One hundred percent

I had a talk with my husband tonight about lots of things, and it was confusing, but it did break through some nasty silences, and anyway, I feel better now about hashing some of my thoughts out here, now that I’ve at least mentioned them to my husband first.

When we were first married, he told me (and I was willing to agree) that everything we had was 100 percent his and 100 percent mine. I have since found out that this is easy to say, but feeling like it is true is impossible, at least for me. In an effort to make it true (or more true), I believe I got it into my head that he and I were 100 percent one person. And so if he did something stupid, it was just the same as if I did something stupid. And I could legitimately beat myself up for it, or legitimately get angry at him for making me stupid.

I wish I had never believed that statement. Because actually, I’m different than him, and his weaknesses are his, not mine. I can’t fix them by being better at them myself. We all have our own personal struggles, and we all have our own minds and ways of thinking.

It’s super hard for me to tell myself that there is nothing I can do about the way my husband is right now. It’s hard to form a little fence around myself and say, “Hey, I’ve got some work to do on the inside of this fence right now, and the way you are is doing more damage than help, so I’ve got to keep you out.” It will be hard to know when it’s okay to open the gate. Probably, I’ll open it more often than is good for me.

Ideally, that gate should be open to my husband 100 percent of the time. But this time in my life is not ideal. And I might have to settle for 25 percent. Or whatever. In the meantime, I work on the inside of my fence, getting advice from wise people (letting the good in), and wisely taking the advice (making myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stronger while keeping the bad out). Sounds just as easy at that 100 percent theory sounded, but it’s not. It is so very hard to do the right thing. Only God really knows exactly the right thing, and following His will is something you do when you have those moments of personal strength (or faith). It’s so easy to mess up and do your own thing. It’s also so easy to think that my husband ought to be doing the same thing as me. But of course, we’re not the same person, and even our fences and gates are different. For instance, what’s going on right now in this post is helpful to me, but if my husband tried to read it, he probably wouldn’t understand it in the same way. And get offended. Or give up on ever understanding me. But that’s what I’m keeping out right now… I am not him. His thoughts are not mine. Shut that gate.

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Moving Toward Healing

I am going to attempt one of my most careful and sensitive posts on Revision 3. Why? Because I read a marriage book in an attempt to help me with my marriage problems, and it was unlike any other book I’ve read. I did write some posts on another, more private blog, documenting my reactions and confusions as I read the book. I have since turned that blog off, and this post will be where I stand concerning The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick (2013).

Why I find this book helpful: The early chapters consist of two quizzes, one longer and designed to help me figure out which specific areas of my marriage may be emotionally destructive. The second is shorter and designed to determine if indeed my marriage can be called destructive or if it is merely weak or unhealthy. I did indeed end up with the “destructive” result. Although I didn’t even want to write about this second quiz at first because I didn’t really want to admit my marriage was that bad, now I have found this helpful. My mood swings, my depression, and my “feelings of craziness” are easier to explain. I can now pinpoint ways my husband acts that I don’t like and I don’t want to cover up. I have realized that I’ve been doing a lot of personal freaking out over things my husband does, and then I blame him privately, which makes me feel bad, so I shift the blame to myself, which doesn’t really make anything better, and I end up being enormously confused and feeling crazy. I now can put specific words behind what I’m freaking out about. That is very helpful.

What I don’t like about the book: The author, who is a Christian counselor, covers a lot of different types of emotionally destructive marriages here in this book. While the problems in my own marriage are subtle (yet awful) things like playing mind games and being indifferent to what I want, many of the examples in the book are severe abuse, and so the author is often showing how the husband and wife need to be separated, even to the point of divorce. She certainly doesn’t advocate it in every case, but her advice to leave your emotionally abusive spouse comes easier and more frequently than the advice I’ve grown up with. I wind up wishing for more advice for the less severe abuse cases.

