my interior world. A year ago that would have been heartbreaking to write. I would have had to grieve the fact that my wife isn’t going to create a bubble for me, an idea that contradicts the rules of intimacy that I learned from my family of origin. But today those words feel empowering.

Starting to rebuild

Something in us shifted just enough in Branson set us moving toward one another when we returned home. We both felt extremely fragile but started to reconnect little by little. I remember trying to own my longings and emotions more honestly and felt energized and unlocked in ways that I had never felt before. My mindset began to shift away from expecting her to heal my wounds and fill my empty places to owning these things myself. Triggers still came up, but we had new tools to face our disconnections and stop vicious cycles before they spiraled out of control. We also were careful to avoid walking through the trauma surrounding the separation until we could begin to see a new couple’s therapist.

In June we moved Jessica back into the house and continued to ease back into relationship with each other. We knew we had a long road ahead of us trying to rebuild from the ground up. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to be abandoned, that she was going to commit to showing up consistently. And she needed me to stop villainizing her and hear her. Our individual work in therapy was critical to keep us moving in this new direction and not fall back into our old, vicious patterns. I remember we felt the need to replace our patterns with new patterns, which was hard and painful. We had those patterns for a reason. They kept us safe.

What emerged in my heart over the summer months was the desire to allow myself to be seen by Jessica, and to need her. This felt like trying to walk on a frozen lake during the spring thaw. I had many strategies in place to avoid trusting the ice under my feet. But that’s where I felt called to go. My old ways had led down the path of destruction, and I was called to trust the work that Jessica was doing to show up, be consistent, and risk being misunderstood. We were both stumbling in the general direction of facing our fears, and that brought us closer and closer together.

Strengthening our foundation

We re-entered couples therapy in October with a very experienced therapist, where we started the grim task of walking through trauma surrounding the separation. We needed to start to name and mend that part of our story, and we knew we needed another person to guide us through it. The sessions directed themselves as we flowed between examining and normalizing our disconnections, processing through our pain, celebrating growth, and finding compassion for each other.

Somewhere along the way Jessica and I deepened our relationship well past where it was before. We are daily working to trust each other, own our part of the mess, and see each other in the context of our unique stories.

One of our weekly couples therapy sessions especially stands out. We pulled back a deep layer of our relationship and Jessica saw my commitment and love for her in a new and powerful way. She said it felt like a tangible taste of how beloved she is by God. Our security with one another expanded and a context was created for us to trust and access each other’s hearts in more profound ways. It was a satisfying and rewarding breakthrough for us.

No time for a breather

We had one or two truly good weeks in January 2020 when we were hit by a huge curveball surrounding my work. All the trust we had been building together was immediately put to the test. We have been relying on each other and leaning on each other in a beautiful way. And that is roughly where we find ourselves right now. Each day is challenging and rewarding and often messy. We can become adversaries again in a split-second. But we feel good about the direction we are headed. We are getting there by owning our stories and sticking to the work laid out before us as individuals and as a couple.

Do Not Be Afraid

For the last three months, I’ve read and re-read the New Testament, and what sits with me now is that one of Jesus’ most common refrains is “do not be afraid.” For much of this separation, I have choked on those words. How can Jesus invite me not to fear when all of my deepest fears and insecurities came to life before my very eyes? I was not ready for the idol of my marriage to be smashed in the manner that it was. God clearly has not hesitated to allow me to be unspeakably wounded and traumatized. Yet in the midst of my circumstances, He tells me “do not be afraid.” He invites me to trust Him with my needs by laying down my strategies and embracing my pain. I’m fortunate to be able to enjoy rich conversations with my sister and dad. We have a text message group called “book club”, even though we never seem to be able to be in the same book at the same time. Alys sent a poem she came across that has stayed with me:

A Voyage Taken

The compass breaks, the mast is down
my soul heeds this: the world is round;
the rising heart,
the dream and pulse,
on a sea-wind carries us.

The birds are dipping under waves,
the fish bolt upward on their wings
and we, the captain and the crew,
suspended over the abyss,
hold the wheel and rig with faith
as this frail vessel dives beneath.

Good sire, we cry,
the waves are high!
Good youth, he answers from the sky,
beyond the fracture line of land and air
your port is near, your home is there.

