Last week I wrote a post about my marriage and when I reread that post I know that it was written from a place of pain, sorrow and isolation. Now that I'm in a place that is more self-reflecting, I can honestly say that the one common denominator in all that has happened during the last 4 years of my marriage was me (my husband too, but self- reflection isn't about him!). This marriage has been extremely difficult for me. I won't reiterate everything in the post, but just say that the recent ADHD issues has opened my eyes to my own pain and yours, and I am finally able to take my finger pointing back from him and look at my own conduct, actions and reactions.
In a marriage counseling session (we have been to 3), he mentioned that he had ADHD (who knew?). The counselor suggested that I read Melissa's book, and read it as well as all the information in the blogs. My first reaction was Hallelujah - validation - ok, I'm not crazy! Other people feel how I have felt for so long - rejected, angry, lonely, hopeless, and then some. Everything that has happened seemed so insane - I felt, why or why can't my husband just change! Second, after reading the blogs, I felt immense fear - is this how my life is going to be forever? Cancer was bad, but ADHD (without treatment) - impossible. I mean really, a person can only tolerate so much! So I reread the book. I'm not sure if it was in her book or in the blogs, but I do distinctly recall that she (Melissa) made a decision one day (I recall it when she discovered her husband's infidelity) to manage her own happiness and in a matter of a few days had completely changed herself. Hmmm, how can that be? Can a person just make a decision and change just like that! It reminded me a bit like Charlie Sheen saying, forget AA, i just decided I'd stop drugs and alcohol and then it was so! Winning! I admit I still think Charlie is in denial about his addictions, and let's not even talk about his outrageous behavior, but maybe Melissa was onto something. So I went on an exploration to discover, how can someone really change themselves. I read a lot of different stuff about boundaries, managing stress, and other self-help type books, and this is what I take away from it all:
1. The only person you change is yourself. Our buttons get pushed by others (sometime it seems like a million times) often. Yet it is our reaction to their statements, actions, etc., that we can control. Up until this point I really thought it was just instinct, human action. Our reactions are based on our thoughts, and from all thoughts come our actions and emotions - either positive or negative. What I find so awesome about this, is that when someone does something to us, we can chose how we feel about it and how we respond. Maybe I'm dense, but this was really enlightening for me, and also quite humbling, because you mean I have caused this emotional turmoil in my life because of my own thoughts! Hey, I'm not excusing his behaviors and choices, but learning that I can really just decide not to go to emotional hell - why that is just downright fabulous! When I started to think about it I wondered, why do we act and react like we do with our partners - for me it's probably because I care. But if my neighbor or a stranger did the same thing to me that he was doing, would I react the same way? Would hate, mean or vile things come out of my mouth at them? I hope not. So something he is saying or doing must trigger some fear me, and I'm reacting from that fear framework. What am I afraid of: rejection, failure, not being loved, whatever. So I became an observer of myself, focusing on how his behavior and actions made me feel. What's was I telling myself about me? Was I was telling myself, he doesn't care about me or my feelings, he doesn't love me? Yes and I interacted with him on that basis.
2. Stopping the Blame Game. In this game of tug and war that we play with each other, it only takes one to drop the rope. Then, game over. If I'm honest with myself, my focus has really been on based on fiction ..."if he would change X! then I'd be happy (or happier)." I have wasted so much time agonizing over what my husband did or didn't do, that I swear it felt, at times, like a serious mental break. All this time, and I was giving him the power over my own happiness. Whether I was happy or sad, having a good or bad day, I looked to him. Let me tell you, that it has been an exercise in total futility, inefficiency and ineffectiveness. How was that working for me? Not well, not well at all. I dedicated my emotional wellbeing to his actions. My behavior caused his own fears and reactions, and around and around we went. I blamed my husband and he blamed me. The truth is I was scared. I was fighting for my life and he was causing me so much pain. I ranted and raved, demanded, begged and pleaded for him to change. How can you be so disorganized, how can you not remember xyz, how can you drink to such excess, take drugs, talk with strange women on the Internet, why do you treat me like I'm invisible. Do you not hear me. Don't you not care about the pain it is causing me? I felt terrible about myself. Surely i was not worthy or he wouldn't treat me this way. I withdrew, built up barriers to protect myself and those barriers become so wide and high that i became lost and could not for the life of me understand how we could be so emotionally disconnected. How can someone feel so extremely alone in a marriage? All I got during all my tirades was the same treatment from him in return: more distance, more feelings of loneliness and despair. I ended up angry, frustrated, in a bleeding wounded relationship. What was most frustrating is that he really didn't seem to be bothered at all. Just went about his life, like our relationship was just normal. Giving him the emotional wellbeing just resulted in me losing my soul. Who I am, anyway, and how the hell did I get here! Surely I should have recognized the signs before I married him. How can he say he loves me and treat me with so poorly. I felt terrible about myself. Total victim! Shifting the focus away from him to me and what I can do to create happiness for me is leading me to VICTORY!
