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Archive for December, 2010

“Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never a permanent way of living.” (Boundaries in Marriage – Townsend & Cloud)

When I read the quote above, it brought to my mind my reasons for needing emotional distance over the years. Most recently, the  memory of my husband describing our marriage as his “cross to bear” came to my mind. I found the comment both hurtful & depressing. While the author states “emotional distance” should not be a permanent way of living, I find that to live any other way would be emotionally unsafe for me. Since a legal divorce is not an option for my husband, what has resulted instead is an emotional divorce.  It’s a miserable way to live.

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like in a marriage where there were no mind games or passive aggressive behavior. Where affection was easy & sincere to give and receive . . . As the new year approaches I can’t help but feel sad about the difficulties of the year that has just passed. Going to try to move beyond the pain and sadness and continue to put my energy towards an emotionally healthy me.

“You are responsible for getting your wants fulfilled. We do not get everything we want & we must grieve over our disappointments instead of punishing others for them”

“Each spouse must take responsibility for the following things:”

  • feelings
  • attitudes
  • behaviors
  • choices
  • limits
  • desires
  • thoughts
  • values
  • talents
  • love

“Problems arise when we make someone else responsible for our needs and wants, and when we blame others for our disappointments”

(Boundaries in Marriage – Townsend & Cloud)

I feel like with every page I read in this book, the same word keeps jumping out at me – personal RESPONSIBILITY. It is a concept I understand but have a hard time applying to my life since I tend to let my husband’s behavior affect my emotions. Maybe by the time I finish “Boundaries in Marriage” I will finally get it. I know I must stop blaming/punishing, I need to grieve my disappointments and take responsibility for my wants/needs. But what will that look like off paper & in real life?

Psalms 139:1   O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me.”

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Once upon a time there were 4 sisters. They lived with their single mother who was quite overwhelmed with her life and took it out on her daughters – both physically and verbally. Their father was banished from the family when his philandering ways were discovered, so there was no one to rescue these sisters from their mother’s abuse.

The sisters grew into women and although each went her own way, they still remained close. The eldest sister suffered from schizophrenia which never allowed her to live a “normal” adult life. The second sister suffered from depression, paranoia & OCD. Her depression became so severe that she had to be institutionalized for 3 months following the birth of her one & only son. The care of her newborn son during this time fell to her younger sisters, who also battled their own mental illness issues.

That one & only son grew up to become my husband.

There was no father in his life and he spent his childhood with the streets of an urban city as his playground, an emotionally unstable mother and far too few rules. He was never quite sure of his next meal for, although his mother had a job, she could not always be relied upon to provide responsibly for her son. At the age of 12, he was kidnapped from his mother and taken out of the country.

Out of concern for his well-being, it was his aunt (sister #3) who had kidnapped him, and because his mother would have never agreed to give up her son, the aunt felt abduction was her only choice.

He spent the next 6 years living with his aunt and her husband, but it didn’t take long before her disturbed mind became as apparent as that of her two older sisters.

After graduating high school, he set off on his own, working odd jobs and taking junior college classes intermittently. It was in 1990 that we met and in 1994 that we married.

His mother did not come to our wedding. It was after our 5th child was born that we finally met. At the time we flew her in from her home in Mexico City, I knew very little of the history I just wrote of and had been told she was an “old & lonely woman” who was only living for the day she could finally meet her grandchildren. What was my first indication that things might not be exactly as I had been told? . . . it should have been that my husband had not taken any time off from work to spend with his mother during her (month-long) visit, but it really took her actually arriving before the severity of her instability became alarmingly apparent.

At that point, I became known as quite the evil daughter-in-law when I told her, my husband and her sisters that with 5 children under the age of 8, I could not be expected to take on the care of a mentally ill woman. That I had used the words “mentally ill” is, ironically, what they all found offensive. My husband finally had to agree that she indeed was mentally ill on the day she attempted to take refuge at the local Catholic parish and stood behind the priest while yelling at my husband, “I’m not going back! – You can’t make me go back home!”

Well, she did go back home and has only visited us once more since then. That visit did not go any better than the first – worse, actually. When she overdosed on her medication while I was home alone with her and the children, my husband agreed that any future visits with his mother would be at her home – even if we had to pay for international travel. . .

