I have (for the most part) really been enjoying my husband's company lately. The changes that have come over the past two years have been painfully, incrementally slow, but they are adding up. They are adding up to a romantic friendship that I am beginning to be able to relax and enjoy. Every day I am learning new things about my husband, my relationship with him and my self.
Last weekend we had an unexpected opportunity to spend the weekend alone together at the beach. It was a surprise gift from our neighbor, and a delight. We weren't even unpacked from the wedding in the mountains the weekend before, but the hotel was free so we couldn't say no. We traded out the dirty laundry in our suitcases for clean clothes, threw in some swimsuits and beach towels, and off we went.
We enjoyed the sun, the relaxation, the pool, the privacy. Part of the time we caught up with our neighbors who invited us, enjoying their company and visiting the places familiar to them from family vacations past. We slept in Sunday, a rarity, and had a pleasant morning together before starting on our day.
My husband and I enjoy the beach in very different ways. He is a former surfer, and he loves the waves and the power of the ocean. I am a nerd and a sun bunny. I love to stay warm and dry on land reading a good book, while he body surfs, boogie boards or snorkels. My fondest memory of our honeymoon is one where I am poolside, sunning and he is snorkeling nearby. Every so often he would surface near the pool with some new treasure of the ocean to show me. I remember the joy on his face that day and it makes me smile.
Sunday afternoon came, and all I really wanted to do was stay clean and dry and finish the book I had started the day before. He wanted to go body surfing. Since he knew I didn't want to go body surfing, he invited me to go walk on the beach with him.
Inwardly I contemplated what that would mean. I had on my socks and shoes, and if I took them off to walk on the beach my feet would be wet, sticky and sandy when I went to put them back on. Even after rinsing them in the showers, they would still be wet and sandy. I didn't really want to feel that, ewwww. BUT...
I'll go, I decided inside. Without even thinking about what I was thinking, I decided to submit my desires to my husband's. I have internalized that teaching so thoroughly that I made the decision subconsciously. I still felt somewhat uncomfortable about it, but I took his hand and stepped out the door toward the beach. I kept my socks and shoes on though, and determined to walk far enough up the beach to avoid the tide.
We had not gotten far down the beach when we were stopped by a drainage pipe leading to the beach. It had been raining all morning and so what was usually a mere trickle of water was a stream five feet across. I stopped. He stopped.
I said, "You know, why don't you go on by yourself? I don't really want to get my feet wet and sticky." This was a true reflection of my desire all along. I did NOT want to get all wet and sticky.
"Come on," he pleaded. "I want you to go with me." He smiled and held his hands out.
"You can go alone. I'll see you later." I offered one last time, a very wishy-washy passive way of trying to say that I did not want to go.
"I'll carry you," he offered. I protested some more, this time saying I did not want to hurt his back (true but not the whole truth). After a little more needling on his part, I didn't see how I could refuse. He jumped into the stream (he was barefoot) and I climbed on to his back.
We were about half way across when a bigger wave came in on the tide. At the point where the incoming tide slapped against the outward rushing rain run-off, the water piled up up in a four and a half foot wall, high-fived, and relaxed back down into the stream as quickly as it had arisen.
We were standing between the palms of the high-five, of course. The entire land side of my body was soaked in sticky, salty, sandy water. Not merely my feet, but now my whole right side from head to toe. My cell phone was in my soaking wet pocket. I was utterly defeated by this unexpected drenching.
My husband was all apologies as he set me down on the other side of the stream. After drying my cell phone off with the dry half of my shirt and putting it in my dry pocket, I took a few deep breaths. I walked away rapidly, not understanding the waves of emotion that replaced the physical wave I just encountered. Unlike that wave of Atlantic ocean water, the emotional wave did not recede. It kept coming.
All of the many times I had subjugated my will, my wants, my preferences, my desires to my husband's whims; all of those many, many times I had done so and it turned out badly for me; all those times came flooding back into my brain. I was soaked through and through with the memories of those times.
Luckily, both my husband and I understand PTSD. He was walking beside me, all apologies, when I started crying. He apologized all the more profusely, and I cried all the more profusely. Eventually through my sobs I was able to tell him that I was not mad at him, but nevertheless I couldn't stop crying.
We went back to the hotel, where he held me and I cried. He handed me Kleenex's while I recounted to him all I was remembering and all I was feeling. He listened with love and patience as I eventually wrapped it all up and was able to set it aside. It took awhile.
I won't recount the memories here. They are personal and the details are irrelevant anyway. It's what I understood about them on the beach that I want to relate. I understood that many of those hurtful times, times I subjugated my thoughts, feelings, desires to my husband, WERE MY DOING.
I did that to my self.
My husband is not a monster. He did not demand I subjugate myself. He did not demand I walk on the beach. I could have said, "Sweetheart, I want to spend time with you too but I really, really don't want to get sticky and sandy this morning so we will have to find another way to enjoy each other's company."
It was my doing. I am the one who discounted my own opinion, my own desires, my own feelings. I did that internally to my own self. Wow.
I had not realized how much responsibility I BORE for those bad experiences. I had believed the teaching that if a wife lets a husband make the decisions, God will see to it that all works out well in the end. I put it into practice, and I found out by hard experience that it is NOT TRUE.
This I already knew: abdicating responsibility to my husband when he did not care as much or have as clear an understanding of what was at stake as I had at the time was stupidity on toast. See the entry Poison for my Marriage.
The epiphany Sunday was how automatically I still slipped into the "subjugate yourself" mode. The epiphany was how unfair it always was to my husband, who is no mind reader and can only judge the depth of my convictions by how forcefully or not I stick by them. He apologized over and over for my soaking, but I was the one who climbed onto his back even though I didn't really want to.
We have hosted several foreign exchange students before, and one year we had a wonderful Japanese student. In Japanese culture, it is considered rude to turn down an invitation. The onus is on the one offering the invitation to carefully consider ahead of time if this will be an inconvenience to the person you are inviting.
Of course, we are Americans see things differently. In America (or at least my version of America =) invitations are a sign of approval and inclusion. So I invite people to go with me every single time I leave the house. If no one wants to come, it is -as we say in Oklahoma- no skin off my teeth. I just want them to know they are loved.
My Japanese student did not know this. No matter how poorly timed or downright intrusive my invitations were, she accepted. This was not good for her school work or our family relationships.
This student was taking private English lessons at the time, and the day came when her entire hour-long lesson centered on only one word- the word NO. She practiced over and over again the whole hour with her tutor. She gained courage with each passing minute.
The next day after her lesson, I was getting ready to go to the store. I called up the stairs and asked our foreign exchange student if she wanted to go. She came out of her room, looking a bit scared, made her hands into fists as they hung at her side, and very forcefully said, "NO!" She then winced a bit as she steeled herself for the negative reaction she expected.
My face broke into a huge grin. I clapped my hands together and exclaimed, "Good for you! You said "no"! I am so proud of you." My own kids came out of their rooms to congratulate her and give her their approval. She beamed.
I guess I need some practice saying "no" myself. I am going to do my best to stop this automatic self-subjugation. I choose to believe that the people who love me want to know what I really think, how I really feel, and what I really want. My husband was hoping for emotional intimacy on the walk, but how could we have that while I was not even being honest about my heart's desires while we walked?
Next time I hope that I can be honest and open about my wants too. Instead of having to choose one person's desires over another's, I am guessing we can find some middle ground on which to meet. Dry middle ground. Clean and dry and smooth middle ground, with no waves. Poolside, maybe? =)
Peace and good will to all who read here, SS