When Are Boundaries a Bad Thing?

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Stop Crossing My Boundaries

I’d only been working at the domestic violence shelter for eight months when a full-time position as the Family Resource Advocate became available.  I felt the pinch or the sting of being unqualified and undereducated for the position I was currently holding, so it didn’t occur to me to apply for the newly open assignment.  My supervisor made a couple of references to me needing to update my resume, but my first inclination was to fear that meant they might be moving me on.  It never occured to me that she was inviting me to apply for the position.  Finally, one day, she very pointedly stated that if I intended to apply for the position I needed to do it NOW as they were already interviewing for it.  I scrambled.  And, upon formally submitting my interest in the job, the Intervention Coordinator told me that she and the Executive Director were hoping I would apply for it.  Mike drop.  Me???

Here I am, three months later, and I’m rocking my new position.  I love working with community partners to solve problems and secure resources for our clients.  I love watching my clients go from being so afraid to go in a grocery store that merely riding in the company vehicle is a milestone to securing employment, attending college classes, and navigating the bus system on their own.  I love my bright aqua corner office with two sunny windows.  I love sharing a very dark sense of humor with my supervisor, drinking coffee with her every morning, and learning from someone with over 40 years of experience in the field.  I love that my children are welcome at my place of employment and that my supervisor brings a dog to work.  I’m as comfortable there in a dress as I would be in sweats.  The position is dynamic.  My co-workers are real, down to earth, and compassionate.  The work is fulfilling.

However, there are some troubling symptoms of one bigger aspect to the new job that have caused me some distress.  I feel like my boundaries get pushed…..in a field that is all about helping others establish boundaries!

During the interview my Executive Director told me that he was concerned about this blog and would ask that I stop writing if I took this new position.  His concern was that I would burn out, that vicarious trauma would destroy me if I lived, ate, and breathed DV and trauma inside and outside of work.  So, I quit writing.  I want this blog.  But, I need a viable income.  The choice grieved me, but I was confident it was the right thing.   I felt a bit disturbed by him telling me what I could do outside of work on my own time, but I understood his concern and his desire for me to step away from the work in order to keep myself emotionally balanced.

Still, it has eaten at me.

My supervisor is an incredible woman and acts more like a mother mentor than my superior.  She empowers me to “take ownership of this position” and gives me the freedom to explore pathways that are comfortable for me.  I arrive to work each morning to find that she has already set up my pour over coffee and even knows exactly how I like it.  She checks in with me during difficult days just to make sure I’m doing okay.   And, as much as I appreciate her and enjoy her company, I find myself just wanting to escape to my home on some days.  It isn’t that I don’t want to have lunch with my boss.  I just want to have lunch with my children.

And, it eats at me.

My new husband has proven to be quite a selfish, uninterested jerk, and I regularly entertain the idea of divorce.  I devise exit plans routinely, and I live with one foot out of this marriage.   While he uses extremely separatist language–yours and mine–regarding our relationship even when direct references would be more appropriate, he continues to use unifying language regarding his ex–ours, we.  While he demonstrates no sexual interest in me and has issues with ED, he recently told me that he struggles with lust.  He said that though he’s never committed adultry, he admitted he lusts with his eyes.  He deletes messages on his phone and keeps it turned upside down.  And, this weekend I overheard him asking his online gaming buddies if they had recently played with a particular female gamer, as though he was looking for her or missing her online presence.  Then, he mentioned that he’d noticed she changed her profile picture and emphatically stated that “she is hot!”.   This came only about an hour after he had once again rejected my physical advances, stating that we were just intimate (five days prior).  When I share with him that I’m hurt by his rejection and neglect and I am curious about his phone habits, he claims that I’m disrespecting his boundaries and am abusing him by attempting to control his ability to have friends outside the marriage.

His accusations elicit a strong emotional response in me.

