Hypervigilance - Elisabeth Klein

I’m one of those people, that when passed by a speeding car, does two things: prays for a cop to see this errant citizen and pull him over and give him a huge ticket, and then totally relishes when I pull up behind said speeding car at a stoplight, proving my point that they just broke the law for no reason because they are, what?, five seconds ahead of me now.

I have what I believe is an overblown sense of justice.  When someone gets away with something, it drives me absolutely mad.  It’s a great quality if I were, say, a criminal justice attorney. But for just a regular girl, it can be a downfall.

So imagine throwing that character trait into the mix of a marriage with a hidden addiction. It was a dangerous combination, mainly for me.  I became obsessed, a private detective who found receipts and called stores and begged Jesus to help me find little brown bags with empty bottles in them.

When I was married the first time, during the final year or two when many others had circled the wagons around us and were helping us and praying for us and telling us what to do and not do to try to keep our marriage from drowning, I was told that I was a record-keeper, and that I needed to work on it.

Well, yeah, I am! No one believes me! I have to prove it to all of you!

And there was some truth in that. There was a small benefit, for a small season, of me being what my intuitive counselor called hypervigilant.

You know the phrase looking for a devil behind every bush? Yes, well, that was me. Only I was looking for devils all over my house. I was waiting for a lie to be spoken and then waiting for that lie to trip the liar up.  I was waiting, practically longing, for evidence, for tells, for slurred speech.  It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t like who I had become, someone who was praying for the other shoe to drop. Someone begging Jesus for my partner to do bad things so I could write them down and tell our team of marriage-helpers. (Yes, I now see the irony.)

Listen, I understand who I had to twist myself to become back then. And I understand if this is you right now, you precious-hearted woman in a difficult marriage.  I am not saying these things to berate you. Or to berate the past version of myself.

I did need evidence.  Our team was looking for heart change and they weren’t living with us so they were relying on me to tell them what was going on, what words they were hearing were true, what were half-truths, what were outright lies.  I did need to keep a record, and I did – for a time – use hypervigilance as a coping mechanism.

When we are living in crisis mode – and living day to day life in a marriage that is difficult and filled with abuse or addiction is indeed living in crisis mode – our bodies and minds and hearts, I believe, shapeshift to help us get through.  And we take on armor of sorts to protect ourselves, to help us muddle through.

So if this is you, it’s okay.  But I have a few words of caution for you:

One, your heart needs to be pure.  You very well might need to be taking some notes and being watchful of certain behaviors so you can report to your pastor or counselor.  But there is a line that can be crossed when all you’re looking for is the bad. If you find yourself asking God to help cause your spouse to do something bad so that you can catch him once and for all, the line has been crossed. (Yes, God may answer your prayer for your spouse to hit bottom for the sake of him getting help, but I don’t believe he will answer your prayer for your spouse to sin.) So if you find yourself in this place of relishing every sin you are catching your husband in because you are so desperate to just be done, please talk to Jesus about this, and perhaps a mentor or counselor or friend who understands hard marriages.  Confess and ask for help in this area.

Two, you need to be careful that this hypervigilance, this record-keeping, doesn’t spill over into the rest of your life, and you need to be careful that if and when you get beyond this season – either if your marriage heals or if you divorce – that you do not remain a record-keeping hypervigilante.  Or you may alienate people.  Or ruin relationships. Or annoy the heck out of someone.  I know someone who tattles on other people.  She’s a grown woman who tells others about so-and-so doing such-and-such.  And it’s frustrating to see but I also try to remember that her current situation is one where she is on the lookout; but unfortunately, she’s not keeping herself in check, and it’s affecting other areas of her life.

My hope and prayer for you, if you find yourself in this place, is that it is just a season. That God will show you what you need to know when you need to know it (pray for that for yourself). And that there will be grace, that his grace will soften those edges in you that are so raw you feel you need to protect yourself all the time, and that one day, you will find yourself living in peace – either relationally or circumstantially.

Call to me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know. -Jeremiah 33:3

If this post resonated with you, Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage would benefit you as well.