The Lies They Tell Us

 

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——–The Story Tellers——–

I was recently at a party with several women who were sharing their thoughts on marriage. Honestly, I found some of the advice to be off base or harmful, and I realized that I have heard these same thoughts and ideas since I was a young girl. They, like me, have seen these messages reflected in social media, preached from the pulpit, handed down over generations, and recycled time and time again. We are all at risk for buying into these messages. And this isn’t specific to women, these messages are affecting men as well.

The problem with these lies or misconceptions, is they lead to unhealthy communication, needs, roles, conflict resolution, and ultimately unhealthy marriages. I’m no marriage expert but I have had some unique experiences in my marriage, I work in the clinical social work/therapy field, and I have sat along side amazing, healthy women who have been married much longer than me. So in some ways, I have some good knowledge for debunking the terrible lies ‘they’ tell us! The list below is based on my personal experiences over the course of my adult life and the experiences that others have shared with me.

——–The Lies——–

#1: Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If I have heard this once, I have heard it a million times. I’m not sure why this myth has been perpetuated when it clearly doesn’t work. Most of the time, I find arguments start after the sun has already gone down, and they get pretty bad before they get better. In these situations, experience has shown me, I’m more likely to say something terrible, get overly emotional, or act selfishly the later it gets.

Healthy conflict means: take a break when its needed. Take time for your own self-care. Have boundaries about how long or how late you will fight. Experts say…don’t argue if you are: HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired).

So if going to bed angry is what you all need to be healthy…then go to bed angry. 9 times out of 10, things look differently in the morning.

#2: Never sleep apart even when angry. My beef with this is, well, everything. To me, this is a co-dependent statement that really says “No matter how badly someone treats you or how unsafe you feel, you should still sleep next to them because you HAVE to.” What this statement does is take away choice and not allow people to take care of themselves.  Self-care in marriage is huge! How do we expect to bring our best selves to a marriage if we can’t take care of ourselves?? What if your spouse is acting unsafe: physically, verbally, sexually, emotionally? What if you have a 7am presentation and lying next to someone you are livid with will keep you up all night?

This myth is illogical. If someone needs space…they can take it.

#3: If your spouse wants to have sex, you should do it. I had someone tell me that she never tells her husband no, even when she doesn’t want to have sex with him. She trudges through since its her duty. Sex is intimacy that starts outside the bedroom. In a marriage, hopefully its about mutual trust, respect, love. The best way we can love our spouses is to first love ourselves. If we can’t take care of us, how can we take care of others? Follow me here: If we don’t respect ourselves enough to be honest about where we are sexually, how do we have a mutually trusting, respectful, and loving relationship? How does “trudging” through sex result in intimacy and relationship?

And lastly, and most importantly…marriage doesn’t mean a spouse now owns their partner’s body. Each person still has choice in how they bring their body to the relationship, what they do with it, and what someone else does with it. Every person has the right to say “no, I don’t want to have sex right now.” No person has to have sex with their spouse…it is not their duty. EVER.

#4: I must have sex with him (or her) so he doesn’t look at porn or cheat on me. Hold on, what!? What’s crazy about this myth, is I have heard it from dating couples, christians, celebrities, old married folks, etc. This lie does not discriminate. The irony here is that people think they can control someone else with sex, when they can’t control someone else at all. This too is a form of co-dependence and very common. The partner takes responsibility for their spouse’s behavior, but wait, why? If someone decides to look at porn, cheat, etc. That’s on them. That was their choice. No amount of sex or lingerie can fix that. If your partner is telling you that having sex with them will keep them from doing those things….that’s called manipulation.

We cannot control anyone’s behavior except our own.

#5: If you’re marriage is struggling, get into couple’s therapy. The problem with this solution is that people think the marriage is the problem instead of looking at themselves. If a person’s marriage is in trouble…get into individual therapy. We each bring a history with us into marriage. And whether we talk about or even acknowledge this history, it will play itself out every day. How we respond to conflict, share feelings, and view roles are all impacted by how we were raised, trauma we have experienced, and learned behaviors.

Here’s what I have seen be the most successful: get into individual therapy and work on yourself. Learn new skills with a therapist. Work through triggers, and build self-care and healthy interdependence. When you and your spouse are in a healthier spot, then go to couple’s counseling to build upon those items together. Get yourself healthy first…so you both can bring the healthiest versions of you to the table. It usually works.

