Love is a Battlefield

boundariesFor whatever reason, one of the most viewed posts on my blog this week has been a “breakup letter” of sorts. I wrote it many years ago…2008 to be exact. And if that doesn’t date the letter enough, it was originally published on my MySpace page! Just for giggles I tried to log in to my MySpace page, but I couldn’t. Guess my poor page was canceled due to inactivity or something. I’m pretty sure I’ve admitted once before that I was truly sad to see MySpace fall by the wayside. My page was absolutely adorable. Being the perfectionist that  I am, I worked on it regularly, ensuring it looked just right and portrayed me just the way I wanted to be seen. No such luck with Facebook. Same boring blue for everyone.

Truly though, this isn’t a post about Myspace. Or Facebook. It’s about the blog entry that has been so popular this week. More than that, it’s about me.

Believe it or not, I don’t talk about me very well. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite topics. My discomfort with the topic of me was the root of the difficulty I was experiencing when I referred to blogging as virtual exhibitionism many moons ago. It was also what made me cringe and…let’s be real…come close to having a panic attack…when I saw what had been drudged up from my past.

But then something happened. In the midst of the sheer terror involved with thinking someone may have caught a glimpse of the real me, the interior me, the me I work so hard to keep inside, I realized something even more upsetting.

I could have written that entry recently.

I could have written it this morning, even.

I’m fighting the same battle today that I was 5 years ago.

The same, infuriating battle that has no hope for resolution.

The same battle that drains so much of my energy can often (albeit, less often than in the past) consume me, and always leaves me drowning in a pool of my own rage and unmet needs.

Intellectually, I know many of the right answers. If I were my own friend, I know how I would coach myself to develop and demand healthy boundaries. I know what I would say to help validate the feelings I’m experiencing, but then start working to release the emotional hold those feeling maintain. I know exercises to identify cognitive distortions and retrain automatic thoughts…

But none of that matters.

I’m trapped in the same place I was five years ago with very little improvement.

And it’s infuriating.

The truth is, I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to move past this without professional counseling. But I’m just not willing to let her spend my money on top of all that she’s cost me emotionally. I know, I know…that’s very mature, right?

I wish I had a happy conclusion for this post. A light-hearted look at what I’ve gained from this experience and how I’m attempting to grow. But it just doesn’t exist. At least not right now. Right now it just hurts. And I just feel trapped. Right now, I guess both she and I just need your prayers. Thanks.

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For Better or For Worse

I was recently asked why I don’t write more about my marriage. Not just the daily happenings that I sometimes discuss, but the nitty-gritty details. My questioner speculated that it would make for good reading. I’m sure it would. But I don’t write about my marriage for the same reason I don’t talk about some aspects of my marriage, even to my closest friends. My marriage deserves more than that.

In a recent post, “Is Being Family Enough?”, I briefly touched on the special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” I think that dignity is far surpassed by the dignity of marriage. On my wedding day I stood before my family, friends, and God, committing my life to Josh under all circumstances: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer. My, oh my. We don’t know what we’re saying on that glorious day, do we? After all, how bad can bad be? How poor can poor be? How worse can worse be? How sick can sick be? We may think we know, but we don’t have a clue what those words really mean. I think that’s the beauty of it. On one’s wedding day, one finds oneself so very in love that one is willing to commit to stand by the another, even in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Fast forward a few years.

I’m not perfect. My husband’s not perfect. Our marriage is not perfect. We are two imperfect people charged with living together and given the added responsibility of managing a household and raising a family. Are there ugly moments? You know as well as I do that there are many. Do those “moments” sometimes stretch past the end of the day and spill over into other days? Of course they do. So why don’t I talk about them, vent about them, or share whatever struggles we’re currently facing? I think doing so violates the dignity of our marriage. Even if my sole intention is just to get something off my chest, that’s not how it works. Whether my audience is an anonymous internet audience, my mother, my sister, my best friend, or a stranger at the park, if my words belittle Josh, they belittle my marriage. If they belittle my marriage, they belittle Josh. Marriage is hard enough without one or both of the spouses slowly tearing it apart to anyone who will listen.

I’m not suggesting that it’s healthy to keep your emotions bottled up inside. But I think struggles of this nature ought to be shared only with your spouse or your private journal. (Not barring a marital counselor or your confessor, if the situation applies.) Or (as should be the case in my marriage much more often than I do) first with my journal to filter out some of the unnecessary and potentially damaging words, then with my husband to attempt to build a bridge over, around or under the situation. Josh has it much worse than I do when it comes to bearing the brunt of our arguments. My knack for sarcasm often results in some pretty cutting comments, which is why I should work harder to filter out some of the emotion in my journal, so he and I can deal with facts.

