Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's complicated

It happened again this week but, honestly, I see it almost every week in one form or another. Here's the pattern:

Husband has a habitual "way of being" in marriage that is deeply painful to Wife. It's almost always some variation of selfishness or passiveness and it is firmly entrenched. Wife spends years trying to change Husband--begging, pleading, raging, distancing, praying, threatening, withholding, blaming--to no avail. Husband typically sees Wife as the problem and focuses on her reactions to his selfishness or passiveness.

Finally, Wife has had enough. She visits a lawyer and starts divorce proceedings or she moves Husband's stuff into a guest bedroom or she has a nervous breakdown or she and the kids move in with her parents. She is d-o-n-e. Husband is devastated. He reaches out to people who can help him and begins a genuine and thorough process of transformation. He stops the selfish behavior. He overcomes his passiveness and reaches out to her in new and touching ways, even if she doesn't respond. He becomes everything Wife ever wanted him to be.

Now she is stuck. Everyone says to her, "Wow! It worked! He's changed! And it's so genuine!" HIs friends and family will come to her and beg her to take him back. Their pastor will probably come and plead Husband's case. Even her friends and family will question why she's not happier than she is.

If she continues to move away from him, she becomes the bad guy. Before, no one blamed her; now, everyone will. But if she reconciles with him, she will always be profoundly aware of one thing: He didn't change for her. He didn't care, all of those years, about her loneliness, her sadness, her pleading that she couldn't live this way. It wasn't her pain that changed him. It was his.

If she stays--unless she also digs deep and finds some transformation of her own--that awareness will be the background music of their lives together and she will be the only one who can hear it.


Crystal said...

WOW. I have seen this before too, but you can put it words and make it so relatable to everyone....words that I can't even began to try to explain. Its sad but so true. It is complicated. I think most woman can relate to this at some level, if not the whole thing. I wish it wasn't so common. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

This seems too simple to me. It seems to imply that the marriage failed because of the husbands way of being and that it is therefore solely his responsibility that the marriage failed. Isn't there a dance going on in every marriage where the other person has equal responsibility? I get half of what you are saying. I'm confused by what you seem to be implying?

T said...

Sure, Jim, this is only one slice of one scenario. This post is not about why the marriage failed. It's about why one partner is often so reluctant to reconcile when it seems that there has been a "happy ending." Everyone watching believes that she has gotten exactly what she always wanted in the marriage and can't understand why she doesn't want to try again. That's what the post is about.

Having said that, I strongly believe that every marriage is an unbelievably complex relational dance between two people and I believe that a linear view--cause and effect--is always inadequate to explain it. I also strongly believe that each partner has equal responsibility for self in that dance. I no longer believe that each partner bears equal responsibility for the destructive behavior within the relationship and I no longer believe that each person has equal leverage for change. But that's not what the post was about. I hope that helps.