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#6: I’m so glad she found someone who can take care of her. I used female pronouns here simply because when I have heard this, it is usually about a heterosexual female. I think I get confused here because, did this woman get adopted? Like did she marry her dad? If two grown adults are joined in marriage to be partners…why is everyone so glad she now has someone to take care of her?

Also, I typically feel bad for the guy here. I know he can’t take care of her. I know he will fail her because that is reality. My understanding of a healthy relationship is this: each person is responsible for taking care of themselves, communicating their own needs, and asking for help/support when it is needed. The marriages I respect are the ones where the couple knows how to care for themselves so they are free to care for each other and others.

I don’t want a marriage where I get taken care of. I’m not a child and my spouse is not my parent. Plus how exhausting for him.

#7: When there is conflict, one of you should just take off all your clothes.  I remember someone telling me this when I got engaged. What a terrible way to handle conflict. This solves nothing, it doesn’t hear or respond to the other person. This does not exchange empathy or care. This is literally a band aid on conflict. And I worry that couples who use sex, humor, or their bodies as a way to handle conflict, will only put band aids on their problems.

Conflict and how we respond to it, grow through it, and embrace it can make or break a marriage. Conflict is inevitable. Will we be healthy and mature enough to sit with it, to listen to one another, to apologize, and to grow in empathy?

Taking off all one’s clothes typically doesn’t accomplish any of that.

#8: Marriage should be easy. Healthy marriage is hard and it is a lot of work. If couples really engage their conflict, pain, shame, and if people are living in true transparency- it will be hard. Growing next to someone is not easy. It is rewarding. It is fulfilling. It is fun. Becoming the best versions of ourselves feels good. Marriage can help us do that, if we choose to engage it. But it’s not easy. And, that’s okay.

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——–The Epilogue——–

There are many other lies floating out there in the void, however, these are the ones I hear A LOT and wanted to challenge. I hope if you read this, you found some of it challenging. Maybe you disagreed with something or had never thought about it before. Regardless, I hope if you are in a dating/marriage relationship, that you are moving towards health, talking openly with your partner, and living according to your needs and choices.

Let us all keep doing the best we can.

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Codependent Raindrops

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Its Day 2 of driving across the United States. We somehow thought it was a good idea to pack everything we own, including our dog, into a U-haul to move from Washington state to Ohio. Those 40 hours spent in the truck gave us ample opportunity for endless thoughts and imaginings. It created space for a little daydreaming and reflecting. Here is one of many thoughts:

It is hour 16 of driving, and it has been raining or snowing for the entirety of that time. I am riding shot gun as my husband is as determined as the rain to drive the whole trip. My dog is wedged between us on the floor, and I notice he keeps inching closer to me with every bump and turn. His wet nose is resting against my foot, and I’m both disturbed and comforted by the warmth of his breath. I could move my foot, but its being used to stake my claim on the floor space in front of my chair. He’s a sneaky dog…I just know he’ll take over the second I move my foot.

Our truck sounds like a whirlpool- I can hear”shhhhrrrrrr” from the rain outside while also hearing “t-t-t-t-t” from the shaking of our U-haul. It creates a rhythm almost comforting despite the cramped space and long hours. As I stare out the window, I am distracted by the racing rain drops. They are moving at what seems like warp speed, across the glass, blurring out any chance of seeing the Montana landscape. (not that there was much to see at that point). Two raindrops in particular catch my eye. They are racing side by side. Each doing there own thing and going so fast. I feel anticipation, like a dog right before their owner walks in the door, as I wonder who will get to the edge first. They are pushing each other as one inches forward and then another. They are dancing, waltzing upon the glass. My child heart aches in wonder.

It was so slight as the truck rounded a curve, but I felt the wind shift and the two drops collided. These two independent, racing drops of water collided into one fat, perfectly round drop. “No!” I thought to myself. All their fun was over:  their dance, their independence. They had collided into this big, wobbling orb, smack in the middle of my window. I continued watching as the once lively drops were now burdened and trapped by one another. They no longer moved quickly and wildly, but instead trudged along the window pane. The joy they had exuded separately was diminished to weariness as they were now intertwined. The drop strolled along until the edge of the window where it disappeared.

I felt grieved by what had happened. I felt a loss because I enjoyed the dancing rain drops, and I did not want to see them go and look so trapped. Because I was in a truck, driving endlessly, I started thinking about the raindrops and how they reminded me of people I see all the time. I watch thriving, mature adults live in codependent, burdensome relationships. I watch them lose what they need, who they are, and what they want, when they deserve to be living in health and freedom.  People trying to dance, not realizing they are tied to the other person, unable to move.

