How do we know that we are taking the wrong path? Is it because others tell us? Is it because the things we experience on the path are painful and feel wrong? Is it because it doesn’t fit in with what is being advocated by the majority of society? How do we resolve the conflicts between doing that which we believe to be the right thing even when it seems to have negative or disastrous consequences? I have been on what many consider to be the wrong path for over 16 years in my relationship with Jerry.
Jerry is a very difficult man. He has a lot of insecurities and easily takes offense. He often feels marginalized and rejected because his intelligence is considered to be less than, especially by those who easily navigate the rules of grammar and understand the systemic relationships of cause and effect. He is easily frustrated by things that don’t work as they should or when things don’t meet expectations. He is five years older than me, but emotionally and psychologically speaking he frequently presents as much younger. He has difficulty letting go of past events and how they made him feel about himself and his ability to be in relationships. His love for me and our children, often seems to be more about him feeling loved and accepted, than it is about displaying love and acceptance of us. He is quite needy and clingy ~ not wanting to go places and do things by himself and feeling personally rejected if I’m not up to doing something with him. Conversely, he’s also a bit unavailable and unapproachable emotionally. Ultimately, he wants to be loved and accepted unconditionally, but has difficulty loving and accepting others without condition.
Early on in our relationship, his issues collided with my issues and we would have epic arguments over many subjects and situations. Power and control issues abounded between us, especially with me being a single mom of two young children. However, his devotion to all three of us and his desire to be in relationship with us and work through the problems, gave me something to believe in. He wanted to be a good provider, he wanted to be a father, and he wanted to be a good person. His impulse control and anger management issues affected us all, and he did his best to deal with them. He participated in the various classes, therapy and group counseling sessions I asked of him. We met with pastors and therapists alike. He showed up and did his best to grow and change. Sadly, it wasn’t enough and we still had our cycles of conflict that, at times, bordered on and presented as domestic violence.
The thing is, it wasn’t just Jerry’s issues. I was manipulative, controlling, belittling, and oh so certain that I was right and he was wrong. I was emotionally detached in the affection department, but more than capable of using my rationality to fire him up and get him going. I was not without fault in our mutually destructive chaos. In the era of Domestic Violence Awareness and Intolerance, he appeared as the villain and I as the victim. That’s what my kids were taught in schools and on television. It’s the message I got when seeking help for our family. Because I had learned how to say the right things, take the correct steps, and put on the accepted mask, he became the scapegoat for the problems in our lives.
I would get so overwhelmed with my depression and anxiety, pick a fight with Jerry, usually over my kids, and push every button he had, until I had a reason and excuse to bail. Then I would seek “help.” A few days, weeks, or months would pass. I would cycle through the depression and jump through the hoops, until I was more stable. Mind you, none of this was conscious on my part, I’m just beginning to understand and recognize certain things about myself. In that process I would be presented with questionnaires and opportunities to identify Jerry as an abuser. Some of the things fit, many of them didn’t. If I was being honest with myself, I couldn’t and didn’t check the boxes that would label him as an abuser and me as a victim, because I realized and believed that part of what makes an abuser is motivation and intent. So, I would open back up to him and let him back into my life.
Society told my kids and me that this was all part of the cycle of abuse and that I was a victim of domestic violence. So, my kids grew to see me as weak minded and weak willed. They grew to believe that I cared more for him than for them or for myself.
The thing is a true abuser and perpetrator of domestic violence doesn’t stop or improve, except for brief periods in the cycle, as part of the honeymoon/grooming period to regain the trust and soothe their victim into a false sense of security. The perpetrator will not ever even pretend to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with him, it’s always someone else’s fault or because of external influences. The cycle continues until severe, sometimes irreparable or fatal harm is done. The victim is never able to individuate and choose for herself. This is not how the relationship I have with Jerry has grown.
Let me tell you something about Jerry, he is devoted to us. He desperately wants a better relationship with my kids, Marco and LaLa. He’s determined that our daughter, Luna, will grow up knowing she is loved and valued. He may not have wanted to hear me when I have told him some hard truths about his role in our relationship and in our kids’ lives, but he did eventually listen. When he is hurtful, emotionally speaking, he does listen and will, at some point, accept responsibility for his actions in the incident. It may be slow going and hard won, but it does get there eventually.
According to so much of the “happiness” literature and bumper sticker quotes out there, I should drop Jerry from my life. After all, he’s not a happy go lucky fella and he tends to require more than a little patience, understanding, and handling. He falls too easily on the religio-political bandwagon and has a tendency to get just a little brainwashed by the conspiracy theorists and end-time prophecies. He’s socially awkward and knows how to dampen the mood without even trying, just by being himself. According to all the feel good about yourself and strive to life a better life mantras out there, I should drop him like a hot potato and I should never have let him back into our lives in the first place. Tsk, tsk, tsk, shame on you mom.
Jerry is the first and only man to persevere in my life. He was the first to believe in and support me. He’s tried to encourage me. He has tried to provide and be there for children who’s biological fathers abandoned them or failed to make the effort to be involved in their lives. In his pursuit of doing what was right, he got it wrong in a lot of ways, and still is. But he’s still showing up and making the effort. Yes, he makes it hard to love him a lot of the time, but love is more than a feeling ~ it’s action, choice, decision, and effort. I’m not the easiest person in the world either. Happiness and being happy are not things that are easy for me. If you look up angst ridden in the dictionary, my picture would be there, if I allowed a picture to be taken. My life wouldn’t necessarily be any happier or better if Jerry weren’t in it.
So, I persevere in my journey of self, determined that I am going to continue to work on my relationships with all the people I love and help them to understand that I’m not willing to write any one of them out of my story because they or I are difficult people. This is the path I have chosen and I cannot believe it is wrong.