Thursday, June 26, 2008

As long as I'm sitting here idling...

Something about Mrs. Spit's latest post has inspired me to do some taking stock. I suppose that's a useful action to take when stalled, take inventory of what has happened to get me to the point where I'm stuck. Maybe a consolidated perspective can make some sort of jump-starting possible. At the very least it can help pass the time.

It was only upon further reflection last week that Gary's mom taking his picture against his will became remarkable. I've had a lifetime of people imposing their wills, and wondering if there was something wrong with me for my feelings of objection: "Don't take things so seriously", "it was nothing", "it's such a little thing", "you're selfish". Her behavior at Connor's birthday dinner once would have been well within the range of 'normal' for me--the only thing I would have considered was if I was wrong for being critical of her for it.

Though the act of taking the picture was seemingly minor (and the social contract is that Gary's obligated to dismiss it as such), at its core the message was, "it's not about what you want, it's about what I want."

It occurred to me that this fits into the bigger picture I've been working about differentiation and narcissism, and a new word (courtesy of Sharon), "perspective".

I see the parallel between what Gary's mom did to him, and what Gary does to me: if Gary, from Darlene's perspective is only an extension of her will and she therefore is free to overrule his objections, then I too have been seen as an extension of Gary's.

There are consequences to this. First, any conflict is an affront, as if a part of his own body has mutinied, when I disagree. Resentment and a sense of betrayal makes perfect sense from Gary's perspective. The idea of negotiation doesn't make sense in this context because 'conflict resolution' presupposes a party of at least two, and in this perspective there is only one.

What this has looked like from my perspective is that we are not good partners in accomplishing something, from carrying a table through a doorway, to planning a trip, to raising children. From my perspective I see many points where consensus, and thus discussion, and if necessary, negotiation are needed...Gary has no patience with this; he just wants it DONE. From my perspective it looks as if he's expecting me to know his mind without his having to state it; from his, I am an extension of his mind, so he shouldn't have to state it. What's remarkable is through countless encounters that end badly, he has never examined this.

My own background made me susceptible, so that I held my own objections in suspicion (the fact that I had objections seemed evidence of my own character flaws). I suppose in a way it felt normal to live like that.

And, this is what I've been coming to realize is the reason I've been considering ending this marriage. Because we're rendered unable to function as a couple in using the most important tool: communication to resolve misunderstanding, negotiate differences of opinion, and healing rifts. And so we're choking in the accumulation of years of unresolved resentment which lowers the threshold for causes of fresh incoming nearly every day.

If we can't function as a couple then the options diminish. Either I erase myself and find a way to become a more perfect instrument of his will or I leave.

The situation is definitely far more abstract than if he were physically abusive, an alcoholic, or compulsive gambler. Putting aside the inevitable opinions of my parents that there is no valid reason to end a marriage with young children in the absence of overt abuse is the more personal question as to the nature of harm being done to them.

Though both Gary and I love the boys, between us we can't provide an environment that has the conditions necessary for love to be a tangible atmospheric ingredient. It seems analogous to living next to a stagnant pond, as opposed to a flowing river.

Which will do more harm? Stay in chronic but 'stable' unhappiness, or undergo the trauma of radical change.

{Years ago my high school literature teacher read a story to the class by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It's a short story called "Harrison Bergeron". In the story the goal of an 'equalized' society has been realized. People who are exceptionally beautiful must wear masks; athletes, dancers, or others who move gracefully are encumbered by weights and manacles. Brilliant thinkers must wear headphones that every few minutes emit loud jarring discordant sounds. Since my children have been old enough to locomote and talk I've often thought of the parallel of the thinkers with the headphones. I'm surrounded by children and if I'm not being interrupted I'm anticipating it...I can go no further with this thread}

7 comments:

Lori said...

"It seems analogous to living next to a stagnant pond, as opposed to a flowing river."

Wonderfully put.

And I SO relate to your Kurt Vonnegut story.

But, unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you.

Mrs. Spit said...

You raise some very profound questions, and I don't think there are any easy answers. I'm not in this circumstance, Mr. Spit and I have had our share of troubles, but we were able to communicate, to step back and say "this isn't working, let's start over".

You raise a particular question about when something is broken, and who has to percieve it as broken. Can it just be broken for you? Do other people have to validate the brokenness?

I can see both sides, in the sense that I have had relationships in my life that were broken in my mind, and just fine in someone elses. But does it matter, if it's only broken in my mind, isn't that broken enough to warrant at least a fix, if not a replacement?

No easy answers, and I'm sorry.

