A vacation had been scheduled prior to the Vietnam reunion, and plane tickets were non-refundable. We were both emotionally drained and decided to go. The condo had two bedrooms and we could be away from the scene of our troubles. Maybe I could get some sleep. As we were leaving the airport in a rental car a thought, unrelated to our relationship, occurred to me. I started to ask Ron his opinion – but then stopped myself. This was how I interacted with my friends, bantering ideas back and forth, listening to what each other had to say – maybe agreeing or maybe not. This was not how I interacted with Ron. Our conversations focused on his drinking, the kids, his drinking, the house, his drinking, dinner …. But our marriage was done, what did I have to lose? So I asked his opinion. He responded with the silence I expected, for a minute. Then casually stated he had never had the experience I referred to, but had experienced something similar, and then went on to explain his thoughts. A real response! He had heard me, thought about it, and then replied with his own thoughts – like one of my friends. In that moment I realized that even though I had asked for his love and taken him as my husband, I had never asked him to be my friend! Never talked to him like a friend. Had I ever even observed or experienced friendship within a relationship between a man and a woman? The door to a different way to interact squeaked open, its hinges rusty from disuse.
It was hard to keep the wheels of habit from slipping back into the deep ruts carved from years of use. It was hard to even see another route beyond the one I had been trained on – despite all my efforts to avoid its path into the woods. What was waiting, hiding in the shadows if I dared to venture off the beaten path? Claws and teeth and blood and pain? But despite the fear I did veer into new territory, a few steps at a time, cautiously placing each foot, glancing over my shoulder, listening for the whisper of courage. The call of courage grew louder each time I expressed a personal thought or idea. It crept past conversations with Ron, into more honest conversations with my kids, parents, friends – and even with acquaintances and strangers. Sometimes my thoughts and ideas were not in accord with those of others, but I set them free despite fear of disapproval.
Anger towards Ron did not disappear. It was not that easy. But it was released more freely on the wind of my voice, defusing the explosions self induced silence always led to. Anger was my most familiar mode of expression. I had grown up with it, learned it, and used it to manipulate situations with Ron. But I was tired of anger, and it had never really worked to change things anyway! My heart yearned for peace.
The journey began, but it bucked with fits and stutters. A particular fit was initiated by a perceived inconsiderate response. Adrenaline rushed the blood to my heart, then pumped it to my brain as I prepared for a fight. “How dare he! After everything I’ve done!” I carried the load for about 15 minutes before I came to a halt in a doorway, realizing I had expected the response I would have provided. I had not allowed the extra processing time I knew he needed before he could make a shift in his rigid routine; nor had I provided a reason for my request. Even as a trained specialist in disordered communication, I found it difficult to see weakness in my own. Maybe we really do teach what we need to learn! The patience I extended to children that required extra time to process requests seemed to have been left at the therapy room door. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, consciously letting my ‘fight’ response settle down. And then it was over, gone, just like that. I had been known to carry the tension from similar interactions for hours, maybe even days – or longer. Was this related to why my blood pressure was so difficult to control??
More to come next week…..