an EMPTY marriage No More
Memories of my parent’s relationship are ones of isolation and appeasement. My mother strove to appease my alcoholic father and keep him happy. She kept to herself trying to find solace and comfort. As children, my brother and I did not witness our parents ever reconciling their differences, but instead trying to avoid conflict . In fact I do remember times when my mom was upset, and would isolate herself from my father. She would avoid him and busy herself with work around the house. I don’t really remember a time where either of them apologized to one another and tried to heal the hurt . I learned from this pattern how to hide my feelings. Instead of sharing them, I buried them deep inside hoping that they would eventually dissipate. On the plus side, despite our disconnectedness, there was always an understanding that family was a priority in our lives. It was not until much later did I realized how much my family's way of relating to one another affected my relationship with Michael.
With both of my parents working long hours, I had to be self-reliant at a young age. As the oldest sister I was responsible for taking care of my younger brother. From the fifth grade year until I entered jr. high school my brother and I would come to an empty home after school and take care of ourselves. When my parents were home, there would be conflict between my mother and alcoholic father. Memories of my parent’s relationship is one of isolation and appeasement. My mother strove to appease my alcoholic father and keep him happy. She kept to herself trying to find solace and comfort. All of us coped by staying out of each other’s way. I learned to busy myself with various activities to fill my time and bring some sort of significance to my life.
All my striving to find significance through my many activities took its toll on our marriage relationship. Although I knew my self reliance was pushing Michael away, I felt helpless to change the way I related to my husband. I was called to be a help mate to my husband and I was running in the other direction. The beautiful truth is that God forgave me, and now I could focus on giving back to the Lord by loving my husband, sharing my life with him on this journey of life called marriage.
Our marriage was a clash of two very different family cultures. She being Japanese-American, and me being Mexican-American, there was a lot to learn about how to communicate to each other. Unfortunately, for us there was a lot of misunderstandings and hurtful feelings. It took a lot of effort to communicate without hurting each other, and often my overly aggressiveness closed Kim’s heart. It was much later that I began to understand that her upbringing centered on respecting the privacy of others and valued being reserved. Needless to say my upbringing was quite the opposite. We always shared our feelings and our parents had loud disagreements. I interpreted Kim’s silence as disinterest, and did not know how to draw her out. I grew up with two other brothers teasing and bantering with one another. To make matters worse, I had no knowledge of living with a sister to temper my speech. However our family cultures did share a common passion that bound us together. Family loyalty and devotion was strong in both of our cultures, and was very true for Kim and I.
I was the youngest of three brothers which were 5 and 7 years older than me. As long as I can remember, both of my parents worked, and my brothers were often involved with activities away from home. All through grade school, I was often left alone. My parents relationship was distant, and frequently heated arguments would take place. My father would come home frustrated and was very critical of us. While I was younger my father would get upset at little things, being often vocally angry. At rare times his anger would lead to physical abuse. Looking back, my feelings of rejection and not measuring up created a longing to be loved and accepted.
We both entered marriage bringing our own personal struggles; Kim’s feelings of abandonment resulted in her avoiding intimate relationships, while I was desperate to be wanted and needed. This resulted in a “death dance”. I was not aware of the damage I was causing. The emotional scarring of Kim's childhood, combined with criticism and disappointment expressed by me, fed her fear of rejection. I made her feel like a failure. As I pressed after Kim hoping to find validation and acceptance, she would run from the relationship, fearful of growing too close and being hurt. This resulted in just continuous frustration.The more I tried to get her attention, the more I chased her away. Wanting her acceptance, I lacked the confidence to be the husband she needed. I was so focused on what I wanted from Kim that I could not see her struggles. Things did not change until I stopped pushing Kim to be the wife I wanted, and focused instead on becoming the husband Christ called me to be. I needed my actions to reflect the truth, that God accepts and loves me, and loves and accepts Kim as she is.
Unfortunately we shared another common experience, both of our are parents divorced. Kim and I grew up experiencing only unresolved hurtful marriage relationships.
Our past was a mixed baggage of good and bad examples of what marriage is like. When you put Kim’s and my experience together, there is no way we could have a healthy marriage if we relied on our image growing up. Our only hope was to start from scratch and examine what God said marriage should be.