Michael O’Brien, from Island of the World

As difficult as it is to say it, this separation has been a healthy thing for me. I held my relationship with Jessica in such a way that when it was taken away, I was plunged into depression. I’m invited to face that in a way I have never been able to. Welcoming the diagnosis of depression was an easier thing than I imagined it would be. It really fits where I have been at, and taking an antidepressant has definitely helped keep my lows from being too low. In this separation, I’ve also seen that I have been dangerously close to burning out as a parent. Except for a handful of days, the kids have been sleeping at the house with me these last three months. The combination of their regressing sleep schedules and my insomnia has been a recipe for disaster. My employer has been immensely supportive, but I’ve seen my productivity suffer terribly. Difficulty concentrating, daytime fatigue, and a truly awful winter are all thrown on top of feeling like I’m drowning. Snow days, sickness, filling in childcare gaps, broken pipes, all the curveballs that come with three kids 5 and under, and being confined to the house in the evenings have really worn me down as a father. I’m typing this with a black eye, a swollen quad, and I’m still nursing a slight compression fracture in my lower back, all from basketball. I am seeing an invitation for me to find more respite as a parent, to receive rest, and rediscover who I am. I feel like I might be surprised by who I find.

It will take a long time to fully explore my damage from feeling discarded, but that isn’t so loud anymore. There’s more going on than how it appears; unseen battles that happen within a misunderstood war. The supports surrounding me have helped me see truth more clearly, and I have more perspective as I hold my circumstances at arm’s length. God wants to heal my pain and to do that I have to stop thrashing and welcome what He has for me. I’m also seeing that as He heals my pain, He has work He is asking me to do. He wants me to move towards the next loving thing I see. To follow the law of love moment by moment. To have compassion when He prompts me and also to have firm boundaries and advocate for truth in love. That honestly requires all the strength I can muster but has unexpectedly brought refreshing peace in the midst of the turmoil.

A stormy sea and a lighthouse

Right now love has looked like moving towards a 50-50 schedule. To be honest, I was ready to go all in on a custody battle and fight tooth and nail for primary residential status, but I was able to see an invitation to release that. My feelings are still conflicted, but it was absolutely clear that I needed to lay down that fight. I worry about the kids’ emotional well-being and their wounds but trust that God will take care of their hearts. I worry about the child support that would come with a 50-50 arrangement but trust that God will meet my needs and has a plan for where I will live. I bristle over not being seen in the burden I’ve carried with the kids care but know that He wants to give me more rest. I desperately want the kids to be with their mom, for their sake and for hers. It is a severe gift to be a parent, and who am I to take that away from anyone who asks for it?

I feel called to invite reconciliation because I have such high regard for the covenant Jessica and I made together. I feel compassion for her and have a vision of presenting her at the end of our lives closer to who God designed her to be. I was the man chosen for that, and it wasn’t a mistake. I see how God has equipped me to be His tool in her life, and think there is a path forward for us, together.

It might seem strange, but I am also making peace with the fact that it is looking like redemption will not happen. The path thus far certainly doesn’t seem to be leading there. The difference is that I see now that a divorce would not be the end of me. I trust that I would be cared for and that my needs would be met down that road just the same.

I truly, truly need not be afraid.

Calculation and Codependency

This separation has been a ripe time for me to explore myself and has pulled back the curtain on many things in my heart. I’m starting to build a more lasting type of strength, and catch glimpses of God’s mercy in this time. On the better days, I feel closer to being able to say that this has been a good thing, crucial for my growth. On harder days, making it through the day feels like a victory.

There is a little plant that ended up at the house at the beginning of this separation. It might have been an extra one that Jess didn’t have a place for, I’m not sure. It sat on the table looking ok if not a little puny. But within a day or two, it had absolutely no leaves. Every single one lay on the table. Whether they fell off because of the change in environment or because our two year old ripped them off I can’t be sure. Either way, the plant was just a bleak and pitiful stem. I considered throwing it out, but instead, I tried watering it. I continued to water it and care for it in the days and weeks that followed. I made sure to keep the soil moist, and somewhere along the line it sprouted tiny leaves. It now sits in a sunnier spot, receives the water it needs, and continues to grow. Hopefully, that continues. I identify with this plant. I’ve felt like my leaves were stripped away and that I have been parched. Only with water and sun have I been able to see new growth. I am clinging to God’s word daily, supported by strength no my own, and with so much help am digging into what he has to show me about myself.

This little guy is looking like he’s going to make it after all!

