"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If Valentine's Day was hard for you

     Now for you wives (or husbands) who read my post "How to stay valentines" yesterday and were thoroughly disheartened by it. It doesn't describe your marriage, maybe never did, and you can't see any way it ever will.
     I've been there, too. My first marriage was a really good one, genuinely good, yet the day came for both Rick and me when we asked God (we found out, comparing notes later), "Is this all there is? Am I stuck with (him/her) the rest of my life?"
     For one thing, we were so far apart on the Myer-Briggs scale we were falling off opposite ends of it. He approached life from his head, I from my heart. He thought explaining things to me rationally would convince me of their veracity and that if I didn't agree with him, it was because I didn't understand. So he would patiently explain it to me again. Louder.
    I felt like a rabbit hunted to ground. I would stop defending my point of view (just as my mother had with my father) and give up, waiting with my head hung down for the lecture to be over. Sometimes, to get it over with sooner, I'd just agree with him. He knew I didn't mean it so he'd try harder to convince me of the soundness of his reasoning.
     I'd concede again. "You're right. I'm wrong." I thought that's what he was after, my surrender, his triumph. But it would only make him more frustrated.
     If he persisted, I'd get desperate. I'd wave an imaginary white flag. "Okay, okay, I get it. You're perfect!" That made him angry--but still he wouldn't let go. I felt trapped.
     Finally I'd get sarcastic. "Okay, I'm slime! Is that what you want?" That drove him crazy.
     Late in the marriage, when we got counseling and really worked hard to hear each other, he said, "Why didn't you stand up to me and make your case? You're a bright person; you might have persuaded me I was wrong."
     But by that point in an argument I couldn't care less who was right or wrong. When he shouted at me, everything in me would shut down. I would hear my father dismissing my ideas as stupid and crazy. I was all about peace at any price.
     He was all about truth at any price.
     There were other issues. As most of them do, these way preceded the marriage. My father, besides being a scientist, a tennis champion, a trapeze artist, a boat designer and captain, a playwright, and a peace activist, was a child molester.
     Rick told me once, bitterly, "Your father ruined my life." He meant his sex life.
     What about mine? I know Rick really loved me but he couldn't understand why I was ambivalent about sex, often scared to let him initiate it. I longed for safe, tender cuddling but I couldn't guarantee when the time came for more that I would not panic. After feeling rejected time after time, Rick told me he felt like a failure. He told me to stay on my own side of the bed; it was too hard on him to have me close. He wanted to release me from any pressure his expectations might put on me so he told me--me, a woman who already felt like a prostitute for responding to sex--that if I wanted sex, it was up to me to come to him and initiate it. 
     Then my mother died suddenly. While I was grieving her loss, I met a man. He listened like she did, he cared for the broken little girl in me, he believed in me (whatever that means). But he wasn't my mother. He wasn't safe. He was a man.  I spiraled into deep depression. I stopped eating. I ran away from home, drove from Southern California to the Oregon border, turned back, met with my therapist, admitted I was suicidal, and let myself be admitted to a mental hospital.
     There I peered over the precipice into divorce and seriously considered it. Rick even gave me permission to leave him if I wanted to. I chose to stay. During the six weeks in the hospital,  I learned to give value to my feelings and to express my needs.
     To Rick's credit, our marriage meant enough to him--I meant enough to him--that he got into therapy to find out how to not only save what we had but change so he could improve it.
     Then he was diagnosed with brain cancer. We let go of our separate lives, of our right to be right or to fulfill ourselves or be satisfied by the other person. Our existence narrowed down to clinging to each other and fighting for his life. The 18 bittersweet months between his diagnosis and his death was the most precious time we had together since early marriage. The issue of sex no longer loomed painfully between us. As he became more dependent on me, he became more aware of my value. And as I felt more appreciated, I blossomed, serving him.
     All this to say, I know what a marriage of two people out of sync with, out of sympathy toward, each other is like--and so does Jerry. We are grateful to have a chance to love again and so much that seemed so important the last time around seems so irrelevant now.

Today I am thankful for my first husband, Rick.

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