This morning I was thinking about how when I was married the first time, I did what another person told me to do, and I didn’t do what I was told not to do. Not all the time. But a lot of the time. And, to be clear, it’s not like I was told to join in with him on porn or rob a bank or something. But still. It was an issue.
One memory came to mind, and this was actually before we were married, which makes it almost worse.
He had just helped me move into my apartment at college, my senior year at Trinity. It was August. It was Illinois. It was freaking hot and humid. And I had allergies. I turned on the air conditioning unit in my bedroom and he told me to turn it off, that it was wasteful.
And despite my misery and despite that it was my apartment and despite that he wasn’t living there and despite that he wasn’t paying the bill and despite that we weren’t even married and despite that I was a fairly full-grown woman, I turned off the air conditioning. I resented him. I was mad at myself. And I still did it.
That felt like a fork in the road to me, though there’d been three years of forks up til then. In that moment, I taught him as clear as day how he could treat me. I told him with my action that he could tell me what to do and I – a human being made in the image of God with a sound mind and the Holy Spirit dwelling within me who wasn’t doing anything wrong – would yield and do what he said even if I didn’t agree or want to do it.
I think part of me never forgave that version of myself. I literally just typed that weaker version of myself but then I deleted it because that is way too harsh of a way to talk about my naïve, lonely, desperate-to-please twenty-something self.
We went on to have a marriage filled with turn-off-the-air-conditioning kind of moments followed by my compliance.
Interesting caveat: I fought tooth and nail. I was the yeller. I inwardly screamed more times than I could count over the inequity in our relationship, I repeatedly reminded him that leadership wasn’t about telling me what I could and could not do, and I begged Jesus to intervene (and even end things and end me) more than I want to remember.
And yet. I still did the things he told me to do. And I didn’t do the things he told me not to do.
And this morning I asked myself, out loud, WHY???
At any moment, literally any moment in our entire twenty-three-year relationship, I could have said, “I’m a human being in my own right,” or “I literally have spent time praying about this and feel God is okay with it,” or simply, “no” or “yes”, depending on the circumstance.
At any moment I could have drawn a line in the sand. I could have taught him what I would and would not tolerate.
I shared one of these instances with someone during my separation and she said to me, “I never would’ve stood for that. I guess I’m just stronger and more independent than you are.” (First of all, ouch. Kick me while I’m down, why don’t ya?)
But secondly, perhaps. Perhaps there was a weakness in me. Perhaps it was from not seeing what a healthy marriage was supposed to look like. Perhaps it was from my 80s and 90s evangelical church upbringing of how submission is supposed to play out in a marriage. Perhaps I was scared of losing him pre-marriage or the fallout post-marriage.
I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know. But I know that all those factors and more added up to me feeling and believing that in the eyes of God, I was equal to my husband.
And out in the world, I was equal to any man.
But in my specific actual marriage (and in my church where men were allowed to do everything and women were allowed to do not quite everything but almost everything, but that’s another topic), I didn’t feel quite equal.
To be clear, this did not make me an I am woman, hear me roar kinda gal.
But to be doubly clear, I’m not an I am man, hear me roar kinda gal either.
No one, in my opinion, should be quote-unquote roaring.
No one should be, really, telling another human being – especially one who is healthy, one who has their wits about them, one who is following Jesus through prayer and Scripture and wise counsel – how to live their lives on a regular basis.
I may never know why I responded the way I did all those years ago for all those years.
And it does no good now to berate myself.
And it won’t bring healing to become the opposite and demand my way with those in my life.
It also won’t bring healing to remain an opaque version of myself, still scared I’ll lose people if I’m not myself. (This part I’m still working on, I’m sad to say.)
So today, I’m asking Jesus for tender affection and accepting, nonjudgmental compassion toward myself…the younger version of me and the now me…and to become the most Jesusy version of my authentic self I can be so I can learn to love deeply and well.
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Thank you thank you for sharing this. I went through a lot of this myself. I am still in the relationship right now but almost separated in the same house.
As I have looked back I too have asked WHY did I allow what I did. I have had a hard time not being angry and exasperated with myself.
I will remember this post and keep asking Jesus (I love to call Him Yeshua 🙂 ) to help me have compassion for myself. He’s been helping me to do this and I will keep asking. And even though I am a grandmother now yes I am still working on being myself at the risk of losing people. I guess it’s a lifetime lesson.
God bless you Elisabeth.
I’m thankful you shared this – I’m still dealing with showing compassion to my younger self. Even now, post divorce, I am still struggling to “naturally” stand up for myself around him as we interact regarding our kids. It takes a lot of psyching myself up.
Yes, I had many of those moments too– when we were dating and when we were married. Thanks for sharing this