17 August 2009

Boundaries

I wanted to give you a very good illustration of the way that it finally became painfully clear to me, in the fall of 2006, that I was a "codependent enabler." (That is a title of a certain kind of person from book that changed my life called Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.)

The tough thing is, in April 2006 my MIL hemmed and hawed and said finally "I was thinking you might be co-dependent." To which I answered, "You know, I read about that, and I don't think it really fits me." To her credit, she stopped there and didn't press the issue. Later, she said "You had to find out in your own time."

It was six months later I took a class at my church (it was actually called a support group) that was based on the Boundaries book. WHOA. It totally changed my outlook on how I dealt with my husband from then on. It shone new light on how I had been dealing with him, and gave labels and descriptions to the behavior I had been entangled in. Sometimes it is just the first step to recovery to get a name for your problem, and know that other people do the same thing, and that they have changed their ways.

The class was focusing initially on women who did their kids' homework, cooked for their husband's work parties at the last minute, and ran their parents on errands until they were totally burnt out. I didn't do any of that; in the beginning of the class I thought that none of it applied to me. Then we go into the "rescuing a loved one from consequences" and interrupting the law of sowing and reaping" that I began to take notice. I wondered if my husband's life was falling apart because I wasn't rescuing him from the natural consequences for his actions or inactions.... could it be?

Then it became crystal clear through this experience... I was staying with my parents at this point, and James was not. They went out of town and he came to see me and the kids. He had an old pickup truck that leaked oil really badly. My parents had asked him to please park at the very end of the driveway (where it was gravel) so that the oil wouldn't spot up the driveway. As soon as they were out of town, he pulled the truck in to the furthest up point of the driveway and left it there for two or three days. When he finally moved it there was a huge oil stain, maybe 18 inches in diameter, and my parents were on their way home.

Like a dumb teenager who threw a party, I was out in the driveway with a bristle brush, on my hands and knees, scrubbing the oil stain with dish soap. I was frantic. Oh! He did exactly what they told him not to do. Oh! My parents would be so mad! Oh! He wouldn't be able to visit us! Oh! He would be yelled at! Oh! My parents would see how disrespectful he was to them! Oh! Oh! Oh!

I was totally freaking out. As I got into the rhythm of soap, scrub, rinse, repeat, I saw myself from the outside. What was I doing?! Why on earth was I cleaning up his mess-- he knew it was happening for two or three days, and didn't even put a board down to protect the driveway! If he was my kid, I'd be right on top of it, I would make him scrub the driveway, I'd take the car away, I'd do something. But since he was my husband, I had to save him. I had to protect him. We were a team, right? Isn't that what it means- to watch each other's back?

What I realized that day was this: preventing my parents from knowing about his disrespect and disobedience wasn't really helping him. I didn't stop anything from happening, I just extended the inevitable. I didn't deflect any pain from my husband, I only trained him to want to be rescued. To expect it. To get outraged when he wasn't. How could he own his behavior and choices as his own, for good or bad, when he never received any consequences for his poor choices?

Instead of "protecting my teammate" like I thought I was, I was actually training him. I was training him to expect and demand that he be saved from any pain or uncomfortable growth. He would get so angry when he ran into other people's consequences! They seemed so startling and offensive to him. I "protected" him from so many consequences, that when he found them out in the world, he didn't know how to react except in anger or confusion. Why didn't the rules out in the real world act like what he experienced at home?

Galations 6: 7-8 says "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."

Boundaries teaches that it is harmful to interrupt the cycle of reaping and sowing. If a man sows to please his sinful nature, and reaps no destruction, why on earth would he stop doing so? I was reaping the consequences for his behavior: I was the one scrubbing the driveway, I was the one listening to my parent's questions and concerns... That's like touching a hot stove and your wife's hand gets burnt!

It was when I read Boundaries that I saw this cycle between my husband and I for the first time. I learned to break the cycle- to change how I rushed in to rescue him. I had to learn that I could not make him do (or not do) what I wanted. I could only react productively to what he did. I could only control what I did. Oh. my. goodness. It. was. so. hard.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life (I mean, hello! look at the title!) really, really changed my life. It was so painful and felt impossible at first, but I (we) made it through. I am going to write more on this topic, so stay tuned.



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