The eldest sister has since past away, from complications arising from her mental illness. Sister #2 (my mother-in-law) continues to live alone and untreated for her mental health issues as does Sister #3. (she divorced her husband for unfaithfullness in 2005) Sister #4 is still married and has raised 4 children of her own, battling more with conforming to society than her past. (but that’s another story)

Everyone has a very long story. . .

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My husband has decided to quit going to marriage counseling. Although those were not his exact words. . . What he did say was that he has scheduled a series of dental appointments to have some (cosmetic) work done on his teeth and those appointments happen to (coincidentally) conflict with our therapy appointments. (tired & heavy sigh) Another coincidence is that no other night seems to be convenient for him to either change his dental appointments or our therapy sessions. (another heavy sigh)  So for the next 3 Mondays, he will be going to the dentist & I will be going to marriage counseling (alone). But it’s only 3 weeks you say –  yes, that’s true, but I know my husband well enough to safely say once his dental work is done, there will be another excuse.

“Feelings are a warning signal telling us that we need to do something. If you are angry at someone for something they did, it is your responsibility to go and say you are angry & why.” 

(Boundaries in Marriage – Townsend & Cloud)

I’m not sure if anger is the feeling I have over my husband’s attempt to escape from marriage counseling. Maybe this next quote expresses my feelings better:

“Disappointed desire is painful.”  (Boundaries in Marriage – Townsend & Cloud)

Even though the progress in our counseling sessions has been going  so slow, I really had put much hope in the fact that this was the one thing we hadn’t yet tried to fix our marriage and, if it didn’t work, quite possibly, nothing would. I am disappointed with my husband and hurting from that disappointment. So maybe that’s what I need to be responsible for telling him. And instead of shutting down as I usually do, I need to say, “I am disappointed and hurt that you have given up.” Praying for wisdom & grace in trying to communicate this with him.

Psalms 120:1   I took my troubles to the Lord, I cried out to Him and He answered my prayer.

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We recently had an anniversary. Nothing special about the day. Needless to say, I felt very sad as I reflected on our years together and had to admit that it was not a day worth celebrating. I am so unhappy being married, and this day just reminds me of all the difficulties we have.

I spoke to our marriage counselor over the phone regarding the “Anniversary”. Maybe he thought I was feeling sorry for myself or being too negative but he seemed somewhat irritated with me and asked a series of probing questions that I found difficult to answer. Questions such as:

  • Do I know what love is? Obviously not. Up to this point, I have defined love as a choice to be committed to my spouse and the relationship. The therapist did not agree with my definition and said that love is a feeling. “Well,” I said, “maybe it is, but I think love HAS TO BE MORE than a feeling.” Yes, it’s nice to believe all those “happily ever after” movies where love is all about “fuzzy, feel-good” emotions but I have long since viewed those movies as deceptive and not true in real life. Does that make me cynical? Maybe. But I can only base my views on my experience.
  • What are my expectations for the marriage? I would like to start with being able to enjoy being in my husband’s company. To feel comfortable around each other. To have our relationship be a higher priority than it has been in the past. Right now, it’s not just uncomfortable being around each other, it’s actually unpleasant.
  • How do I think these expectations will be met when I have no emotional connection to my marriage/spouse? The answer I gave is what I honestly believe to be true, which is, I am hoping things will improve through counseling. I want to be able to think of my husband not just as “the man I married because I was pregnant” but as “the man I want to grow old with.” Maybe the counselor thinks marriage can be much more than that . . . but this is where I am right now, and these are my goals.

Psalms 145:14 The Lord helps the fallen and lifts up those bent beneath their loads.

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I have had thoughts floating around my head this weekend about my husband being a “provider” and his claims of “needing to provide”. It is a difficult concept for me because I equate his need to provide as his need to control.

During my dating years, I had enough experiences to realize that when someone invests money in a relationship, they have expectations they think the other person should be obligated to fulfill.

In my marriage, after a few years of living with my husband managing our finances so poorly, I became responsible for my own paycheck and paying our bills with it.  I felt like a liberated woman! As soon as I re-gained control of my own money, I no longer had to “ask” when I wanted to make a purchase. I was now free from incidents occurring like the time we were at the drugstore & I told him I needed shampoo, so he gave me $1 to buy it . . . . REALLY?!

Our marriage counselor says I am emasculating my husband by not giving him the opportunity to provide for me. But if the money he is using to provide for me is partly my own to begin with, then it is just an illusion that he is providing for me;  in reality it is ME providing for ME . . . right?  

