marriage

You’re Never Going to Break My Soul

Days like today I’m glad I’m not a parent. My maternal lioness is pacing and roaring, wanting to slash at something. Someone. It’s a little disturbing just how much my inner lioness wants off her leash.

One of my dearest friends is feeling deep emotional pain. The kind of pain that is born from cutting betrayal. I want to curl myself around her and protect her from her husband’s cold rage and his gaslighting. I want to walk up to him and punch him in the balls, pack his bags, and kick his ass on his way to the curb. My lioness claws as me, begging me to let her out. She will protect to the death. She will deliver swift justice. Then she will lay down at my friend’s feet and purr, letting her know that things will be okay.

There are words for what she is going through. The words are dark and are spoken in hushed tones, if spoken of at all. Abuse. My friend is being abused by her husband. Why? From what I am aware, because he doesn’t like himself and he doesn’t like his life. He’s likely jealous of the relationship my friend has with her daughters. He’s tired of being asked to step up and be a good father, a good husband. He earns a very good living and is very good at his job. Brilliant, in fact. He’s been courted by companies who are willing to pay him extremely well to do what he does.

When he comes home, it’s like he regresses to a teenager. He plops down on the couch and wants to play with his iPad or play video games. Or sleep. He doesn’t help with the house. He doesn’t clean. He doesn’t take care of the house or the yard. He ignores his children at best and gaslights them at worst. My friend carries the heavy load of maintaining the house, raising and loving her children. If she doesn’t do it, things don’t get done. Does he help? Only when it is asked or demanded of him, and even then begrudgingly. I’ve seen this in action. If he is asked to step out of his comfort, he lashes out and punishes. It’s insidious. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you just think something is off. I know what to look for. I worked with abuse victims for a few years. I was one.

There is a death occurring. My friend has lost her hopes in what her marriage could be. She’s lost who she thought her husband was and the potential of their partnership. She’s lost feeling safe in her own home. These deaths cut like knives into wounds that haven’t been allowed to heal. The emotional and psychological hits keep coming.

Abuse is never okay. NEVER. It doesn’t matter if a person has a deep well of self-loathing or if a person feels trapped in a life they didn’t sign up for. No matter how angry, how desparate, how hurt a person is, it’s never okay to lash out at others. It’s really not okay to play games, fuck with another person’s perception of reality. Crazy making is a special hell. A former boyfriend was a master at this. He lied with such sincerity everyone around him thought he was broken and vulnerable. When someone came too close to seeing his true self, he started in with comments designed to make a person doubt themselves. Doubt the truth. With emotional emotional manipulation meant to shut the person down.

I questioned my sanity for almost two years. I started to believe that I had a problem. I took responsibility for the sexual abuse he dished out and for the emotional manipulation. For making him so angry he wrestled me to the ground and used brute force to subdue me and degrade me. Most of the time he didn’t even need to touch me. A well placed comment sent me to my metaphorical knees begging him to love me, trying to convince him I was sorry for whatever imagined slight I had undertaken. I was putty in his hands.

It took therapy with a highly qualified therapist and a year in prayer demanding God show me what was real before I felt any sort of balance. By the time I met my husband, I had a firm grasp on what had occurred. And yet it wasn’t until I was working with victims of abuse that I was able to apply that word to my own experience. I had been abused. I didn’t deserve any of what he had dished out. I wasn’t broken or crazy. It took me longer to realize that the church generally has very naive views about abuse. Many men and women are encouraged to stay in an abusive marriage. The abuser is believed over the victim because most abusers are cunning and master manipulators. Wives are banged over the head with the call to submit. Where is the call to love? Abuse is not love. It never was. It never will be. So women, and men, stay, believing if they just love their spouse more purely, if they can fix themselves (lose themselves) to become better christians, better spouses, better at anticipating behavior and adapting their own, the abuse will stop. Spouting bible verses and higher standards to this type of situation does not work. It reinforces the abuse. It leaves a person not only abused by their partner but by the very faith community that should be holding people accountable and a safe haven for the vulnerable.