The hardest (but maybe best) advice from this book: The author promotes something called “living from your CORE.” This is a personal strengthening-up. It is about what I do to keep myself strong and well. I need to be committed to truth and reality (that’s a big one for me – as I said before, I was covering up). I need to be open to growth, instruction, and feedback. (I’m open for feedback here, folks.) I need to be responsible for myself and respectful toward others without dishonoring myself. (Another big one – I tend to dishonor myself, and being responsible for keeping myself strong against the ways my husband acts is difficult. I haven’t really figured out the best ways to do that yet.) And I need to be empathic and compassionate toward others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me. (Again, this is difficult. I’ll explain why in the next paragraph.)

My big confusion right now: My confusions tend to change and multiply depending on the day, but right now I have this thought: how do I be content in all circumstances, be forgiving, and still not enable my husband to treat me badly? I can’t even write my way through this one. I simply don’t know.

How am I currently handling the information from this book? One of the things I don’t like about my husband’s way of communication is his tendency to keep important information from me. I am the opposite. I tend to spill out too much emotional information that I probably would be better to keep to myself. So, yes, I’ve already discussed much of this with him, for better or worse. And he says he will work on some things, which I’m happy about. Because I now am noticing what upsets me, I get more pointedly upset at him, but this still leads to better communication between us. It’s better than senseless depression that seemed to have no source.

I am also seeing a need to emotionally withdraw from the relationship sometimes. It’s important that I don’t do this all the time, or I’d be totally cold-hearted and impossible to live with. On the other hand, this marriage isn’t going to be fixed by me alone. So I need to detach myself until my husband is willing to put in some effort toward the marriage cause as well. His big problem is that he’s too busy for anything. I feel bad about pressuring him to change when he has so much work stress as it is. But it’s exactly that stress that is spreading its toxins throughout the rest of the family. I can’t change that. So I have to shield myself against that bad stuff resulting from his bad situation. And I have to do that without allowing it to abuse me. That’s really hard. (Open for feedback here.)

Quote of the Day: “God calls us to be biblical peacemakers, not peacekeepers or peace fakers” (104). I have definitely been trying to be a peacekeeper and a peace faker, and now I have to try to be a peacemaker, which isn’t easy for me. Please pray for me. Thank you.

Mr. and Mrs. Roussel

Mr. and Mrs. Roussel by Edouard Vuillard, 1896

Marriage is a joining: Mr and Mrs, man and wife, flesh of my flesh. But the minds still operate apart. As close as we get together, touching forehead to forehead, there’s still that bony skull in the way. The Mrs. Krohn part of me says “I am you; why are you saying these things I would never say?” The Amy part of me draws my forehead away from his as a little rebellion against the whole marriage deal. Sometimes I’ve found myself in the same room as my husband, but not touching, not connecting one bit. Bone of my bone, but the bones don’t fit.

And then there are times, even when bone of my bone is walking a different way across life than I am, tenderness applies a little surgery, and my forehead is resting against his shoulder. It doesn’t matter that he is still mostly stranger after eleven and a half years. It doesn’t matter that he can’t remember much at all about me or things that happened after we were married.

There’s a voice that God uses to draw us together. It lisps. It starts talking about my mind, or his mind, and it drops the d at the end. So it says “mine” and means both of us. I don’t know how this works, and sometimes I like to deny it, but then, I find myself resting my head against his, and I’m curled up in our joined world again, a refuge that takes me by surprise when I find it.

The Overheard Conversation

This past week I overheard three Christian ladies counseling a poor woman who was having trouble with her marriage. I wasn’t really eavesdropping. I know all the ladies, but I ended up in the same room as them after their conversation was going already, so I didn’t feel comfortable to join in. Anyway, the good counseling stuck with me. I thought I’d share what I learned.

I learned about something called polarization, where if one spouse is something to an extreme, the other spouse goes to the opposite extreme (either consciously or unconsciously), as if to make up for the other one somehow. Dean and I do that, sometimes. I don’t know that I’d recognize it right away, but knowing that concept might help.

