My wife asked me to write a blog about some of the struggles we have faced both prior to marriage and within marriage. I can understand why she's requested this one. A lot of my blog entries could make it seem like we are the perfect couple and why can't I live up to that or why can't my spouse be more like him or her.
The truth is - we all struggle.
My wife and I have our own stories coming into marriage and our own story that we are now developing within marriage. I'm a man and she's a woman. Frankly, we fall into a lot of patterns that are similar to others. When my shame gets triggered, I go silent. When her shame gets triggered, she wants to control. Neither of us wants to do harm to one another, but we do. When I go silent, I'm harming her, despite my desire to do just the opposite. When she gets controlling, she harms me, even though she doesn't want to do so.
Here some examples:
Today, we were talking about finances on our drive. We recently sold our car and have some money. Sounds great right? But, what about how to spend it? That can cause problems. In fact, it has done so already. We've gone back and forth on a number of ways to spend it. I've gone silent and I've tried to control. She's gone silent and tried to control. We've both reacted a number of times and it has taken a lot of emotional risk to keep going back to the discussion to meet each other.
So often in situations like this, I'm tempted to say, "Whatever, just do whatever you want to do with it." This would of course be the worst thing I could do because I'd essentially be saying, "I'm bowing out. I'm not going to stay engaged with you in this process." From her point of view, this would be me telling her that I don't love her. Nevertheless, even though I've stayed in the arena with her, I have still harmed her with my silence and control and she has harmed me with her silence and control. The beauty is that if we choose to stay engaged, then things like our finances can become a place where we form some of our deepest bonds of intimacy, having gone through the process together. The reality is - we've been doing this for three months now and we've only survived about 25% of our budgeting sessions without conflict and hurt.
It is a struggle.
How about other day to day stuff? Let's talk about how to do things around the house. My wife is someone who values efficiency. I'm someone who never does anything efficiently. My wife is someone who thinks about all the ways that something can be accomplished. I'm someone who thinks about what problems may arise. My wife is open to relationships. I'm more selective and often fearful. My wife drives aggressively. I drive tentatively. Can you see the conflict inherent in this relationship?
I love my wife, but I really have to believe the truth, which is that she isn't my enemy when everything wants to tell me that she is. So often we can believe that the other person is out to make us men feel like we aren't good enough or make us women feel like we're too much. The reality is that we have to declare those beliefs as utterly false so that we can find what is deep down in our hearts, and often hard to find - that they aren't the enemy and that we want to do good to them.
I know that many of you might be thinking - but what if I don't know whether or not I want to do good or do harm to my spouse or not? This sort of ambivalence causes a lot of shame and guilt, especially for those of us who have been engaged in years of cycles of harm.
The reality is that we are all mixtures of goodness and harm. There is a dark side of us that wants to harm - truly. There is a good side of us that wants to do good - truly. The thing we have to remember is that our true self - the one that God has created - wants to do good. No matter how loud the voice of the dark side might be (sounds like Darth Vader here) we have to ask God to help us find that something deep down inside us, which is our desire is to do good to our spouse. When we engage with our spouse and try to believe that they aren't against us, then much can be accomplished in terms of intimacy and emotional health.