Love does not fix abuse. You cannot love the abusive behavior out of someone. Therapy, the willingness to see the self clearly, learning new skills such as anger management, and remorse can help an abusive person. It may not be enough to restore a relationship, however. You know what? That’s okay. There is no guarantee that any relationship that has been systematically destroyed can be restored. God doesn’t promise this.

Knowing what I know about spousal/partner abuse, knowing my friend, I have a hard time leashing my inner lioness. I need to. She doesn’t need me to slay her dragon. She needs my love and compassion and unwavering support. She needs me to speak the truth, but to also speak love and hope. When she is unable to see a future where she is free to be herself in all her beautiful glory, I can hold that future for her. And I demand that God take note and hold her husband to account. Abuse, no matter whether it is intentional, premeditated, or not, is never okay. NEVER. I believe God will step in and provide restitution for those who suffer at the hand of someone else. God is so much bigger, so much kinder, so much more than we can imagine. I’m not naive enough to believe that everyone in an abusive situation will be able to leave it. Or have the resources to heal on the most foundational of levels. But God sees all the suffering.

I pray that for my friend, God will recompense her for more than what her husband has taken away. That God will hold her husband to account for his beliefs and actions. And that she will be free. She is strong enough. She is resilient and resourceful. She is not afraid of the truth. Not afraid of entering into the often difficult work of healing and skill building. She is, quite honestly, amazing.

If you know someone who is being abused, please do more than pray. Educate yourself. Speak with compassion. Find resources so when your loved one/friend is ready s/he can take the steps to move forward. Love them. Always love them. Don’t judge the decisions they make out of self-preservation. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Walk beside them. Enter in. Hold a better future for them. Be patient. Be kind. Be honest and compassionate. Speaking as one who was abused and had no one who believed me while I was in it, believe them. Stand witness to their stories. Be willing to walk alongside them for as long as they need you to. Be a safe place. If you need to do your own work in order to be that safe place, do so. The world is a messy place. Relationships can be messy. Don’t be afraid to love someone in all their messy glory.

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No Expectations

Several things coalesced to form an insight bomb that exploded within me. My unmet yet unvoiced expectations have been causing me pain.

I spent the last day listening to, thanking and then dismissing the internal voice that wanted to heap on the guilt and shame and self-recriminations. What do I tell the pre-marital couples I work with? That unvoiced expectations become unmet expectations and drive wedges in relationships. How much easier it is to explain these concepts to other people than to live them out in my own life. I’m very good at teaching these concepts to others. I’m not as adept at internalizing them myself. The good news is, eventually I do internalize them. Eventually I get there. This was one of those times.

What led me to this epiphany? It started with finding out on Saturday that my MIL is coming to town and will be staying with use for a few days next week. Any time she comes to town I start to feel a certain level of dread, but I was able to put most of this aside after an insightful email exchange with Claire and a night spent in prayer and, okay, generally bitching at God.

But something was still gnawing at me. I couldn’t put my finger on what.

The weekend came and went. I have a pre-marital couple who are considering coaching so I brushed off my materials and did a quick review of expectations. Nothing new, but I haven’t coached in several months and I wanted to make sure the materials were able to be adapted for a couple who had been living together for a couple of years and were expecting their first child. That gnawing started to get louder, became more of a chewing. Still, I couldn’t identify the source.

Yesterday I read this post by a good friend and fellow blogger and boy did I relate. I was nodding my head as I read and started to see a picture of me looking down on my husband when he told me he talked to his mom and she was coming for a few days next week. I turned to myself and it was as though the conversation was put on pause and the version of me who was interacting with my husband was able to turn and look at the me who was observing. I asked conversation me, ‘Do you know why you’re so upset inside right now?’

She paused for a moment, obviously mulling things over. ‘I’m upset because he doesn’t see what I see, but I can understand that. He’s lived with her, she’s behaving in patterns that are familiar to him. I’m on the outside of that. I see things differently. I have a different relationship with her than he does.

“What’s really eating at me though is this one simple thing. He didn’t even bother to ask. Again. He didn’t bother to see if it was okay with me. Again. I don’t seem to count in the decision-making process.”