Trinka said...

I've been enjoying your blog as a lurker for some time, but feel compelled to post on this. I hope I'm not out of line to have this as my first comment!

Would he be open to counseling? Obviously the communication situation is broken. Would he be open to working on it?

I've seen so many marriages restored to better-than-the-beginning condition through the intervention of a counselor.

Coming from a divorced home, I wish my parents had tried it ...

Again ... sorry if I'm out of line. I don't intend to offend.

Trinka ... back to minding her own business :)

Suzy said...

"Because we're rendered unable to function as a couple in using the most important tool: communication to resolve misunderstanding, negotiate differences of opinion, and healing rifts. And so we're choking in the accumulation of years of unresolved resentment which lowers the threshold for causes of fresh incoming nearly every day."

Even friendships can't last without these dynamicss, why should a marriage?

The more intimate the worse the lack of communication affects the relationship.

excavator said...

Hi, Lori. Yeah, this isn't a situation where an answer comes in a whole piece, but is assembled bit by bit. Even though I get a sense of the direction and shape it's taking, it is not yet complete. The bit-by-bit assembling is a painful, and often tedious process...I think the question that is being answered bit by bit is, "Is there a way I can, or should remain in this marriage. If so, how?" Essentially, I am blogging this process, step by step. I feel like I'm building a road from the materials at hand, from cobblestones. I think I'm leveling a place where there's a gap, and I can't trust my weight to walk it, until it's complete.

Hi, Mrs. Spit. That's an interesting light you're shining, about the nature of what's broken, for whom, in relationship, and who perceives it as broken. I've experienced relationships where it was fine for me, and broken for others, or at least not satisfactory. In younger days my inclination was to feel 'they' weren't 'trying hard enough'...and then I realized if it wasn't working for them it couldn't be for me either. (By the way, you and Mr. Spit are so lucky to have each other and what you have together. And you know what, I really believe that the way you keep faith with each other has a wider effect of warming the world around you. The internet extends your influence further.)

This brings me, in a way to you, Trinka, because your question is about whether what is broken can be fixed. (Thanks for visiting, by the way, and your very respectful comment) We have been to counseling, many times, always at my initiative. It has dawned on me that though he has been cooperative, that to be effective the initiative needs to come from him this time. I feel like a canoe being swept toward a falls, and TWO are required to paddle urgently to the safety of an eddy. I can provide the urgency for me, but his urgency is required too, otherwise my efforts only send us in circles. This has been a big problem, that he has denied or failed to see there is a problem, and resents my attempts to tell him. (A less dramatic visualization might be a bird trying to fly with only one wing flapping). So, at this point the only way that I can see counseling as useful is if it comes from him: "My wife is about to leave me...why?" This would show me he's beginning to paddle, or flap.

And finally, thank you Suzy, for really hearing me. Yes. We do not possess the basic tools for maintaining a close friendship, how can we sustain a marriage?

Douglas W said...

Debora, you made a comment on my most recent post about reaching out to people around the world via the medium of the internet. Communicating with them. Sharing the most important and profound ideas from your heart and intellect. People we have never met... and may never meet inperson.

And yet, it is often with the person we live with, the person who is only inches away, that we find communication does not exist on that same level and depth.

I have experienced that in the past and it is often an accumulation of baggage and blockages that end up getting in the way of the communication. I wonder whether it is possible to identify and clear up those blockages; discard the unwanted baggage; to enable communication to flow once again.

Or will it only occur when the other person lives at such a distance that the accumulated blockages no longer have relevance.

excavator said...

"it is often an accumulation of baggage and blockages that end up getting in the way of the communication. I wonder whether it is possible to identify and clear up those blockages; discard the unwanted baggage; to enable communication to flow once again."

I do think it is, but I think it's something that requires a full effort from both parties involved. I don't think one party can do it for both. Kind of like the scene in "The Emperor's New Groove" where to escape snarling panthers two enemies have to go back to back and use the leverage of their bodies and the strength of their legs to bridge the gap between two cliffs and 'walk' upward to safety. A full effort; one can't do it for the other.

I agree with you and Suzy by the way, in what you wrote on your blog, that though there are advantages to connecting with our minds online, there still is a longing for face-to-face. Sometimes the distance can minimize the potential blockages that would cause dirt-on-the-connection in the face-to-face, but I'm inclined to think it's a bit cowardly to try to duck away from the risks of relating with someone in the same room.

In other words, there is an enriching quality to reach out and touch with thoughts, but it shouldn't replace the physical-proximity relationships.