Saturday, April 9, 2016

How Can I Tell If I Am in an Abusive Relationship??

"How can I tell if I am in an abusive relationship?", was a question that played over and over in my head, like a stuck CD track. "Some days he is sooo nice to me....he didn't mean to hurt me, I guess.... It must be me. I just don't know how to love him the right way. I must figure out how to be better next time....then we won't fight...."
The hardest thing for me was to face the fact that I was in an abusive relationship. Not just because of my own self-talk, but because of the things he would say. Things were always 'my" fault....we fought because "I should have been an attorney." But here is the key.....I needed to step outside my situation and look at it as if it was someone else experiencing it.....then I could realize how bizarre the behaviors were.
I felt like I was going crazy.....there is an actual term called, "crazy-making." I would think and think and pray and pray, trying to be a better wife....thinking it was me. Of course, I wanted to be submissive. But he knew what buttons to push to make me think everything was always my fault. The twisting of words, the perpetual lying, the verses he would quote.....all to make me think it was ALL me!
Crazy-makers function when everything is about them....they never take responsibility for their fact, when there is something that is clearly their issue, they twist it around to be the other person's fault, creating a constant atmosphere of chaos....thus making you feel crazy!
Going to church....graduating from Bible college... being a pastor....does not exempt anyone from being a crazy-maker. In fact, some 'crazy-makers seek out spiritual positions since it gives them more of an audience to control. They seek 'good' people to surround them because 'good' people will be easier to manipulate.
So....."how can I tell if my marriage is normal??" Healthy would be a better choice of words, actually.
A healthy marriage is two 'good willed' sinners who desire to create a godly home together. Is there conflict? Yes! Is there hurt? Yes! But.........the difference is that we don't purposefully try to hurt each other.
Here are a few things that describe what a healthy relationship does NOT look like:
* A healthy relationship does not lie to cover up his/her own issues.
* A healthy relationship does not flirt and blame it on the 'other' person who keeps flirting back.
* A healthy relationship does not keep the other person in financial bondage by limiting his/her partner's access to money, while racking up credit card debt.
* A healthy relationship does not ALWAYS blame the other person, never owning his/her stuff.
* A healthy relationship does not minimize the pain the other person has caused by these behaviors.
Eventually I will look at what a positive healthy relationship looks like, but for now, seeing what it is NOT is very crucial for those in an abusive relationship. Facing this truth is the hardest thing for us to. That is one of the reasons we struggle to leave the relationship. If we admit we are in an abusive will mean we truly did choosing a marriage partner. If I don't leave, no one will know.
So how do you know if your relationship is abusive? The first most helpful thing I did was to start a journal, writing down behaviors. When I saw it on paper, the chaos became very clear. It was the first step in helping me realize that I needed help.
If you are working with someone going through this patient. Leaving is not is the biggest, scariest thing you can imagine. "How will I support myself?"...."Where can I live?"...."What will I tell the children?"....."What if he comes after me?"....."What if he files for sole custody?"....(sharing custody with an abuser is the biggest nightmare you can ever, ever imagine). These are just a few reasons why women stay.
Be a listening ear....don't give advice....don't suggest they talk with their pastor....most pastors are not equipped in these circumstances. Find an organization that helps women....Focus Ministries is a great place to start! Pray, pray, pray....did I say pray?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Did I Marry the Wrong Person?!

With our culture’s pressure of finding ‘The One’ (absolutely no reference to Frozen implied there!), sometimes it may feel as if we married the wrong person because we don’t finish each other’s sandwiches... I mean sentences!  So many of us buy into the Hollywood and Hallmark lie that when boy and girl marry, that they will have children AND a dog and live harmoniously ever after.  Add to that the pressure of finding your one ‘soul mate’ and there is no wonder so many ‘twenty-somethings’ are running from the marriage commitment.
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up nobody talked about marriage. You didn’t hear Christian radio programs about it, you didn’t find books lining the Christian bookstores and you certainly didn’t find Bible studies on how to be a better wife!

Like most of us, I dreamed about my wedding, but had no clue about the marriage.   I did not see my parents handle conflict so I assumed later in life that since my marriage had conflict there must be something desperately wrong!  I believed the lie that the absence of conflict was the absolute goal of every marriage!  

I don’t have to tell any of you married women that marriage is hard work.  You already know that and now we have all the Christian podcasts at our fingertips to help us be a better wife!  Our culture talks much more freer about the topic of marriage, but it still isn’t natural, especially in our conservative  Pennsylvania community to discuss our own personal marriage struggles.  

Sometimes we just need a cheerleader to help us to keep rowing when all we feel like doing is drifting.  Drifting is easier….it’s less work, at least in the beginning.  By living parallel lives you don’t have to keep bumping into each other.  Then the doubt starts creeping in after while, “did I marry the wrong guy?!”  I should be happy, but we are soooo different…..all we do is disagree and….. drift.

I remember when Roger and I were dating, I could not imagine us ever having our first fight.  He was dreamily perfect in every way.  Then we had our first disagreement….the night before our wedding!!  I was just then starting to see in reality how different we really are!
  • I like to be on time….well early - being late doesn’t bother him
  • I care what people think - he could care less most of the time
  • I am a filer - he is a piler
  • I am type A - he is type Z ...very laid back
  • I can be directionally challenged - He runs his own GPS inside his head...all the time
  • He is all things techy - I am not!
  • I respond emotionally to things - He is logical
  • I love being busy - he loves doing nothing!