My husband views my decision to be in charge of my own  money, not as a need for financial security, (which he has not provided) but as an attempt to become independent from him. I can see how, in his mind, if I become self-sufficient, then he thinks he will not be needed and I would easily be able to leave him. So maybe his controlling behavior is not a result of his “need to provide” or his “need to control“, but his “need to be needed“. I realize, just as I have my own insecurity issues in our marriage, that this may be one of his.

But why is “providing” limited to finances? Can’t he provide the intangible and still feel needed? Things like kindness, sensitivity, unselfishness, reliability, understanding, trustworthiness . . .  things that would help our relationship grow.

“As love grows, spouses become more free from the things which enslave: self-centeredness, sinful patterns, past hurts & other self imposed limitations”  (“Boundaries in Marriage”   Townsend & Cloud)

I Corinthians 13:4-7   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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We have been seeing a marriage counselor for a measurable amount of time now and while there has been some progress made, there are still many issues that continue to be addressed, but go unresolved. Actually, I don’t think ANY issues have been resolved.

We had an appointment tonight and, I must admit, I was not very hopeful that there would be any new revelations or breakthroughs in our communication or relationship. Is it us? Is it the therapist? Or a combination of both?

What we ended up talking about was very similar to what I had recently read:

“A husband is not responsible FOR his wife’s emotional well-being but he is responsible TO her. If he doesn’t respond to her needs, he is neglecting his responsibility to her.” (Boundaries in Marriage – Townsend & Cloud)

The concept our marriage counselor brought to our attention was that my husband and I have different priorities, (which we had already told him was one of our issues) but that it is my husband’s priorities which need to match mine. (not vice versa or not even a compromise of both our priorities) The therapist said it is my husband’s responsibility to provide what I need from my priority list, not what he thinks he should  provide based on his  list. (Please someone tell me this is Biblical!) And in conjunction to that, I need to acknowledge the things he does with gratitude. Ideally, this would begin a positive cycle of me “acknowledging” & my husband “providing”.

Up to this point,  the things that are being provided by my husband are the things he considers important. (like ANOTHER  TV, when we already have 3 in the house and 3 more sitting in the garage – but wait, this one’s BIGGER) He hasn’t understood why I haven’t been sincerely appreciative for these things. When I do acknowledge my husband, it is more because I know he likes to be acknowledged/appreciated rather than because I am truly grateful for what he has done.

I’m not sure if this is an entry that anyone will be able to relate to, but it is part of our story & I want to document it for myself & for perspective. If, in reading my blog, others are also able to give or gain perspective, I am grateful.

Psalms 14:1   A wise woman builds her house, a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands

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At some point after getting married, I lost my identity. I can think of several ways in how it happened . . . How I let it happen, for indeed, I LET it happen. It’s almost painful to look at my past and realize how naive I was in thinking that marriage would be a blissful state of mutual respect & selflessness. Uncomplicated & transparent.

In one of our marriage counseling sessions I was asked to name something I did when we were first dating that I don’t do anymore. In my mind I tried to think of something “safe” to say and I named something I stopped doing to my physical appearance. (coloring my hair red) It was my husband’s turn to “investigate” by asking my reasons for no longer being a redhead. My response was, “because you said you preferred me to be blonde.” Here is his response, “If you were trying to make yourself more attractive to me, there were other things you could have done, but that wasn’t one of them.” Ouch.

OK, so Realization #1 – Of the many things I am insecure about in my marriage, my husband’s attraction to me is a big one. It is not completely unwarranted, though. He has done and said many things to fuel that insecurity. The ironic part, is that before getting married, I was a pretty secure person in how I looked . . . Although now I see that security was based on how men reacted to me. Now that the most important man in my life pays little attention to my appearance, I feel unattractive to him and am willing to change my appearance (lose my identity) in an attempt to get his attention.

Realization #2 – I see that through out my marriage, I have tried so hard to gain my husband’s approval that I have completely lost myself. That’s partly how it happened. Despite the circumstances surrounding our reasons for getting married and the questions I had about whether we would have gotten married if I wasn’t pregnant, I still elevated my husband’s opinion to an unhealthy level. He became my god & I now realize I began basing my worth on how he treated me.

Realization #3 – Because my husband’s own issues, I may NEVER gain his approval, no matter what I do.

Before I can do anything to fix my marriage, I have to fix me. It’s time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to rebuild. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak up. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

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