Walls, Landmines, and Balance

I am a pretty linear guy. Maybe it is the math background, proving something by letting one piece of information lead to the next. Or maybe my nature is why math was appealing to me in the first place. You can hear it when I speak, whether in a class or in church. This linear quality also appears in that I like to finish one task before starting another. Not that I can’t have many things going simultaneously, but I like things linear. Crossing things off lists. Making a beeline for the destination. When I drive, I don’t like to stop except for gas, so do all your business when the tank is empty.

[Semi-amusing recollection – just before my wife and I married, I had accepted a job out of state. So my future mother-in-law came with us as we were doing a housing search. Six hours in the car and this woman wanted to hit every yard sale and rest area that we passed. That’s just wrong on a long trip – you need to make progress.]

Anyway, I bring this up because the journey that I am taking toward strength is anything but linear. It’s like being able to see where you want to go, there is even a straight path possible, but the path is replete with landmines to navigate and walls that can pop-up out of the ground unexpectedly. Like an episode of Wipeout.

Ever see that show? People spend a lot of time jumping from platform to platform to avoid rotating obstacles, streams of water, and falling into a pool of cold water. When they first see a obstacle they are so focused on their feet and maintaining their balance that they often miss whatever is being swung at them. Balance is the key. Watching where you step.

This is my present struggle on the journey to strength because of course the journey is more complicated than just overcoming my learned passivity. My wife has some crud that she is dealing with. We have improper roles and behaviors that we’ve learned and taken on. She also struggles with her reaction to male strength after growing up with an abusive father.

Abuse is strength used to demean and take advantage; it is unhealthy and not a true picture of what godly strength looks like. But it is hard for her right now to tell the difference. It all feels the same – which I am sure is why my being passive was the path of least resistance in our relationship. The awful consequence of which is that we both took on roles in our relationship that were opposite our design. I could lead and be respected everywhere but the place it mattered most. Frustration and emasculation for me. She feels like she can not relinquish control out of her fear of trusting her security to someone else. My wife is not able to enjoy the fruits of being a woman in a loving, godly relationship.

So as I try to walk to the goal of being strong in my marriage I have to watch my step and maintain my balance. Not so much worrying about how I might swing the pendulum the other direction and wear stained wife beater t-shirts around the house, slick my hair back, and demand dinner on the table WHEN I ARRIVE HOME! My path butts up against the walls she has built. Occasionally I step on a landmine that I didn’t know was there and she struggles to communicate to me.

Recently I stepped on one of these landmines (as I am sure I do often, but we were able to identify this one). Sometimes I tend to be evasive in my answers. My main reason for doing this with my wife is usually about my fear of being inadequate. Several weeks ago I was evasive about why I had not yet fixed the sprinkler system. I felt more than a little stupid because I did not know the problem. Rather than face my fear and tell her I feel like less than a macho man, I told her that it would get done. She perceived this as I was letting things slide and didn’t care that something was broken. For me it was fear. For her it was a broken promise and loss of trust.

I’ve got to balance facing my own fears versus reacting out of hurt. I’m afraid of being a disappointment. I’m afraid of not being loved. I’m afraid that I’m inadequate. If I were to continue living in my fears then I’d always be a passive people-pleaser. That really sums up my journey. Not being bound by fear. Stepping forward. Giving others the opportunity to meet up with my fears and potentially hurt me. Especially my wife. My struggle here, and the balance I have a hard time maintaining is being reactive in my hurt. Either wanting to repay the hurt or run away from it. It is hard to maintain balance when you know something is going to hurt, especially when, because of her own stuff, I don’t think my wife understands why I am in pain – my desire to be respected and admired by her.

I’ve got to balance giving her the space to process her emotional and spiritual scars and heal from them verses making her aware of my feelings and desires for our relationship. It is the balance of not backing off too much and not pressing too hard. This is a process. I don’t want us to regress to a place that is more comfortable. The path of least resistance leads back to where we were. In our relationship, it is going to be painful to make improvement. Cleaning out a wound is messy. Resetting a broken bone is painful. But the result is worth it. It takes time and effort. This is where I come up against the walls. My struggle is that I get frustrated and have a tendency to create expectations. It is sometimes hard to see progress when you are in the middle of something, like noticing the growth in your child versus the growth change in a kid you see once a year.

I’ve got to balance communicating and guiding as a loving husband versus becoming a teacher/counselor or pushing her dad buttons. My wife is going to reject any leadership in which I act as her dad, checking up on her. Since I love to do it for others, I easily fall into the trap of counseling or teaching her. Not providing what she needs, just providing the answers. This too has been a struggle. I am the Hank Haney of relationships; I can diagnose and tell you how to improve yours and all the while miss out of practicing the techniques in my own relationship. My leadership has to be by example. Without expectations. Making my wife my primary ministry. Guiding her through the healing process by going first and talking about what God is doing. Remembering what God is doing and living out of the change.

Maintaining balance is tough. I fall often. But while it is not linear, I am making huge progress. Two steps forward and one step back means that you are a step ahead of where you were. My hope is that soon I will begin to be the man my wife will finally find the joy of being a woman around. Taking down her walls for me and giving her respect and admiration in return. That sounds worth the effort.

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