And the list goes on!  Many of our disagreements rooted themselves in our differences.  The happily ever after got up and rode off into the sunset.  
Throughout the years, we have taken advantage of some cheerleading opportunities Family Life offered through their Weekend to Remember Marriage Events.  During our 11 years we are seeing some real breakthroughs.   We take our cars to the garage for maintenance to rotate tires and oil changes, why not do that for our marriage right?  So this Valentine’s weekend we packed our bags for another maintenance checkup at Weekend to Remember!

You may picture us spending all weekend romantically sitting in front of this fireplace, sipping lattes and holding hands.  You may even now start thinking, "I wish we could do something that wonderful for Valentines Day!"  Yes, I wish you could have been there too, but not for the reasons you think.  Yes, there was indeed opportunity for romance, but the things we glean each year we go are so helpful, we would love to have you join us!  After all, don’t we all need some cheering on at times?   

Roger and I were reminded that the goal of marriage is oneness and the ultimate purpose is that our marriage is to reflect God’s image.  What kind of reflection do others see?  So much of the time, I think ours was smudged and sometimes even cracked!  

We learned that we are either striving for oneness or isolation and the only way to be truly intimate with each other is to work through our conflicts. That meant I needed to be transparent about my hurts and also being willing to receive Roger as God’s gift to me.  That also meant that I needed to give up my right to be right.  I needed to look into my own heart and recognize how I have been hurting him.  No more drifting….row..row..row our boats!

So what about all those differences?  It isn’t easy living with someone who sees things differently than you.  The beauty of being on a team together is that each of us bring strengths.  Where one has a weakness, the other has that strength.  The women’s speaker shared this beautiful illustration this past weekend….fold your hands as if you are going to pray, entwining your fingers.  One hand is me, the other hand is Roger.  The fingers are each of our strengths and the gaps between our fingers are our weaknesses.  As we interlock our lives filling in for each other’s weaknesses, we become an incredible team!  

I was cheered on this past weekend to be a wife of purpose….on purpose I need to cheer my man on!  My man needs me.  I know... they need us, don’t they?  As I look at my folded hands again, I can see that without me, my husband will have glaring gaps.  And the same for me….without him I will have gaps in my life.  Roger feels a deep sense of loss when I don’t cheer him!  I love the scene in Cinderella Man before his last big fight, Mae reassures Jim, “You are the Champion of my heart.  You can’t win without me!”

Well I have lots of work to do.  As I clean the bathroom mirror later today, wiping the water splashes and smudges, I will be reminded that my marriage is reflecting God’s image to those around me.  As bathroom mirrors go, they need cleaned up….often….so it goes for my marriage!   Let’s cheer each other on to keep cleaning...and not just our mirrors!

Keep Rowing

Keep Rowing!
"I want my marriage to be like a Hallmark movie" some of us you take notes during your chick flicks wishing your husband or future spouse would be like that guy in the movie? Yesterday we celebrated eleven years of marriage. It was one of the most stressful days I have experienced in a while, yet one of the sweetest...yes, better than a chick flick!
Marriage is NOT like the Hallmark movies. It is hard work to stay close through the good and bad times. It is not romance every night and candle lit dinners. Real love is a choice, not a feeling. Love is purposefully choosing to stay close even during the times you want to run away. My husband often describes marriage as two row boats out to sea. The only way you stay close is if both of you row steadily to stay together. If one stops, you drift apart.
A good marriage is learning ways to allow your spouse to feel safe so they can share their deepest thoughts. That does not happen usually over candle light. That happens when your spouse has really blown it and you wrap your arms around them and say, "We are a team!, I got your back!" We celebrated team work yesterday, working on a deadline together rather than being against each other. And yes, we felt safe at the end of the day.
Those of you who know me are fully aware of how shy I used to be...quiet..reserved. Living in New York and having a very dysfunctional first marriage changed me. I learned to stand up for myself to survive. Now I am learning to tone that part of me down in a 'normal' marriage. Normal? Yes, a normal marriage is not perfect. The goal is not to find someone that never disagrees with you. Letting someone else have their way all the time is not being a good spouse.
Always being in defense mode is not healthy either! Learning to handle conflict has been a struggle for me because I grew up thinking the goal was no conflict. If you don't argue, you have a perfect marriage. No one...I repeat.... no one has a perfect marriage. If you don't have a disagreement, James Dobson says, "One of you is not necessary!" Disagreements are a part of a normal marriage. Learning how to navigate them while not crushing your spouse is what is tricky.
Having good communication includes learning to navigate the land mines of your relationship. Avoiding conflict is not the goal, because the only way to true intimacy is learning to navigate the tough times....while you keep stay together. I have watched families do this well, navigating physical and mental illness, and tragedy. I also know families that never talk....really talk with each other. They may exchange pleasantries, what is for dinner and when football practice is, but they do not navigate healthy conflict as a family. As parents, do we apologize to our children when we blow it? Do our children see us apologize to our spouse?
Marriages would start on a stronger foundation if Christian young couples could have someone in place to go to when struggles begin. Your first fight can be devastating. And yes, you WILL have your first fight....because two sinners are living under the same roof and they are expected to produce more sinners to live in that same house. Doesn't God have a sense of humor??
I have often thought that newlyweds should be assigned a mentoring couple to follow them their first couple years of adjustment. If you did not see your parents do conflict in a healthy way, how would you know that your marriage is not over? Look for couples who have faced struggles and not only remain married, but enjoy the view as they keep rowing!