But where do we start?
As a husband and father, I was lost. After being spent all week at work, I longed for companionship but I did not know where to begin. From the outside looking in, Kim and our children’s world was filled with good things. What would I take away? How does our marriage relationship fit in? Did she need or want me more than her time with the kids, other moms and daily pursuits? We both felt isolated and alone and disconnected.
I prayed and asked, what is marriage supposed to look like? Is there an overall plan for us? If so, why were we just stumbling around? The possibility to have a growing and meaningful relationship as husband and wife seemed impossible.
I read through Ephesians 5:1-28 and God begin to speak to me. My feelings of isolation were keeping me discouraged and passive. I did not understand my role as a husband. It was clear, I needed to take responsibility for the relationship. When I accepted His calling for me to love Kim as Christ loved me, two incredible things happened; my love for the Lord grew and my wife responded.
The problem became clear, just as Christ needs to be the center of our lives before we engage in other pursuits.
Together we realized our family life had to change our “kids first” marriage. We had to make time for us to reconnect as a husband and wife. We had to stop just relating to one another just as a mother and a father. Both of us needed to pour ourselves into each other’s lives to understand our needs, hurts and struggles: to reconnect emotionally and spiritually.
Kim shared with me that too often wives feel their emotional needs are overlooked, and are overwhelmed with the responsibility for caring for the daily needs for the family, and planning activities. They feel that husbands are too timid or hesitant to provide the needed direction in their lives. When there is little communication, wives will feel emotionally dry and seek out other relationships to meet their needs.
They will build strong emotional bonds and significance in their relationship with their children and other moms, and are no longer drawn to the marriage relationship. These two common effects of taking responsibility is wives get a greater satisfaction of relationships apart from their husbands, and the husband's confidence is further undermined. As a result, husbands feel more detached and inadequate.
I too was guilty of this. Convinced that for the greater good of the children, I saw my role as supportive of the Kim’s efforts, and allowed the marriage to take a “back seat”.
I was not being proactive, instead I was avoiding my role in the marriage.
From a study of Ephesians 5, we found the model of marriage that helped transform our lives. As Kim and I begin to understand the depth and commitment of Christ's love; past hurts, disappointments and rejection dissolved as an valid excuse to withhold time and devotion from each other.
For us, I needed to take responsibility for maintaining the emotional connection to Kim at the level I am ministering to her emotional and spiritual needs, she is my number one ministry. She needed to feel safe and accepted. Being an example of Christ’s love for her, I need to study her to learn what I can do to nurture her and show her she is cherished. God is jealous for us, and I should be jealous for this role in her life. Kim needs me to reassure her that I accept her unconditionally and take an interest in her daily life. For us this meant I needed to become more involved at home and take on some of the burden of homeschooling.
For wives, Genesis 2:18 states that “it is not good for man to be alone, I will create a suitable companion”. Above all of the kids and family obligations, Kim needed to place our time as a priority and understand my need for companionship.
When you put all this together it becomes clear.
By Kim letting go and embracing my direction and setting of priorities for the family, she shows an openness to participate along side me. This meant a lot to me as it displays trust and a desire to be with me. Kim’s willingness to change her daily routine and place our time together as a priority increased my desire to spend time together. As a result, this provided greater opportunities for me to understand her and to serve her, while fulfilling a husband’s need for companionship.
When we are fulfilling our roles the marriage looks like this:
As her husband, I am pursuing Kim to know and understand her. I am demonstrating a secure love for her that includes involvement with the family's spiritual and emotional needs. Kim responds by being drawn to me, making time with me as a priority and seeking to be my companion. As she submits to my direction for our marriage and the children, she allows me to serve her, and I am able to lift the burden of balancing homeschooling, church and the marriage relationship off her shoulders.
Although not all marriage looks like ours, and every couple has their own challenges, God’s principles are true for all.
Now that we have some experience applying these principles, Kim and I desire is to share our journey with as many couples as possible. We have shared our insights in our book EMPTY, and launched our marriage ministry to reach out to other couples who are in a similar situation. We desire other couple to see their marriage relationship grow until their cups are overflowing.