Friday, May 1, 2015

The Lulling of Religion in Relationships

Note: This post is specifically about me and my bride (from my perspective) and makes no wide-swath assumptions about the relationships of others, within religion, and those that have tossed off what I consider to be 'the shackles' of religion.

On September 1, 2015, I will have been married to my favorite lover for 14 years. We will have weathered a shitload of things that, to me, feel like nobody else has had to go through. Navel-gazing aside, the fact that we are still together, is a testament to the strength of our love.

A few weeks ago, we had one of our 'discussions' that basically called World War III on our marriage. At different points in the argument, both of us wanted to give up for good. When I considered it, it was more of a fleeting thought, here and there, with bouts of heavy consideration.

We didn't understand each other anymore.

And here is where I switch pronouns:

I sure thought we did, but it was a pile of assumptions, derived over a decade of artificial ideas of who a general female and male were, under the lens of the specific brand of Christianity we nominally belonged to.

I won't go into much detail about those assumptions, but, suffice it to say that I thought I had it all figured out. I knew I loved her deeply, or thought I did, and yet, we had fallen into a rut.

When we were married, I was very religious - and convincing. We decided against using birth control, that I would make all the decisions in our marriage, that she would submit to me, that we would go to church every Sunday, that we would both vote Republican, that we would pray together as a family, that I would be the spiritual leader, that I would be the only one to work out of the home, that she would be a stay-at-home mom, etc. We had so many rules and ideas of how I was supposed to be a man, not to mention, how she was supposed to be a woman.

Then, about four years ago, I began to thoroughly toss off those preconceptions of male and female. Except, I approached it from an externally theoretical standpoint, learning about how humans lived without religion, and not how she personally did so.

The divergence of my understanding of who she was and who she really was, began to grow. At one point in the last few months, I told her two things: First, that I understood her perfectly, and second, that I didn't really need her to finish her thoughts, being that I knew them already. After all, we'd been married for so damn long, why wouldn't I know them.

I saw both of those statements as 'off-the-cuff' comments. She saw them as indicative of how she was invisible to me. I couldn't understand why she took them so personally - until she scheduled couples therapy.

Yeah. Couples therapy.

Dammit. I was awesome! We were awesome! Again, we had weathered so much shit, just the fact that we still had the same address in the same county of the same state of the same country, was proof that we had nothing to work on.  Like hell I needed counseling. SHE needed counseling. She wasn't hearing me or caring to know who I was. 

It really wasn't that cut and dry, for me, though. I knew that I had issues that needed to be dealt with, and I also knew that, for the years since leaving religion, I was struggling to be able to see her outside of that lens. Religion had defined who she was supposed to be to me. When I tossed off those definitions, I was left in a sort of no man's land. But, rather than really learning who she was, I used the same tools I had used in religion - ignoring the person, and coming to "obvious" conclusions, myself.

It seems so clear, now, how odd that sort of thinking is, but, when I am in it, I am blind to everything else.

I went to therapy anyway.

Yes. I decided to go. But I was skeptical. I thought that the therapist wouldn't listen to my side of anything, being that I can be very hurtful to my wife when I am misunderstood - or really anytime I want to be. (Don't get the wrong idea that I'm this hurt and lost puppy, trying desperately to eke out some unrequited love from my bride. Hell no. I had problems and I knew it.)

As anyone who has been to a good therapist knows, every time you walk into their office, holding a gaggle of issues that you are convinced will bring them to their knees, admitting to you that you are perfect, they do this weird sort of head-fake, and come at you from a direction you never even considered.

And that was exactly what I needed.

Me, stuck in this rut of my own thoughts, feeling like I understood everything about my wife, and yet seeming to miss the mark, routinely, then assuming that the missed mark was simply her not understanding my understanding of her, so trying to convince her of who she was and who I was from hundreds of alternate angles - and then a third party comes in and knocks me on my ass.

I'm not naive enough to think that a few sessions with this lovely therapist completely "fixed" me or us. It hasn't. But what it has done, is it has given me new tools to be able to learn who my bride is all over again. Yes. My bride. Who SHE is. Not who I think she is. Not who others tell me she should be. But her.

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