3. Who are you anyway? My fulfillment in my life is emphatically not his job. Do two unhappy people make one happy marriage? Not usually. There must be a better way. I think Melissa is right, when it's all said and done and no matter what the outcome, we are just simply left to be ourselves. Why do we get so lost? For me, I am beginning the new journey of self-discovery. I need to find what makes me happy, brings me joy and rediscover who I want to be in the days or years to come. I know I don't like that angry, frustrated person that I have become. I don't think the change will happen overnight, but its beginning, and man, DOES IT FEEL GOOD!
4. Boundaries are your friend. We put up walls for a reason. My husband's deception and behavior deeply hurt me. He tried to break them down by trying to strong arm me into just dropping them. i had dropped them in the past, why couldn't i drop them now? He would say "I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, you need to forgive and forget," all the while not changing a thing about himself. It isn't as simple as "bus driver, move that bus!". Both his words and actions would need to shift before that wall ever comes down. The decision to set the boundary and enforce the boundary is mine. His behavior to rebuild trust and manage other ADHD issues is up to him. Whatever he does or doesn't do is only in his power. I have released him, because I have absolutely no power to change him. He can continue to live his life with the profound effects of ADHD but those behaviors don't have to affect me, if I establish appropriate boundaries and stick with them. I am by no means a neat freak, but his level of disorganization is beyond my wildest dreams. I have argued, begged, organized (a million times) his stuff, and almost instantly it is back to that disorganized state. It made me crazy! I protested for one month and refused to clean anything, hoping that it would get so bad that he couldn't stand it. That day never came for him but did for me. I don't recommend the strike approach, because really he was clueless - stuff could be surrounding him and I swear he couldn't see it - and I was the only one that suffered in the mess. Dishes in the sink, no problem - Is it really so hard to unload the dishwasher, just once in 4 years! Apparantly it is! Trying to drum up the enthusiam in him to care about something that is important to you - seems impossible. So I said to myself, so what, what are you going to do about it? If he wants to live like a slob, then he can live that way in his own messy space. I threw ALL his stuff in one room, and closed the door. When I found something laying around the house that belonged to him, in the closed door room. If he can't find what he needs or misplaces it, then oh well, he will just have to find what is missing for himself (unless of course, I choose to help him). If he shows up 5 hours after he said he would be back, my day/evening does not have to be ruined. If he yells at me, blames me for his misery, that is up to him. I don't have to listen, and I certainly don't have to believe what he says as if it's some true statement about me. I can evaluate and determine what's true for me and make decisions for myself.
I am not a perfect person. I make mistakes. However, I can now evaluate things from a cleaner lens. I can encourage him and create the space for him to grow. I can stop blaming him for my misery and go about finding it for myself. Melissa offers many good strategies for negotiating your way to your own space of happiness. i look forward to trying them. Will I feel like I feel now everyday from this day forward? Probably not! But what I know for sure is that with the focus off him and on myself, and appropriate boundaries I can be and I am much happier!
4. Learn to value yourself. We each have value and worth, regardless of our flaws. If you are like me, that worth is very vulnerable, easily damaged or devalued. If I think about my own value, needs and desires, I can say I love you to my partner, but I can also say that I do not feel comfortable about joining you in anything that diminishes my value to myself. I don't mean that you become selfish, rather you decide for yourself what you can live with and what you can't. The boundaries you set to protect your own value may hinder your relationship. It may feel like the connection with your partner is next to impossible. You need to trust yourself to remember how valuable you are. If you value yourself, there is always someone taking responsibility for you - you are. Do you know how God sees you? Precious, worthy of honor and love, strong and wise. Tend to yourself, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Keep you batteries charged and your tanks full. When we do that then we are in a better position to respond to whatever may come our way. Stress does have physical and emotional ramifications to our body. Living in a chronic state of stress can frankly kill you. I feel better now that I have stopped the emotional chaos for myself. I am now learning to value myself and looking forward to discovering who I really am, without all of the drama. He still pushes my buttons, but now I can stop for a moment and breath and say how does that align with my values and beliefs. It no longer derails me. I wish there was a magic formula to make the pain go away faster. I have to grieve the fantasy that I thought my marriage would be and take care of myself. I don't know whether my marriage will survive or not. However, I do know that whatever happens, I will be stronger and happier, regardless of that outcome. God speed in your healing. In the meantime, if you have other suggestions on this road I'm taking to self-discovery, I'd love to hear about it. At least we can lean on each other for support and encouragement.
Hooray, it's a new day!