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.