It took a while, but I came to understand that I was just a responsible for the damage to my marriage as my husband, Allen. First I’ll lay the groundwork for his part, because I think it will create more impact when I explain my part. If you begin to read this blog, please make sure you read it to the end or you will receive a distorted picture.
Allen was an angry man who had to control everything and everyone around him. Every day when he pulled into the driveway I felt a knot in my stomach. What would set him off today? Would it be work, traffic, the 401K losing money, the kids not acting right, me not doing something he thought I should do, an unexpected car or house repair? It was always something. ALWAYS. I always felt wrong. Not that I did something wrong (although I did that too), but I was wrong. In my being. In my existence I was not enough, not worthy, not good enough, lacking. He focused on what I wasn’t, not what I was, what I didn’t do, not what I did, who I wasn’t, not who I was. And really, he looked at everything, and I mean everything, that way. Always the negative, never the positive. Today, we call it fatalistic thinking. Everything that didn’t go perfectly was the end of the world. And if he couldn’t control it, he was angry, which was most of the time, because there isn’t much we can control except ourselves. He would go around the house loudly cleaning up things, mumbling under his breath, passive aggressively punishing me. Or if it wasn’t me, he would begin complaining about whatever or whoever it was, going on and on incessantly, his anger growing. If he was trying to fix something that wasn’t working, he would do the same. I became increasingly panicked inside as his anger persisted. I tried to calm him down by countering his comments with positive ways of looking at the situations that had upset him. Or if it happened to be about me, I would do everything possible to justify my behavior. 99% of the time my efforts didn’t work and he would continue in his “fit.” Eventually I would get fed up and become angry myself. Then he would finally stop.
This pattern continued for 20 years. Over and over and over. I never shared with friends or family the extent of my hurt or pain. Yes, I would do the typical complaining about my husband and “men” in general, but I didn’t get down to the fear that never went away or how I felt like I could breathe only when he was away from me. When I finally did begin talking to people (that weren’t in recovery) they’d ask, “Why did you stay with him?” or empathize with me about how “horrible” he was to treat me that way.
Now for the real point of this post – my part. My responsibility. Because I was just as responsible as he was. Long before I met Allen I was codependent. Growing up in an alcoholic home created a deep need in me to be loved and cherished at any cost, even if it cost me being me. Even if it cost me giving my heart and body when I shouldn’t or didn’t want to. Even if it meant I didn’t express what I believed, felt, or thought unless I became angry. Once I became angry I had the power to voice myself. The anger allowed me to stop caring about how the other person felt for a moment. Inside I felt trapped, so I possessed a strong desire and drive to obtain independence. The way I tried to accomplish this was by manipulating Allen’s feelings and jumping on the chance to prove him wrong and make him feel stupid when I could. I felt I was a better parent, so I constantly belittled his parenting and corrected him. I manipulated him by punishing him when I was angry at him by giving him the silent treatment or completely losing control of my own feelings and laying in to him. My motive in the manipulation was meant to control his anger. To “make” him feel guilty so hopefully he would stop. I felt completely justified. I was fighting a battle here. When he wasn’t angry, I was doing everything I could to make him happy so that he wouldn’t get angry again. The problem was, when things were calm, I felt trapped into being what he needed to be happy. But this meant I became more and more angry, resentful, and hurt and I acted according to these growing feelings inside of me. And the only way I knew how to control the chaos inside was to manipulate. This. Is. Codependency. And it was my responsibility, not his.
What? I know you may be asking this question. You may be thinking, girl, you were doing the only thing you knew how to do in the face of his anger. He controlled you and you were afraid of him. And you would be right. It may not have been my fault, just like it wasn’t my fault I grew up in an alcoholic home. Both of these environments changed who I was. They caused great hurt, pain, distorted thinking, and compulsive behavior in my life. But only I could change what had been created in me. I couldn’t sit around any longer waiting for him to change so that I could be healthy and at peace. It would never happen, because me being unhealthy for him worked best for his purposes. And it meant that I was doomed as long as he didn’t change. I had to learn, for example, that I am responsible to say how I feel, no matter how afraid I am of his or anyone else’s reaction. I am responsible to not manipulate, to try to make him feel bad about what he did, but instead to say, “This hurts me and makes me feel ____” and then let go of the outcome. He might change, he might not, but I expressed my feelings. I had to learn to say, “You’re emotions are out of control, so I’m going to leave for a while,” without using that as a manipulation to make him change. I did it instead to put up a boundary that took care of me during that time, and allowed him to take responsibility for his own actions, instead of me taking responsibility to pull him out of it or “fix” him, which, by the way, doesn’t give him the opportunity to do so, or for God to work in him. I completely blocked any progress he might be able to make.
When I learned to look at myself and take responsibility for my own actions, Allen was able to do the same. Because he was either going to, or he would eventually leave because he couldn’t be unhealthy with me becoming healthy myself. It didn’t work together. Unhealthy needs unhealthy to continue. Sure, he could continue to spiral, but I wasn’t going with him anymore. And I wasn’t going to use his unhealthy behavior as an excuse for my own any longer. In the end, it meant that I stopped doing things that CONTRIBUTED TO THE PROBLEM. I made everything worse as long as I pointed at him as the reason for all of my unhappiness and justified my own behavior. I knew I was codependent, but I felt I couldn’t do anything about it as long as I was married to him. I was wrong. When I started recovery, Allen was not on board. He fought me hard because he wanted his codependent, controllable wife back. Why wouldn’t he? Anyone would. People are selfish and want their own way.
My codependency was just as selfish as his anger and treatment of me! Yes it was! I wanted to feel better inside, that’s why I was codependent. Not because I received joy from doing for him and others, but because I wanted the fear inside me to go away. So I felt justified in my codependent behavior. And it turns out Allen was doing exactly the same thing. He had his own issues from growing up with an alcoholic father himself that created a need to control everything and for everything to be perfect, which of course cannot be achieved. So he was angry.
Fortunately for me, Allen chose to look at himself as well. We’ve both learned how to take responsibility for our own parts and let the other take responsibility for theirs. The road of recovery was really, really painful for several years (not weeks or months, but years). And still isn’t easy, but is soooo much better. We only knew dysfunctional ways of interacting and functioning. As I grow out of my codependency, I obtain the peace I was looking for by making choices. Choices from the free will God gave me. Allen didn’t take my freedom to be me, I gave it to him. Because of fear. He didn’t give me my freedom back, I took it back. As I have obtained freedom, I can choose to love and serve Allen because I don’t have resentment and anger anymore. And he can do the same for me.