While I obviously don’t know this from experience yet, I think I may have discovered the secret behind the 80-year-old couple sitting on the park bench, having been married for the past 60 years, and still very much in love. Mutual respect. They’ve seen each other at their very worst, their very best, and everywhere in between. The same is true for anyone in a marriage, but I think their secret is how they respond to and recover from those situations.

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s self-love. After pondering those words for a few moments, I decided truer words have never been spoken. While “hate” isn’t comfortable, and it’s definitely not something you want to be part of your marriage, that’s not what will ultimately do it in. Self-love, on the other hand, especially when greater than the love you have for your spouse, will.

This is what is at the root of the saying that a successful marriage can’t be 50/50, rather it must be 100/100. Both partners must make every effort to give 100% of themselves. Yet, both partners must be be willing to give 110%, 150%, or 190% when, for one reason or another, the other is only capable of giving 90%, 50%, or 10%. Remember those scary vows? This is where they come in. We promised that we would do this, did we mean what we said?

If either or both spouses are more concerned with their own needs, their own desires, their own dreams, goals and aspirations, than those of the other, the marriage just won’t work. To make marriage a real, true, lifelong commitment, we have to look past ourselves and only see the other. How scary that can be sometimes! That’s why trust is so crucial. One has to be able to trust their spouse enough to be totally vulnerable. One has to be able to totally trust that their self-sacrificing love will be reciprocated. That’s what makes a marriage work. Not just work, but land two 80-year-old people on a park bench, 60 years after making vows that they really didn’t understand, sitting happily just because each is with the other.

Is Being Family Enough?

I go back and forth about whether I find it appropriate to voice family frustrations in such a public forum. On the one hand, most of my family doesn’t read this, so it’s not like they’ll be offended. On the other hand, I think there’s a special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” A unique bond that makes you as a unit special and should make you willing to defend the integrity of any individual member of the family simply because they are part of your family. (Ha..maybe that’s why I love mob movies so much. Despite their “shortcomings”, they most definitely get my definition of family.) Venting about them on the internet just doesn’t seem conducive to supporting that kind of  relationship. Unfortunately for me, a portion of my family doesn’t seem to have the same sentiments on this topic. And that’s where the problem comes in.

Long before I met my husband, I already had a pretty clear idea of what my future family would look like. I expected to have a fantastic relationship with my inlaws, calling them “mom and dad,” and being loved and accepted by them in the same manner a parent loves and accepts his/her biological children. I envisioned hosting huge holiday parties with both sides of the family coming together to celebrate, eat lots of delicious homemade food and have a great time together. I thought my family would be so close-knit that one day my kids would say something like “Wait a minute, is Nana Daddy’s mom or your mom? Is Aunt or Uncle so-and-so your sibling or Daddy’s?” Needless to say, since I have an overwhelming desire to get a few things off my chest, this is not the situation that I’ve married into.

I’m not quite ready to unload a laundry list of offenses and hurts that are so contrary to what I wanted my family to be. I feel like doing so would only contribute to the lack of family ties, although it may make me feel better momentarily. I just get so frustrated that I could quite literally scream. I had no idea there were people who valued family so little. People who thought that the definition of family means “We’re your parents, you’re the kid, no matter how old you get, and you need to bend over backwards to do what we say or we won’t talk to you anymore. In fact, we won’t just not talk to you, we’ll be rude to you when you call, refuse to cultivate a relationship with our grandchildren, insult your beliefs, have no concern for what you value and refuse to congratulate your accomplishments. ”

Okay, okay, okay….I’m definitely heading towards that laundry list. I’m still not quite sure that’s appropriate, but I’d be lying to say I’m not dying to expose every hurtful action and get a few consoling comments in reply.

I just really can’t fathom how we got in this situation. I know I had pretty high expectations. And I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve reached a point where forgiveness isn’t coming naturally to me. But that doesn’t explain how we got here.

To further complicate the situation, my dear husband is totally nonchalant about the whole matter. He shrugs his shoulders and says something like, “This is how they’ve always been. They’re not going to change. Don’t get so upset about things you can’t change.” While he may have a point, I find his sentiments equally as baffling. In my experience, children have and inborn drive to be loved and accepted by their parents. Somehow, perhaps because of my initial expectations, my drive extends past my biological family and includes my inlaws. I just don’t understand how I can repeatedly be so hurt by their actions, yet time and time again Josh just shrugs his shoulders and moves on. Maybe I should try to respond similarly?