Does he know you expect to be a part of this process, rather than just be informed after the face, I asked myself.

“He should. I’ve told him this often enough over the years. How it bothers me. How we’re a team and when it comes to making a commitment or decision that impacts the other person, I want us to be involved each other in the decision-making.”

But does he KNOW this? To which I had to answer, I don’t know. Outside of having a heated discussion after the fact, I don’t know if he knows this is an expectation. Or if he even shares this as an expectation. In fact, I strongly suspect he doesn’t share this expectation at all after he told me that others make decisions that impact him without his input all the time, it’s just the way life is. And that if the situation were reversed and we lived closer to my family, I would likely be making commitments and decisions like he does with his family and tell him after the fact.

Okay, that last statement aside because I can only deal with so much insight at a time (and isn’t that last one just loaded?), I realized part of my problem in the drama with my MIL is that my husband and his mother decide when she’s coming and how long she’s staying and I am treated like I have no say. Rather, I feel like I have no say. I feel like an after thought. Maybe I am. I expect to be consulted and to be given the choice. I haven’t voiced it this way to my husband, but it’s what I expect. What I want. And when it doesn’t happen, I feel like I don’t count. I don’t matter. Does he feel that way about me? I don’t think so. Is his intent to hurt me? I don’t think that, either.

He’s operating with a different set of values and expectations. Is my expectation unreasonable? No, but…

What were to happen if I let that go? What if I just let it go and didn’t bring it up ever again? If I were to accept that right now, this expectation doesn’t align with my husband’s expectations? Can I be happy even if I’m not consulted? Does it make me walked on or less valued? Does my worth change if this one thing doesn’t happen?

When I talked it over with the Holy Spirit I ended up apologizing to my husband for holding this against him. I let him know I had an expectation and when it wasn’t met I was hurt and angry. I told him that this expectation had to do with a picture I have of what it means to partner and to ‘leave and cleave’ from our families of origin. That this picture was more about my needs than his. I asked him if he understood my expectation and he told me he didn’t. I wasn’t trying to hurt me, he just didn’t understand why he needed to ask me. He certainly didn’t expect me to ask him if it was okay for my family to visit. Just to inform him of when and how long.

At this point, I told him I was letting it go. We have different values here and I had to be responsible for my expectations, my feelings, myself talk and even my happiness. That wasn’t on him. Do I still want that picture to be reality? Sure. But it’s not. And right now I think I need to accept that. I can be happy and not be asked if my MIL can come stay. I can be happy while she visits. I can choose something different. I don’t need to control the situation. I don’t need to agree with my husband on whether a spouse should be consulted before inviting someone to stay. I can learn to see his perspective.

It’s not perfect. He’s still miffed at me for being upset with him. I’m still adjusting to the concept that I don’t need to have a say, I just want to have a say. Marriage can be messy, but at the end of the day, I’m responsible for my beliefs, my behaviors, my actions, and my happiness. This expectation, it needs examining and maybe I need to trade it in for something else.

The Vampire Finch is Landing

This is the code name I’ve given my mother-in-law. Vampire finches are a subspecies of ground finches that live in the Galapagos Islands and are known for poking holes in other birds and drinking blood from the wounds. They do eat other things, but these innocuous looking birds will actually draw blood in order to ingest it. This feels like my mother-in-law. She doesn’t appear to be unstable or cruel or mentally ill. She’s this older woman who has a great laugh and who looks delicate, almost frail. Tired. She has a sense of humor that starts funny but turns biting and if you’re not looking, you don’t see her slip into a waif-like persona that draws people in to her world like flies to honey.

I’m not trying to demonize her because I have a poor relationship with her. She is a borderline personality and if you’ve ever lived with a borderline, you know they can suck the life right out of you if you let them. There is a borderline fantasy of complete and utter attachment, of two people merging to become one entity. I have seen this in action with her children. And I have seen my husband subconsciously fight this merger. His independence actually works to his advantage.

