My nerves were about to get the best of me. Walking into my first college class in over 13 years was beyond daunting! In a sea of 18-22 year olds, this 29 year old was feeling very out of place. Even though I had eagerly registered for my Into Journalism class, it took everything I had to walk into the class room. My nerves were at “first day of Jr. High” level.
I swallowed hard, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach, and opened the class door. The scene that greeted me was my worst nightmare come true. I was greeted by the face of *Ellen Smith! In sheer panic I nearly ran out the door. How could that be? She was my 11th grade AP English teacher. And she did NOT like me.
Okay, so it really wasn’t Ms. Smith. But my wonderful professor, Rosemary Roberts, resembled her. It had been over 15 years since I joyfully finished my last class in junior English. And honestly, I don’t remember thinking that much about the class once it was over. But every emotion that I experienced years before came flooding back at warp speed. Papers were returned covered in red ink. Biting remarks and belittling were the norm in that class. I honestly don’t know why this particular teacher disliked me so much. And whether or not I deserved the treatment I received isn’t the point.
Both women have a gift for understanding the English language. Both women are teachers. And both women have similar features. But they had one huge difference – the way they went about their jobs. One inspired and encouraged while the other criticized and intimidated. One was pleasant, the other was crotchety. One I feared, the other I respected.
It’s no surprise that I performed much better for the teacher who inspired me. So that leads me to examine myself. How do I deal with those around me? My husband, my children, my friends and family; do I inspire or intimidate? Am I pleasant or grouchy? In all honesty I am both.
I think everyone has the ability to be both. It’s easy to casually spew criticism, blanketing those around us with seeds of self-doubt. But is it realistic to expect that anyone can always be …well, nice? It’s hard to live between the two extremes, balancing honesty with encouragement. No matter how hard, I will continue to try. More encouragement, less criticism. More inspiration, less demand. More smiling, less scowling. After all, I would hate for someone to run shrieking in terror because they saw someone who looked like me.
*Name changed to protect the grumpy.
Some questions can be taken at face value. When my kids ask me what’s for dinner there typically isn’t anything behind the question other than a hungry stomach. Other questions aren’t as simple. They stem from something deeper – there’s a question behind the question. What’s being spoken is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s beneath the surface is the real issue.
The day I sat eating with Morgan, I wondered what was behind her question. “Is he thinking of someone else while kissing me?” were the words coming out of her mouth. “Does he desire only me?” was what was in her heart. On the surface, she knows he desires her, but does he desire every other woman he sees too? This fear lurks behind the veil of her question.
When we enter into a committed relationship there are some basic expectations that come with the territory — one of the most primal being that we will be the sole object of our partner’s desire. It is innate. We long to be desired. And we don’t expect to share that position with anyone else. I, like Morgan, never expected to be one of many women who floated through my husband’s mind. In reality, over the course of Steve’s active addiction, I was one of thousands. I wanted to be the only one.
Walking the road of recovery with Steve, I have learned that wanting to be the only one is fine. Actually being the only one is unrealistic. Before you have a heart attack, let me explain. Yes, in marriage it is fair to expect faithfulness – emotionally, physically and mentally. However, expecting that Steve will never have some image flip through his head is unfair. So the real issue becomes the intent.
In an active addiction, there is a complete lack of emotional intimacy between partners. An addict will attempt to fill this void by pursing false intimacy with someone else — real and/or fantasy. The intent is to use images or people for one’s own pleasure. It is selfish in nature and it is wrong. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that while I have never struggled with a sexual addiction, sometimes there are uninvited thoughts and images that appear in my own head. How can I hold my partner to a standard that I, myself, can’t keep?
So, maybe measuring the health of your relationship with the ruler of ‘being the sole object of his desire’ isn’t the most accurate way of finding relational security. It would be more accurate to use the gauge of intimacy. As real emotional intimacy develops between two people, the need for false intimacy will decrease. A working definition of intimacy is the willingness to be known for who I really am and the willingness to know someone for who they truly are. And true emotional intimacy can only take place in a safe environment.
I have found that when I am concerned with who else might be in my husband’s thoughts, the best thing I can do is provide a safe environment for him. This doesn’t mean I condone his entertaining thoughts of others, simply that I can inspire his focus to return to me much better than I can require it.
So if you value your relationship and want to heal it, it is better to focus on what you can do to cheer him on and turn his heart (and thoughts) back toward you, rather than berate him with a bunch of questions that can’t really be answered in a futile attempt to calm your own insecurities. Because in reality, there will never be a way to know who is in your spouses head as they are kissing you. But build emotional intimacy and it won’t matter. You’ll know his heart and body belong to you, even if another unwelcome woman invades his private thoughts on occasion.
