Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The early years

The first years of being parents were pretty darn good. There was lots of love and lots of laughs to go around. My husband was an excellent father all through the early years: infancy, toddler-hood and the preschool years. He was so kind, patient, gentle and yet fun in the rough and tumble ways that good dads have.

He was also very good to me, very supportive. He was my best friend, and I was his best friend. We would confide in each other, though I was always more talkative in general. Life wasn't perfect; there were aspects of our marriage that were less than ideal even then. If I had known then what I know now, they were things we could have worked through. But it seemed easier to just overlook them as little things. And certainly, with all the joy and love we shared as a family there was no reason to suspect that they were only the tip of the iceberg.

Then about the same time that my son turned six, a subtle change occurred. My husband suddenly became unhappy at work. He had a new boss, a bulldozer of a man, who ran over anyone who got in his way and blew up at anyone who let him down. For some men this would be troubling but they would find a way to handle it. For my husband, it was devastating. He couldn't take up for himself. His only way of coping was to kick his passive aggressive resentment in high gear. This was not good.

He also began drinking a glass of red wine after work to relax. His fundamentalist parents would have had a cow if they knew! Although I didn't share a glass with him most nights, it didn't bother me much. At first he just bought a bottle of wine now and then. Soon it became a regular staple. Then came the day he brought him a gallon bottle of wine.

I became concerned and tried to talk to him about it. And for the first time (on anything I really cared about) he blew off my concerns. I just stuffed my feelings about that and kept praying. But then came the night he was drunk in front of the children. That was too much for me! I of course pointed out his condition to him that night, and took the kids and avoided him the rest of the evening.

The next morning he was very apologetic. He allowed me to pour out the rest of the wine and agreed to stop drinking. Then he finally told me how unhappy he was at work. I encouraged him to stand up for himself and/or look for another job. I encouraged him to think about what it was he really wanted to do, and start praying about that and taking steps to make it happen.

And so my husband decided that what he really wanted to do was become a traveling consultant. Though I was not sure I could handle being on my own all week, I agreed to give it a try. He promised me that he would do this for one year, and then if I felt like I needed him home, he would come home. So I agreed to give it a try, because I genuinely love my husband and I wanted him to be happy in his work.

However once he started traveling, there was always tension and a bad undercurrent in our family dynamics. We both thought it was the stress of traveling. Turns out the traveling was a symptom of bigger problems, problems planted in him by abandonment, neglect and dysfunctional religious fundamentalism in his family of origin. But that's his story and he didn't figure out that part for years to come.

My formerly loving and supportive husband had changed. He had become emotionally absent and passive aggressively abusive to me, but there always seemed to an environmental stressor to blame it on. His boss was a jerk, or he had a tough problem at work. Sometimes I just made excuses for him. Sometimes I would confront him and then he would apologize. But the pattern was being established and it never really stopped. In fact, it would wind up continuing for many years.

Of course that left me lonely and frustrated. But I could handle it for a year, I thought. And so handle it I did. At first I simply threw myself into my home school and volunteer work. This met my needs quite well. Life during the week, when my husband was gone, flowed pretty smoothly.

The weekends were something else. My husband was just as stressed at the new job, and he was just as unhappy when he came home on Friday nights as he had been on weeknights before. I wanted him to come home and love on me. He wanted to come home and watch television.

He did make a special effort at first to compensate with the kids for his time away. He would hide little gifts for them around the house, and call every night and give them clues. This was fun at first, but he began to feel like they only wanted him to call because they were going to "get stuff". So we dropped that idea.

We gave up our traditional date night, since he had so little time home. We both felt bad about how little time the children had with their dad, so it was a mutual decision. What I didn't know was that this change really signified that he was withdrawing from us as a couple. I was so eager to please the Lord by believing the best of my man. It was right in front of my face, but I did not see what was really happening.

Our time together was just not like it had been before. He was always irritated with me. He never yelled at me or pushed me around. Instead he just became more and more withdrawn into himself. I would try to get close and he would resist. He would shrug off my kisses, or giggle like a child and tell me to stop.

And so I prayed. I prayed some more. I swallowed my feelings, and gave up all "my rights". I tried my best to be understanding of his time constraints, but there was something else going on to, something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

I think if the word had occurred to me I would have recognized it as resentment. My husband seemed to resent me. He no longer listened to me trying to understand my heart. Listening to me was a chore that he did when he couldn't get out of it without looking bad. I am a very expressive person, in fact it's one of the reasons he was attracted to me in the first place. Vivacious was the word then. Emotional was the new term I heard to describe me, and it was not meant to be a compliment.

And so the change in our family dynamic began. But life was really very pleasant during the week. I absolutely loved home schooling, and our days were filled with story time, crafts, field trips, outings with the home school community. My children had such warm and loving hearts, and we were truly enjoying the learning adventure that home schooling had promised to be. I was happy most of the time, and though I longed for a loving relationship with my man, I told myself it was just around the corner. Next weekend would be better.

The cracks in our marriage were starting to show, though for many more years I would cleverly find ways to plaster over them. Neither I nor my husband realized that the foundation (my husband's heart) was the real problem. It would take many years and some truly shocking events to make that apparent.

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