The woman with marriage problems couldn’t see that her situation with her husband would ever change. And this one lady jumps in and says that the more we depend on Jesus and throw our problems on Him, the more we are going to see change. The change may not be in our marital situation, but it will be in our hearts as we grow nearer and nearer to Christ. And different things will be more important or less important. I really like that. I might want someone else to change, but the change that God wants is inside me, not outside me.

I don’t know if the words were what the distressed woman wanted to hear. Probably not. She probably wanted someone to tell her to get a job and leave her husband. That’s the problem with counseling, I think. When it is needed, it is really hard to hear the right things. But when I overhear counseling at a time that I am thinking rationally, and I’m not desperate or in despair, I can really benefit from it! It’s like preventative maintenance. I wonder if I can get my husband to accidentally pop into a counseling session… 🙂

The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

— from “The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry, 1971

“The forest is mostly dark…” I can’t agree enough. This quote is from stanza III of a longer poem in which the speaker writes about his life of love with his wife. Here I find beauty at the gentleness of married love. When is the last time I’ve read anything about gentleness and marriage? I don’t know. It might have been in a Christian marriage book, in a section written to the husband, telling him to be gentle with his wife. But does anyone assume marriage is gentle in itself? Passionate, confusing, difficult, long-suffering… but usually not gentle. In this part of the poem, I think we get several aspects: the gentle beauty, the blessings, the courage needed, and the sense of uncharted territory. Because every marriage is different, right? That’s why those marriage books just don’t work. They are good tries, but I think Wendell Berry is more honest than most Christian living authors. Here we find that the dark mysteries of marriage, rather than being the inconsistencies that pull people apart, are more blessed than the obvious, well-lit truths about marriage. I can say that my husband and I have dark, mysterious inconsistencies; we are creatures of opposites. I need to be brave enough to keep on going into that forest of marriage day after day.

Marriage

I’m not much for political talk. I usually think I don’t know enough about the subject to speak my mind and be correct. And I don’t read or listen to the news enough to be up-to-date. But while my husband (male) is sleeping through the news, I overhear things about marriage equality in all fifty states. And there’s this rainbow border above my WordPress reader that I know doesn’t represent God’s promise to never destroy the earth with another flood. So here I am, writing about something that I need to say.

An old girlfriend of mine, a classmate, married a woman two or three years ago. I saw them both at the local pool shortly before that. It struck me as strange that I did not feel awkward around her. I didn’t. She was the same girl I used to know. I definitely disapprove of her lifestyle, but I don’t feel like I need to shun her in any way. I didn’t talk much; I’m not much for talking. But I’ve imagined conversations where I’d tell her I think her lesbianism is a sin, and then I remind her that I sin, too, and these are things we must pray about. These are things between ourselves and God.

That was an individual person. Now there is a movement which our country has embraced. The movement is something I must react against. I must shun it. I must not talk nicely to it, even in my imagination. This movement moves against Biblical truth. It pushes people toward sin, away from God. My old friend is not a movement, and neither are the individuals bound together in this rainbow-ribboned ride to hell. I can love the people and hate what they believe in. I can pray for the person’s soul and pray that our country rejects gay rights. I can love what is good and beautiful and hate what is bad and ugly. I can still tell my daughter that she can’t marry another girl. I can reject that term “marriage equality” because it is faulty math; man plus woman is the only way to equal marriage.

The Sleeping Couple

The Sleeping Couple, Jan Steen, c. 1658-1660
The Sleeping Couple, Jan Steen, c. 1658-1660

It’s our wedding anniversary today, so I looked for a painting to complement the special day. This one fit the occasion. (Smiles) I’m actually not sleep-deprived, but Dean gets up very early to milk the cows, so napping and falling asleep in a seated position are normal occurrences for him. I first saw this painting on the cover of a book called Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson. I only recommend the book to husbands and wives who are both interested in reforming their marriage. If you’re not on the same page there, then forget the book and pray for peace instead. And sleep. Sleeping helps.