I am seeing more clearly a deep-seated pattern in myself. I desperately want to feel put together and make sure my needs are met. I become deeply uncomfortable if I cannot see where something leads, doing my best to avoid pain and keep the boat from rocking. I calculate. I use all the tools at my disposal to build for myself a crutch of control to help me feel ok through life. I choose to trust my strategies instead of turning to God and sitting in my fear of what will happen. I have many opportunities to grapple with that daily and see that it stirs up anxiety, grief, frustration, hopelessness. A good way to talk myself down from it is to remember that I am only called to take the step right in front of me and that I haven’t been given grace and strength for tomorrow yet. It takes nearly all my energy to turn off that noise and get in touch with where I am and what I need. It’s also hard to then move out of that.

A relational way I calculate is through people-pleasing, or codependency. I try to control my world by manipulating the way people feel. I say people, but I am uncovering how my main victim was and continues to be Jess. In my marriage, I ran everything through a Jess-ometer. The Jess-ometer is a name I made up for the thing that tells me how I think she will respond to the things I do, the things I say, and the mood I create. She receives no invitations from me when the Jess-ometer is running. Instead, I choose to try to read her mind, to make decisions for her, and manipulate her. I try to inspire respect and manage her mood. I’m starting to sit with the damage that has caused. There is no room for her to be a normal human who grows, changes, and needs things. How could I actually love her when I am so busy trying to keep her happy?

As my chief idol, I was so focused on the Jess-ometer that I failed to love my wife. That played itself out in a few ways. I subtly manipulate with my words, actions, and tone. I was and still am constantly tempted to try to win her through softness, large gestures, or movement toward her. Even if I can’t win her I may try to cover lost ground after I feel like I’ve pushed her away. In this separation, I have had to learn to slow down when I feel softness towards her because I often betray myself and see that softness as a chance to prove myself to her. This way of thinking is so ingrained in my manner of relating to her that it often comes out without me noticing it. I’ve struggled with that deeply in recent days and weeks. It comes out in the motive behind a text message or in the mood I create when we interact. I’m grateful for the physical space to be able to slow myself down, question my motives, and grieve my pattern. Again, this still happens daily.

I have also missed opportunities to offer another kind of love to Jess. Not necessarily the fuzzy, feel-good love of me doing things for her. Or of me cherishing her thoughts, ideas, and perspective (none of which I did well). Or creating for her. Those are beautiful expressions of love (when not manipulative), but love isn’t that black-and-white. The love I consistently failed to give to Jess (and still fail at) was asking for my needs to be met. Inviting her to partner with me in hard things. Persistently asking for my longings to be acknowledged. Guarding boundaries. Speaking truth in love. In other words, things that I thought would have made the Jess-ometer low but were actually good things for both of us.

This pattern is even harder for me to fight than manipulating Jess through movement toward her. I am petrified of saying or doing anything that I think will push Jess further away. In a world where I set her up as an idol, I would choose anything over pushing her further away. I would much rather swallow my pain and truth. But when I do it builds resentment and feeds my victim mentality. I’ve built up such a victim mindset that it leaks out all the time. It pervades my relationship with Jess, who to her credit has seen it and called me out on it over the years. I never owned that and even blamed her in it.

The thing that I am seeing is that in being a victim and failing to love her in this way for long enough, many other things suffered. The warm, outward movement of love became more manipulative, less free-flowing, stopped progressing, or even ceased altogether. What a terribly dark pattern. I became a victim and a martyr because in that posture I could try to heap conviction on her. That’s an ugly thing to write and face. But it’s dead true. Oh, how deeply I embraced and still embrace a victim mentality. It’s so hard to shake, but I am trying to shake it.

As much as I want to focus on everything but myself, pray for me as I sit in this bare spot. God means to deal with my sinful heart, and I have been in a perilous place where I can easily play a victim and attempt to manipulate. Before publishing this post, I found that I wanted to confess what I saw to Jess in person, because of how my patterns have damaged her. That felt like an important thing and I’m glad I had the chance to do it. I know of no context other than a separation that I could face the unhealthy ways I held my marriage, which is a mercy. My daily struggle is to sit in my fear and circumstances without trying to control outcomes, to recalibrate the Jess-ometer to a healthy place, and allow for compassion without betraying myself. I am called to work up the courage to do scary things when God asks me to and focus on walking with Him into my sinful heart.

Staying with My Pain

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.

Some Growth

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.

The Things Brought to Light

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.

How Do I Walk This Path?

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.”

Matthew 6:34