My mother-in-law does not like me. Some of this stems back to a huge disagreement we had years ago that I have since confessed and sought forgiveness for. Some of this is because I see through her and have seen the truth of the spiritual miasma that is part of the borderline. There is something else with her all the time, and I pray for it to be leashed and muzzled and like Gandolf, I draw a line in the sand that this spiritual ooze will not cross. I will not have my privacy disregarded any more. My space, time, and belongings will not be used without my permission. And I will fight for my husband so he can be brought out from under the yoke of being the son of a borderline mother who is not under the care of a mental health professional and who appears to want nothing more than to keep him her little boy at her beck and call.

She called this morning and is on her way to our city. She has other family in this city – another son, some step children. She has friends here. But…she calls my husband first. Some might think this is a compliment. It’s not. It’s difficult to explain, but trust me, it’s not. This is an out of the blue request. She was going to be in town next week and she had made plans to stay with someone else while she was here. However, this morning she called while she was on the road. Driving from half a continent away to here. Asking to stay overnight with us. Complaining of an ailment. Coming from somewhere that is not her home and coming ahead of schedule. Way ahead of schedule. No other explanation given except she wants to go to Urgent Care when she gets here.

I have a bad feeling about this. Not that she will be in our home. The Holy Spirit resides in my home and my home, the people in it, they will be safe from harm. I have a bad feeling because my mother-in-law has made a male friend over the internet and I think she was visiting him and something went very wrong. I have a bad feeling because what went wrong may be twisted in the mire of her expectations and the truth may be difficult to tease out. I have a bad feeling because even should this be an awful crisis, she carries around with her generational sin and curses and these are nasty and made stronger through her pain. I have a bad feeling because in crisis, she has this way of sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to help her. It’s her nature. Much like the vampire finch. It’s not an evil bird, it’s simply evolved to nip at other birds and drink blood from the ensuing wounds. My mother-in-law isn’t evil. She has an untreated mental illness and is bound up in generational sin and spiritual oppression.

So, I pray. I ask God for wisdom. For the truth to be revealed. I pray for compassion and for boundaries. I pray for protection – mine, my husbands, my mother-in-law. I pray for that which is oppressing her to be muzzled and leashed while in my home. And I pray for healing. I pray for an absence of fear.

As I have been praying, one of my inheritance words has been rolling around in my brain so I claim this promise as well. For my mother-in-law, for my husband, for myself.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

~ Isaiah 41:10

 

I Need a Lover Who Won’t Drive Me Crazy

Marriage has gotten me thinking about many things. My own marriage, while on the whole wonderful, has these little landmines that are sensitive to pressure and once triggered must be handled with the utmost delicacy. Sometimes you know what will set them off. Sometimes you don’t. Diffusing the landmines must be handled with care. And compassion. Especially if you are the one who laid the mine for the other to trip. My husband and I are very different people. I love to create and to live in the moment. I’m cerebral and I want to understand people. I’m relational and find connecting with people to be a significant accomplishment.  My husband is a doer. He’s task oriented and looks at his day through the filter of what needs to be done. He values productivity and visible outcomes. In these differences alone we have landmines.

My husband and I stepped on each others landmines last night. I was hurt, as usual. He got angry and sulked. As usual. This is the pattern in our relationship, a pattern I’m attempting to change. I didn’t rush up to him and apologize for my “attitude” and I didn’t engage in his sulk. Instead, I offered him dinner, gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him it was quite alright if he wanted to stay home instead of joining my cousin and a friend for an evening of cultural enrichment and conversation. See, part of the reason he had his landmine set and ready for me to step on it was because he was feeling pressured to do something he didn’t want to do. He’s not a cultural arts guy. He’s an introvert and with a house guest, even one as kind and thoughtful as my cousin, it’s difficult to feel at home in his own house.

I gave him an out. And I opted to go with kindness instead of lashing out with the frustration of my day. That frustration had nothing to do with him. He just happened to step on a mine and arm a potential explosion. I had the ability to diffusing my own mine, so I did. I left him to the physical task of removing a tree stump from the yard and we girls drove away to have an evening of art appreciation and relational connection.