I imagine, when we hear the word co-dependent, we all go “Not me!” I know I have said that before, and yet I found myself doing the things found in books and articles on codependence. I have also observed that many people think codependence can only occur in romantic or familial relationships, and yet I have witnessed people struggling with it at work, with friends, children, at church, and with people in authority positions. Codependence doesn’t discriminate. People may only be vulnerable to codependence* in one area of their life or all areas.

Okay…so if codependence is common and people are affected by it more than they realize, how can we know if we are vulnerable to codependence? Great question! Some ideas: read a book on it, ask people who know us well, see a therapist and explore relationships in our lives.  Taken from both personal and others experiences, I created a set of questions below that may get the ball rolling. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be vulnerable to codependence in a relationship.

  1. Do I often not say what I am really thinking or feeling for fear of upsetting others?
  2. When someone is upset with me, am I unable to function in that tension? Am I a mess until it is resolved? 
  3. Do I make it my responsibility to keep my boss happy or stress free: I don’t go to them with what I need, I don’t actually say what I mean for fear of upsetting them.
  4. When I experience hurt feelings from someone, do I expect them to come to me to fix it, even though I am the one who is upset? 
  5. Do I get upset or feel controlled if someone asks for what they need from me?
  6. When my partner and I are in disagreement, I feel that we must think the same or come into agreement in order for there to be peace and harmony?
  7. Do I ignore what I need or not ask for what I need because I am afraid of how someone will respond? 
  8. Do I dislike my close friends having other friends or other opinions. I feel threatened by that. 
  9. Do I feel threatened if someone does something in a different way than I would do it? Example: raising children, recovery, wedding, budget, etc
  10. If someone comes to me with their hurt feelings (from me), do I often feel attacked by them?
  11. Do I say “sorry” even when I didn’t do anything wrong?
  12. Do I try to maneuver my spouse, friend, partner, etc into what I think is best for them, even when I have nothing to do with it? 
  13. If someone does not like a certain behavior or personality trait, do I try to alter it for them, even though it is not wrong? ( loud talking, reserved demeanor, laughing, crying, etc)
  14. Do I continue to hang around or remain in relationship with people who compromise my physical or emotional safety? 

If you answered yes to one or several questions, you may be vulnerable to codependence in a relationship. It may help to read that book** or reach out to that therapist you heard about. However, I am not your therapist or living your life, so you may not be vulnerable at all. I hope regardless, this post gets you thinking and raises awareness in your life or in the lives of those you love.

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*I do petition people to not label yourself or others as codependent. I like the phrase “vulnerable to codependence” or “struggling with codependent relationships.”, the other way can be very judgmental or stigmatizing.

** Book ideas: “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.  “Facing Codependence” by Pia Mellody,  “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie.

The silence of pain.

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You ever notice how quiet it is when you are in pain? Maybe there is yelling and crying…and yet there is also that numbing silence that envelops. It’s like hearing through a wind tunnel. It is that bad dream..you know the one where you are screaming but there is no sound.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I imagine I am a walking billboard when I am in pain. Like the whole world can see how depraved and upset I am. That all my crap is sitting on the front lawn with a “free” sign. Ugh and everyone gives you that pity look. Oh, anyone who has been in pain and interacted with another human being has to know that look. Slight pouty lip, the head tilted slightly forward (almost making a double chin) and the slight sigh before the phrase “I’m so sorry.” It’s no one’s fault that this is their default face when witnessing another’s free-sale on the lawn. “It is what it is” as my friend Lindsay would say.

So what to do with the deafening pain?

I recently read an Upworthy article that was shared with me. It said “Some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried.” Read article here Losing someone you love, can’t be changed. Saying goodbye can’t be undone. Feeling echos of the pain you’re experiencing may never stop haunting the soul. And, that’s okay. The deafening pain…it’s also okay. Because, it is okay to not be whole. It is okay to be in pain. We are made of good and bad, broken and whole. We are made up of what should have been and what actually is.

The silence will lessen. The singing will start again. We won’t always feel like free lawn furniture. The scars will be carried. The road may be long. But I bet when we look side to side…there are so many on the road with us. Others just trying to find their way through the pain. Others carrying the marks of life…a life truly lived.

Because really…that’s the part we all have in common. We are experiencing pain because we are alive…because we live. Let’s find others who are equally alive, unfixable, beautifully broken, and willing to walk with us down the hard road of life. At least then it will be bearable.