But I find that concept to be so sad. It’s so contrary to what I envisioned my extended family to look like. I don’t know which is more honorable, continuing to fight for a family I may never actually get or letting go and making the best of the incredible family members I do have. How do you choose between the potential of an amazing extended family experience and your own sanity in the meantime?

With Deepest Sympathy and Heartfelt Condolences

Dahlia Sympathy (1)I “heard” from a college friend yesterday (via a facebook status update) that he lost his sister. I am honestly heartbroken over the news. I knew his sister, though not well, and at one point I was really close to his family. I am slightly stunned by the emotions this situation has brought up. All I want to do is give them all a big hug. I want to be there to help make food for the husband and children she left behind. I want to help manage all the guests that are likely dropping by to offer their condolences to her parents and brother. I want to help make this as easy a process as earthly possible. I want to be able to hold their hands and in some small way offer peace, consolation, or understanding. I want to stand beside them as they say goodbye to their daughter, sister, mother. I just want to help with the pain. I suppose this is a fairly normal reaction to death. Still, it seems weird for me to feel this way. With one recent exception, I haven’t seen or spoken to this family in something like 5 years. It leaves me feeling awkward because, the fact is, I’m not a part of his family anymore. He’s married; I’m married. We have very separate, different lives.

I tried explaining my feelings to my husband. Being a man who’s truly in touch with his feelings, he very eloquently said something like, “I’m sure it’s normal to feel that way.” Bless his heart. He tries to understand me. He knows I don’t what him to solve my problems, but he’s a man; that’s what he does. When he is unable to be the solver, I get a reassuring statement like the one above. I know his intentions and I love him for those intentions, but, as a woman, I need to sift through my feelings with someone. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

All I know is my heart is breaking for this family and that I apparently still love them despite time, distance, or circumstance. Ever since I heard the news, it’s all I can think about. I even dreamed about it last night. I feel helpless, but I also feel confused. I don’t even know if these feelings are appropriate considering the time, distance and circumstance that do separate us. I sent a sympathy gift to the family and notes of condolence to a few of the family members. That helped a little. At least I feel like I did something.

I just don’t know how to reconcile the way I feel with the reality of our situation. I’m not sure why I feel the way I do, but I desperately want to reach out to them. I just don’t think it’s my place. But, then again, looking at it from a Christian perspective, we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ and it’s only natural for me to reach out to the family. I just don’t know what to do. Obviously, I’m constantly praying for them. Maybe that’s all I should do?

As I type this the visitation is starting. I can’t begin to fathom what those boys are thinking and feeling as they look at their mother lying there in eternal rest. Or her parents as they look at their daughter. Or her brother as he looks at his sister. Or her husband as he looks at his wife. My constant prayer is that the family is granted peace, comfort, and understanding, that they are brought closer to Christ and to each other through this tragedy, and that family and friends wrap them in a blanket of compassion and support. I just wish I could tangibly help with those things instead of merely praying for them.

I wanna live where the green grass grows…

Granny

I spent the last week back home with Josh and his family on account of his grandmother being ill and eventually passing away. Every time I go out there it completely reaffirms that the goals we’re working toward are indescribably perfect for us.

I don’t know how I got so lucky as to find my perfect match in Josh. I tried so hard to make past relationships fit me, and it seems so silly now that I see how easy it should be. I’m not saying we don’t bicker. Everyone who knows us knows there’s no telling who is more stubborn. All I”m saying is that each of our dreams perfectly complement the other.

If there were any jobs in that town, I’d have my boys out there in a heartbeat. I would love to raise my family in the midst of all the extended family. We’re not too far out, though. We just really need to make an effort to get out there more often. It’s a shame we didn’t before Granny passed.

I feel so privileged to have known her at all, and I wish with every fiber of my being that I would have made sure we got home to see her more often. We got to spend some time with her in the hospital on one of her last good days. All the family told me that she kept telling them how happy she was to have spent time with my boys. What’s more, she told one of her daughters and Josh’s daddy how much she likes me. It means the world to me that Granny thought I was a good match for Josh. I would like nothing more than to be just like this woman, and she approves of me. That is such an amazing feeling.

The overflow of people and flowers and gifts at the funeral home was a testament to just how amazing she really is. It seems there isn’t anyone she wouldn’t help and there was no weight she wouldn’t bear without complaint. She made a quilt for each of our boys when they were born. I’m so proud to have them and will be thrilled to pass them on to their children. Honored isn’t a strong enough word to describe how I feel about being the mother of two of Ople Swafford’s great-grandchildren.