Some people think I’m nosy. I like to call it being curious. If I’m honest, I’d have to admit to both. I like to know! Whether it’s how something works, why a culture has the beliefs it does, or why someone would move from Malibu, CA to Allen, TX, I want to know! And, I love to ask questions. There are times when my inquisitive nature comes in handy. I make friends easily and I can talk to most anyone. But as Steve disclosed his history of sex addiction to me, curiosity threatened to ruin us.
I wanted to know everything. I needed to know everything. Yes, everything! While his addiction had not physically involved another person, mentally it involved many and I wanted to know the details about every single one. Who are these women that had occupied my husband’s thoughts? Do I go to church with them? Are they prettier and skinner than me? Are they my friends? These kinds of questions took up all the space in my head leaving room for nothing else.
When any addiction is being addressed in marriage, disclosure is vital. Sharing every gory detail is not! In simple terms, disclosure is stating facts, sharing secrets, coming clean and telling the basic history of the addiction. Because addictions are often seeded in secrecy and dishonesty, it is important to get everything out in the open and work from there. Honest disclosure is how you start rebuilding trust. At first, I confused disclosure with knowing every detail. Initially, Steve’s reluctance to share the details with me hurt. I saw it as a way for him to continue being dishonest. We had to sort out how to deal with this difference of opinion before we could start repairing our relationship.
I had to decide which was more important, knowing everything or just knowing enough. Knowing enough meant I knew the important things; that Steve had been honest with me and was committed to becoming authentic in our relationship. Knowing enough didn’t threaten to do more damage to our marriage but knowing everything might have. There is a place for telling every detail, but it’s not with your spouse. The best place for that kind of sharing is with an accountability partner, with someone who is healthy and safe. If Steve had given in and shared the sordid details with me it might have hindered the healing of our relationship.
For the first time in my life I realized that maybe I don’t need to know everything. Coming to that realization wasn’t an easy one, especially for someone as obsessed with knowing as I used to be. So when someone asks me if they need to know everything, my answer is no. Nine years later, I am thankful that Steve didn’t give in and share the details with me. Now I don’t have to battle images that were never meant to be in my mind. Being out of the loop allows both of us the freedom to have a clear mind when we interact. Now we are free to live in the present, and free from the ghosts of the past.
“You can do it! I know you can! Look, it’s only this far,” I reassure, holding my arms out to give him a reference to the horizontal distance. He shakes his head no. Despite his overwhelming desire, he can’t make his feet move. Over and over he backs up the length of the picnic table and runs only to stop cold at the end. In his heart he is jumping. In his head he doubts.
To me, it’s so easy to see that he can do it. He has easily cleared that distance many times on the ground. But up there it’s different. Up there are things to fall off, onto and through. He has all the right ingredients; beautiful blue sky, a gentle breeze blowing off the Adirondack Mountain Lake, an encouraging mom, a picnic table and a gigantic flat-topped rock. However, the tiniest speck of doubt outweighs them all.
This incident came to mind last night during a conversation with a friend. The conversation bounced here and there, but eventually turned to me and my writing, or more accurately, my lack there of. While we don’t chat often, said friend always encourages me & asks if I’ve been writing. Last night I was in a particularly open mood and confessed that I still struggle with doubt. The realization takes me down a notch and reminds me of something from my childhood; something I haven’t thought of in years.
No matter how far I’ve come, at times I am still a 10 year old girl. The one who wants everyone to listen her recording of Christmas songs, but is told no one wants to hear them. And that realization isn’t pleasant. Haven’t I gotten over it? Haven’t I paid time and money to be healthy, to be happy with whom I am? The woman I am today knows in her mind that the comments weren’t meant to do the harm they did. The mother in me knows that a large, family holiday gathering isn’t the best platform for a tape recorded recital. In my head, I understand. In my heart I am still 10, and it still hurts. I have let ancient negative thoughts paralyze me.
So I wonder. Why is it so easy to see self-doubt in other people while turning a blind eye to it in myself? When will I get over it? And then I think back to a day last summer when I watched my son finally take a deep-breathed leap, throwing his hands up in triumph. And I begin to get it. No matter how old we are or how far we have come, believing in ourselves is still a daily choice. A perfect setting and good intentions can never take the place of actually doing. When I am tempted to give in and let doubt win, I will remember the conquering smile on Griffin’s face and tell my heart to jump.