It was while we were admiring a wonderful bronze statue that something clicked in my head. I’ve been learning for the last couple of years about the relational aspect of God. How God wants to be in relationship with us. A kind and nurturing relationship filled with conversation, give and take and compassion. He delights in who we are and wants us to see ourselves as He sees us. And He wants us to share that same relational spirit with the people in our lives.

Too many people I know are all about the doing. Work harder. Make hay while the sun shines. Do, do, do and delay any sense of fun and gratification until later. Because, you know, work is its own reward. This focus on doing can drive a person crazy. Where does the doing end? When do you know you’ve done enough to be worthy of that gratification? Of peace and blessing and well-being? And when do you carve out time to be with someone? To nurture or be nurtured? To really get to know someone? You don’t. And because you are putting off the fun stuff because the doing is never-ending, you risk becoming cynical and disillusioned and disconnected.

Staring at that lovely bronze statue, thinking about the labor that went into casting the bronze, into sculpting every sinew and muscle, every detail, well it made me a little tired and quite a bit awed. It took work. It took time and dedication. It also took a vision and a passion. There was passion in the art we saw last night. A spark of being that was revealed in the doing.

Life isn’t either or. It’s not just doing and working or being and relating. We have obligations, jobs, tasks that must be done in order to have a life we can live well. But there’s a way to combine the doing and the being. It was there, staring at me in the face of a bronze gladiator and in the brush strokes of a long dead Japanese artist.

There is room in my husband’s world to learn to be, just as there is room in my world to value the process, or the work. But it is the relational that will bring healing to the weary soul and the relational that will help engage another in growth and passion.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Mt 22:36-40)

Suspicious Minds

After a long day of work and putting out fires and snow (please, God, no more snow!), I find myself in a reflective mood as I bake my husband cookies. Cookies that are full of gluten, which I cannot eat. Cookies that will never pass my lips and melt in my mouth.

Baking is a mundane task. I have made these cookies what seems like hundreds of times over the years. Measuring and mixing and baking. It’s a task that doesn’t require much in the way of thought or critical thinking. There’s almost an automatic rhythm to the task, and within this rhythm I find my mind wandering. Why am I making cookies at 9pm when I could be relaxing for the evening? When I can’t even eat the fruit of my labor? Why have I given up my entire evening to cook and bake and clean up the kitchen, not once, not twice but three times? Why does my husband sit on the couch watching television, never mind that he put in a full day’s work and just got home from evening classes at a local university? Why? Why? Why?

When I have too much time on my hands and I do not guard my thoughts,  my thinking tends to shift toward the negative. My mind goes to all the dark places, the nooks and crannies in my soul that are quick to doubt, quick to blame and slow to forgive. Every interaction I have had throughout the day, week, month is suspect and I start to question actions and words, looking for hidden meanings and disapproval. Especially if those actions and words are from my husband. Cognitive distortions abound between my husband and myself. And it wasn’t until recently that I started to call a spade a spade and started to deal with the scripts that run my life.

I’m a trained therapist. I haven’t worked as a therapist in years, but I have the training, I keep up on the research and, let’s be honest, I know better. I have coached couples on how to fight fair, how to take their thoughts captive before their thinking can grow roots and cause deep rifts in their relationships. I know this stuff. And yet, I haven’t been applying it to my life or my marriage.

Let’s take a look at some of my automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), shall we? First, there’s the should fallacy. “Why isn’t he helping me, can’t he see I’m tired? He should offer to at least do the dishes.” He should know I want help. He should just step up, be a man and a partner and do it. Ah, but does he know? How many times have I shooed him out of the kitchen when I’m in the middle of cooking? I’m expecting him to read my mind and understand my wants and needs without having to speak up. This isn’t fair to him, and it sets me up for disappointment.

Then we have my mind reading and jumping to conclusions. He hasn’t thanked me for making the cookies. Or even for making the casserole we will eat tomorrow for dinner. He came home grumbling and growling, slammed doors and drawers, yelled at the dog and then went up stairs and sat down. Is he angry at me? What did I do now? I know I didn’t pull the garbage can down from the garage, but really, is he mad about that?  Did I forget to do something he asked me to do? Is he still upset from the fight we had this weekend? Get over it already!

