On Detaching and Attaching

After the first big crisis J and I had early in our marriage, I'd decided that I'd allowed my happiness to rely on J far too much.

I told myself that I'd expected too much from him and from marriage in general-- buying into that fairytale thinking and happily ever after stuff. If I was going to stay, I had to come to terms with the reality of our relationship and determine whether I could find peace, fulfillment, and confidence regardless of whether J changed or not.

In short, I had to detach.

I'd grown up in a family that was very open. We talked about everything, relied on one another, and worked through things together. At first, it felt like life would be an empty, sad place if I couldn't turn to  J like that. What was the point of being together if we couldn't nurture each other? But I reasoned that if I divorced, I'd still have to find a way to be happy and whole. Why not discover the secret without the divorce part?

After a time, I felt I successfully developed an attachment cycle {albeit one independent of J}:

Tension, Triggers and Trauma. We all have them-- the responsibilities that produce tension; the comments that trigger self doubt; the traumas that are out of our control but cause us intense pain; and all the other myriad of negative thoughts and feelings that plague mortality. At times they roll off our back, but eventually they build up and become unmanageable.

When I felt tension or triggered or trauma, I had to Acknowledge what it was that I was feeling and Allow myself to feel it. Fighting it or trying to talk myself out of it or telling myself I 'shouldn't' feel it never worked. I had to acknowledge {to myself and to God} what I was thinking and feeling before I could move on to the next step. It couldn't be skipped.

Surrender. Once I acknowledged what I was feeling, I could then work through it or choose to let it go. If I was resentful, I could choose to forgive. If I was lonely, I could choose to reach out. Often, there was absolutely nothing I could actually change in order to 'fix' what I was feeling-- especially in the case of chronic clinical depression-- but I learned to sit with uncomfortable feelings. I practiced surrendering the feelings to God-- admitting my powerlessness to change what I was feeling and having faith that it would pass.

Happiness and Health always seemed to follow. I would reach a phase where I felt mentally and emotionally whole. Things that had seemed difficult no longer felt burdensom. In this stage, I could be creative, serve others and deal with things in a healthy way.

This worked for years. Despite depression, financial problems, J's emotional unavailability and all the other uncertainties of life, I felt intimately connected to and sustained by my Heavenly Father. In fact, I'd lived for so long without expecting J to 'complete me', that when he began demanding that of me, I was shocked. Then angry.

I knew I couldn't fill that void for J, and a large part of separation was J discovering it as well.

But writing the fairytale for J had been a turning point. I began to realize just how detached from him I'd become, and that it might-- just might-- be possible for me to let him in safely. Maybe I could meet some of his needs. Not because I had to, or because it was expected of me, or was my duty-- but because I truly wanted to. Because I loved him.

Our therapist described a new cycle. Our happiness wouldn't rely on each other but could include one another. I drew something like this to visualize the concept:

Life would still have Tension, triggers and trauma. For a time, even more so as we attempted to heal things between us.

I would still need to Acknowledge those feelings and allow myself to feel them.

But if I wanted to include J, at this point I could GO to him and Give him the Opportunity to nurture. To empathize. To even be aware of what it was I was thinking and feeling. While scary {he had never been able to handle my negative feelings very well}, it helped to keep in mind that I could move on to the next step regardless of his reaction.

Whether his reaction was positive {empathy} or negative {rejection}, I could still Surrender my feelings to God and achieve that Happy, Healthy state.

And here was the key: when I entered that Happy, Healthy state-- that one where I don't feel fragile, but feel like I have extra peace and contentment to spread around-- that is when I could Take the Opportunity to nurture. That is when I could be sure that there was no 'fixing' or 'saving' or codependency going on. That is when withholding affection might be punitive and unnecessary instead of protective. If I nurture while in the Happy, Healthy state, I can be sure that it is just pure, selfless, Christlike love.


This whole concept of attachment cycles has been on my mind a lot lately. It's difficult, even now, to take the risk and let J in. I worry about losing the peace and serenity I've achieved. And when I'm in that happy, healthy state, I still sometimes get a twinge of panic, as though turning to J and sharing my love for him makes me a doormat or gives the impression that I've never been hurt. It's a daily effort to be aware of what is going on inside of me and act with integrity.

I'm still learning.


Kristina said...

This is beautiful. I think the cycle is especially important for those of us who either have mental illness or are married to someone with mental illness. I know that I've found myself in the first cycle many, many times. A couple of years ago (or maybe it was only last year), I finally realized that I not only can, but I need to include Kurt on my suffering. I need to turn to him to help share my burden, or at least give a listening ear. I definitely didn't think of it on my own--the Spirit had a large part in that revelation. It told me that shouldering my pain all on my own was hurting my marriage. I was starting to resent Kurt for not seeing what pain I was in, while simultaneously trying to hide it from him. How unfair of me! The Spirit also whispered to me that having him take part in my struggle would strengthen our marriage. It's still hard for me to do that, but when I do, I feel so much closer to Kurt. I don't rely on him, but knowing he's there and willing when I am going out of my mind is a huge comfort. Like you said--we have to give them the opportunity to nurture us.
As far as nurturing Kurt ... not a whole lot of opportunity there (that he's told me). I'm married to one of the most truly independent people I've ever met. Unless he's hiding it from me, he's a pretty easy guy to nurture. I attribute it to his small range of normal emotions. That small range has also been a big blessing to me and our marriage, as it counteracts my very large range time and time again.
Good luck.

Miggy said...

I haven't commented in a while, but I'm still really loving this series! Please keep it coming....I think this is great.

McBooter said...

Again, incredibly insightful and well-written. I think your discoveries and strategies could help many people, if they could find it and read it willingly.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post and for all the links (I read them all to catch up). Your writing is so powerful. I have this lump in my throat and aching in my chest. I appreciate you sharing what you are going through. I try not to compare, but, even though I know you guys have gone through so much of misunderstanding and hurting and all of that, I still feel like we are (me and G) comparatively very immature when it comes to caring for each other and understanding and trying to meet each others needs. Reading your word is helpful to me, though. It helps me realize that we are not broken (although I knew that) but it helps me in some inexplicable way to know that there is this pillar of strength out in the desert somewhere who isn't really maybe super strong, but is working through some incredibly difficult things. You are such an inspiration.

Em said...

Whoa. I checked out of blog reading a while back and I have clearly missed some Posts. Time flies because I think it's been nearly a year since I've visited.

However, as per usual, I think you are brave, strong, and true for writing about your experiences. These posts have been so good for me to read and reflect on my past year. Even though our circumstances are different, your sharing yours are helpful to me. Thank you for that.

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