It Doesn’t Mean They Are Always Toxic

Working with survivors at various stages of recovery is fascinating to me as a survivor.  I get to watch myself, in a way, in a third person aspect.  I’ve been where they are.  I’ve held similar thinking patterns.  I’ve experienced the same paralyzing fears.  And, it helps me to realize that as intense as those feelings and fears were at the time, they were not correct.  They weren’t even helpful.  That realization allows me to draw back now in my present stage and ask myself if the intense emotions and fears I’m currently experiencing are helpful or correct.  Are my executive director and my supervisor purposefully disrespecting my right to decide how I spend my personal time?  If so, does that make them covertly abusive?  Am I disrespecting my husband’s boundaries by wanting to see who he’s talking to or by listening to his gaming conversations?  Am I trying to control him and isolate him?

I have noticed patterns of black and white thinking in my clients and remember believing similar premises.  It became a tug of war in my spirit when I saw my abuser do something kind or when a usually loving friend said something hurtful.  I took my abuser back when he said he was sorry or bought me gifts.  And, I unfriended close confidants because of the insensitive words they spoke in their misguided attempts to help me through my painful trials.  How could my abuser be bad when he was being nice in that moment?  How could I ever trust that friend again when she was capable of being so callous?   Black and white thinking.

We are all sinners.  Every.  Single.  One.  Of.  Us.  We all have it in us to good and to do evil.  It seems that survivors get hung up on the behaviors, especially once we finally begin to learn about the Power and Control Wheel and abuse dynamics.  They can become an arsenal for judgment rather than a catalyst for discernment if we aren’t careful.  And, it’s easy to forget that intent is key.  Does their behavior feel good to me in this moment, but is their intention wicked?  Or, do their words sound hurtful to me, but are their intentions good?  This feels like a boundry crossing, but is it another’s attempt to help me grow as an individual?  Or, are they legitimately trying to gain power and control over me?

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Rich, deep relationships are catalysts for growth.  There is security in receiving forgiveness.  Our humility is nourished when we realize that someone accepts us, faults and all.  And, our compassion is developed when we accept others, faults and all.  It’s in that grey zone that we recognize, experience, and enjoy the raw humanity in ourselves and others.

When my executive director asked me to give up this blog, was he attempting to control me?  Was his desire to see me die a little bit as a person by taking away something so important to me?  No.  He was merely expressing a concern for a valued employee and attempting to give protective guidance and recommendations that would preserve my mental health for the long run.

Is my supervisor trying to monopolize my time and isolate me by not allowing me to see my children in the middle of the day?  No.  She knows that I’ll go home and put in a load of laundry, go over school work with the kids, and fix them lunch, and she knows that I need someone to take care of me in order to keep going.  She’s actually sacrificing her own time to ensure I stop taking care of others for 20 to 30 minutes each day.

Am I emotionally abusing my husband by asking him why he deletes his messages?  Are my tears and my pleading an attempt to manipulate him into giving up all outside relationships?  No.  I’m trying to reach out to him and obtain a loving and faithful, God honoring marriage.  I’m requesting financial and sexual accountability from my life partner.

I feel like my boss and my supervisor are crossing my boundaries, but they are, in actuality, looking out for me.  I’m probably struggling a bit with adjusting to being someone’s employee after being self-employed for almost eight years.  I want paid days off and insurance and a retirement account, but I also want autonomy.   My husband feels like I’m crossing his boundaries when I’m, in actuality, looking out for our marriage.  He wants a wife to cook and do laundry and bring in money to pay bills, but he wants to go out to eat and go to movies alone and hang out in bars and spend money on himself without accountability.  He wants to maintain addictions and relationships with other women, but he also wants someone else to shoulder half the responsibilities of life.  He’s probably struggling a bit with adjusting to being married.

Boundaries are critical.  They must be guarded and affirmed.  But, they also need to be kept in perspective because they are, after all, simply a tool for helping us relate to other human beings.  Are we using our boundaries as weapons?  Are we using them to maintain our own bad behaviors?  What is our intent in establishing boundaries with others?  And, what is their intent when they appear to be encroaching on our boundaries?   We can’t misuse the ideology of boundaries to support our black and white thinking or to cover our own sins.