And these are just a few of the scripts that play when my mind plays in the dark corners. When I spoke to a woman at a church we attended about these thoughts, she told me the thoughts were from the Enemy and I should ask the Holy Spirit to take my mind captive and expunge this evil thinking. That was a mind trip, let me tell you. And completely untrue.

Oh, I know the Enemy can influence our thinking, but you know what? We do such a fantastic job of playing mind games with ourselves, the enemy doesn’t need to do it for us. Again, something I know from my training, but I was vulnerable at the time, disavowing my spiritual gifting and desperate to trust someone. So I prayed and asked God to take away these thoughts. To purge this negativity from me.

And nothing happened. Why? I think it’s because I wasn’t doing the work of renewing my mind. I was trying to take a short cut and I was blaming all my issues on Satan and his minions instead of taking responsibility for my own faulty thinking. In the mean time, patterns of thought and behavior have become entrenched in my relationships – personal and professional.

The bad news, these entrenched patterns of behavior have been robbing my husband and I of intimacy in our relationship. The good news is that as I submit to my identity in Christ and embrace my Heavenly persona, all this negative is going to bubble up and, much like an extinction burst, the negativity will end. God’s goodness and my negative thoughts cannot exist in the same place. God is drawing the negative from me. My job in this is to take every thought captive so I am not made captive to the thoughts. This involves recognizing the ANTs and knowing that these negative thoughts are not a reflection of my identity.

How we think has a great impact on how we see our world and how we interact with the people in it. How we think impacts how we behave. And what we believe about ourselves. Taking every thought captive means recognizing ANTs and other thoughts that don’t reflect the reality of who God says we are. It also means rejoicing. This is a hard one for me but I’m learning to find joy and thanksgiving in the every day. It helps with Acedia and I believe it is crucial to the development of our identity.

About halfway through making cookies tonight I called a time out for myself and I named the cognitive distortions that were clouding my thinking. I acknowledged the negative thought patterns and the scripts that were bubbling up within me, working my emotions into a frenzy through self-talk and automatic negative thinking. I called my thoughts up one by one and determined what was true and what was distorted thinking. And I let the distorted thinking go.

I reminded myself why I was making cookies at 9pm after a long day’s work. In looking for ways to streamline the budget and eat somewhat healthier, I committed to making cookies once a week. And I had made the choice to put off making cookies until tonight. And it is an act of love toward my husband. He loves homemade cookies and he lights up like a little kid when he sees a full cookie jar.

As for my husband, he received some news from his college about a course he was trying to petition from taking. It wasn’t the news he was hoping for and he was dealing with his own disappointment, cognitive distortions and emotions. It had nothing to do with me. When I finally acknowledged I was expecting him to mind read and just know my needs, I asked him to help with the final load of dishes, which he did more than willingly. He’s now in bed, after sampling what he calls very tasty cookies. I’m finishing up this blog post while waiting for the casserole to cool enough to put in the refrigerator. And I’m able to find the joy in this quiet moment where it’s just me and the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit reminds me that God delights in me. I can almost hear him chuckle as he tells me I’m catching on to what God wants for me right now and that in this season of divine acceleration, this knowledge is going to come in very handy. Finally, I’m in on part of the joke. And it feels good.

cognitive distortions anyone?

Am I always going to be able to recognize and resist cognitive distortions? No, probably not. But today I have experienced a sweet victory. I didn’t sleep walk through mindlessness, I exercised intentionality in my thinking. As a prophet, I need this in order to truly hear God. As a person, I need this in order to have healthy relationships with others and with myself. With each victory I believe it will become easier to take my thoughts captive. These thoughts, they aren’t who I am. They are a part of my old nature, the nature that died with Christ. Acknowledging them doesn’t give them strength, it helps me to let them go. And in letting go, I reveal more and more of my true identity in Christ. I’m looking forward to seeing that part of myself more clearly.