When I was a child, I lived in a city with a wonderful carousel in the park. I would climb onto the horse, and it would go up and down and up and down. My imagination would have me traveling all over the land, riding my horse to all corners of my kingdom. (I was usually a princess in my imagination.) And then the ride would slow down, and I was surprised to realize that I was right back where I’d started.
How could that be, after all the riding I had just done, holding tight onto the reigns of my carousel horse?
How could I be back at the place where I’d begun?
The Blame Game
Or the past couple months, I’ve noticed that I frequently feel disconnected from my husband.
I’m not sure what’s going on. We’ve both been under a lot of stress over the past few months, and now that some of those stresses are easing up, we may just be having a delayed reaction of sorts. Our sex life hasn’t been all that great, most of our conversations have been about to-do lists and family business rather than about just being with each other, and our relationship is in the background rather than feeling central.
I miss him. I miss the intimacy that had been developing. Because I was so successful in knocking down the walls I’d built between us, this lack of connection hurts me.
I’ve worked so hard for the past several years; how can I be in a place that feels so familiar?
It’s been a difficult thing to write about, because as much as I’m comfortable being transparent about myself, I don’t want to write disrespectfully about my husband.
Now, why would writing about this be disrespectful? I pondered this for a while—and then realized that it is because I’m being pulled back into the same old blame game I was in for so many years. My nature is to blame someone other than me for my problems. It’s easier than having to take responsibility for myself, after all.
My attempts to write about this are revealing, as are messages I’ve exchanged with some trusted friends.
I’ve written about my frustrations with our sex life (change in both quantity and quality). I’ve written about the things my husband is doing instead of the things I want him to be doing. I’ve said things like, “It’s not fair” and “why can’t he . . . ?” I’ve even tried to journal about some private aspects of our sexual encounters just to help me figure out what’s going on—and with everything, it’s all about what he is doing or not doing. I’ve written nothing about my own contributions to our disconnection.
I know that seeds of resentment are trying to sprout inside me. It would be so easy to nurture these seeds and let them take root.
I recognize this, because I’ve lived it before. This is exactly how the gate-keeping and refusing began all those years ago. I felt disconnected. I blamed everything on my husband. I felt resentful.
There are seeds of martyrdom and guilt as well. It would be an easy thing to replace my resentment with feelings that I have no right to feel disappointment or to want things to improve in my marriage. It is tempting to just suck it up and take one for the team, setting my own feelings aside.
Fortunately, over the past several years, I have learned some important lessons that help me move past these feelings:
Perspective matters. When I look at the situation only from where I stand, I see only the same things, over and over. However, when I step away to look at what my husband is experiencing, I see new things. When I step back and look at our patterns of interaction and our relationship, I see even more. When I step back and take the larger view, I can see what is going on with my husband in new ways, and I see how this current situation fits into the overall scope of our relationship. Instead of seeing this as a Big Deal, I am able to see it as a blip. I find that reassuring.
My feelings aren’t truth. My feelings are simply my immediate reaction to what I perceive the truth to be, looking only from my own perspective. When my feelings come, I allow myself to experience them—and then I try to move past them. I look at my husband’s point of view. I look at our relationship. I look to what the bible says about what Christian love is. While my feelings are still there, they lose their power over me.
Nourishing my marriage is a priority. Other than spending time with God, it is the most important thing I do. I can easily get caught up in doing things for the kids or rejecting my husband’s attempt at a conversation because there’s something else I want to be doing. When I remind myself that my marriage is a priority, it is easier for me to rise above those things.
Sex matters. I’ve realized that a strong sense of connection is intertwined with both the quantity and quality of our sexual encounters. We’ve had some patches with low frequency and great encounters, and we’ve had patches with high frequency and so-so encounters. At this time in our lives, for us, our marriage does better when we strive to maintain frequency and improve quality.
I have every right to want our relationship to be better. I want certain things from my husband that he hasn’t been doing, yet I realize I am not always clear about what I would like. I leave him guessing, and then I’m upset when he guesses wrong. I have the right to want more, but I also have the responsibility to help make that happen.
Each stumble is a learning opportunity. When the seeds of resentment, martyrdom, or hurt take root, they become harder to dig out. At the same time, the presence of those difficult feelings provide a good opportunity to learn about why they are things that show up time and again. Learn about the pattern so you can break it.
A Lesson from Jesus
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” Matthew 13:24-26
The enemy has sowed these seeds in my heart, and I’m tempted to just rip them out as though they’d never been there.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” Matthew 13:27-30
I look at this and think about what it means to pull out all the weeds that grow from my resentment and hurt. I’ve pulled weeds before, and it’s true that some of the good plants get disturbed by the weeding. My husband and I have put a lot of work into our marriage garden, and I don’t want to disrupt the good growth we have going on.
If I just yank out the negative feelings as though they weren’t there, I miss out on the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned over the past several years. The good seed has grown into strong plants. While I don’t want to nourish the weeds, I do want to give the good plants a chance to crowd out the weeds. I want to learn how to truly address these weeds, and I can’t do that if I just yank them out.
Applying the Lesson
So I’m going to let them grow for a while, right alongside the good plants.
What does this actually mean?
- I am letting myself experience the negative feelings. I’m not giving them too much attention, but I am allowing myself to really think through where these feelings are coming from and what has sown these seeds in the first place. If I yank them out, I lose the chance to learn from them.
- I am joyfully nourishing and celebrating the good plants. Despite feeling disconnected, I still feel so much more connected to my husband than I did at any other time in our marriage. I am reminding myself of all the good and beauty that has grown from the work that has already been done.
- I am not doing this alone. My husband is part of the harvest. I’ve shared all of this with him—the negative feelings that have surfaced, the lessons I’ve learned, the ways I rejoice that our marriage has gotten as strong as it is.
Round and Round
I hear from wives that they seem to be making progress in their marriages and then one of life’s blips comes along and they’re right back where they were. They are frustrated. They’ve worked and prayed and suffered and learned and worked some more, yet they feel they’re right back where they began.
Sometimes they give up, and sometimes they try again—and I’ll hear, “We’ve worked on it several times, and each time it gets better—but then we’re right back where we were again.”
It is discouraging to feel like there is no progress—but landing in a familiar place doesn’t mean there’s no progress.
It is disheartening to think I am right back where I started—except that I know I’m not.
When I was a child, I would get off the carousel in the same place I’d gotten on. The spot was the same—but I wasn’t. During my ride, I would have visited the far corners of the land on my wonderful steed. I would have waved at all the people (my parents, waving to me from the sidelines every time I passed). I would have had grand adventures. Although I returned to the same location, I was a new version of myself, with just a bit more imagined experiences that I brought to that place—and the new “me” I brought to the place made it not exactly the same somehow. I experienced it differently because I brought my whole ride with me to that place.
My marriage is a carousel. There have been ups and down, with a lot of mental work and people to wave at on the sidelines, and at the moment, there are some all-too-familiar feelings. But I am not the same person as I was when I got on the carousel. I recognize the feelings of this place, but I know more than I did before, and I am stronger than I was. I make this a different place than it was before.
Yes, it is discouraging to work hard, feel like you’re getting somewhere, and then find yourself at a place that looks no different from where you started.
Remember, though, that it is not the same place because you are not the same person.
Feel how you feel, learn what you can, recognize the good that you have grown, know that you are not doing this alone—and get back onto the carousel for another ride.
No matter how it looks, you’re never really right back where you started.
Photo adapted from morguefile.com