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Image borrowed from Pinterest

Expectations Based on Past Experiences and How They Can Destroy the Potential for Current Happiness

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As a child I only saw my military brat cousins annually. When they arrived at our grandparents’ house my family would drive out to the country to visit them there. My cousins, all boys, would be dutifully waiting, under the direction of my oldest cousin, at the driveway with a wheelbarrow. Every visit he would run around the property hiding small bouquets of flowers in the hollows of the many fruit trees that dotted Nana and Papa’s land. He would then push me around the property in the wheelbarrow helping me collect my hidden bouquets. I was the only girl, and I was, in their eyes, special.

When he died of brain cancer in our 30’s I wrote him a letter wherein I told him that it was really all his fault I’d had so many problems in my relationships with men. Of course, I meant that with tenderness and appreciation and he knew that. He received it with the spirit in which it was intended, and we both cried over the impending loss of the unique lifelong love and adoration we had shared. He had set a standard for me as a young child that no man could live up to. I have expected men to express joy at seeing me and make extra efforts to make me feel special. The problem is men haven’t typically done that. My expectations are then dashed, and I become disillusioned with the man of the hour. Any potential for a pleasant or fulfilling relationship to be worked out is destroyed because I’m not seeing love expressed in the manner I think I need.

At the age of 16 a friend took me to a Christian concert at a local church. I wasn’t saved, didn’t know anything about this God or the Bible, and was really quite disinterested in it all. My friend was so excited for me to meet his older brother who was in town for this concert and doing the sound for the show. His brother was bigger than life to him; he was proud of him and eager to introduce us.

The brother was busy setting things up and didn’t engage much with us. But, I’ll never forget that moment. He was tall. Really tall. And, beautiful. A really pretty man. And, he didn’t pay any attention to me. He was more interested in doing his job than meeting a girl. However, two years later he was back in town again, and my friend set us up on a date. It was December and very cold. He dressed impeccably and took me to the nicest restaurant in town. After dinner we stopped at a local park. It had begun to snow quite heavily, and we walked and talked and laughed and made snow angels. I was smitten.

He played bass in a Christian rock band that traveled the country ministering to kids through their music. I still wasn’t saved, and he was on fire for Christ. I was a total mess. And, he had it ALL together.

One year for my birthday he sent me a tape of him asking the attendees of his concert to assist him in wishing me a happy birthday. The entire auditorium yelled, “Happy Birthday” on the count of three. Another time he tried on clothes in a women’s store to make sure he had the right fit for me and then sent me the complete outfit. When he proposed he said the kind of beautiful and unforgettable words that little girls dream of hearing on that occasion. It was perfect. The next day he showed me pictures of a house and vehicles and his business. He said he wanted to show me what he was offering me.

Over the years I’d come to adore his father and respect his mother. His sister pierced my ears in their living room. And, he came to love my mother in spite of how I felt about her. It was as family relationships should be. It all felt right.

But, like his brother, I saw him as bigger than life. And, as he showed me what he was offering me, I wondered what I could possibly ever offer him. I had nothing to give a man like that.

We hadn’t seen each other in 25 years until this past Thursday night. I met him in town, and we talked about the past and shared with each other where our lives have ended up. We’re both married, both committed Christians, both workaholics, both politically conservative, and we both fiercely love our families. I also realized I still have some VERY strong feelings for him.

As he shared his tremendous success as a business man, I couldn’t help but compare him to my lazy, pot smoking husband. As he shared his dedication to his stepchildren, I couldn’t help but compare him to my cold, indifferent husband and how he daily rejects my children. As he shared his activism and seeking of knowledge, I couldn’t help but compare him to my video game obsessed husband. As he led me in prayer and spoke words of wise counsel, I couldn’t help but compare that to my husband’s cruelty and neglect.

I came away from Thursday night realizing that the man from the past was everything I had wanted my ex husband to be. He is everything I thought my current husband would be but isn’t. He is everything I’ve yearned for in a man, but I threw him away because I felt so inferior.

My husband is so broken and full of sin, yet he’s done some really wonderful things, too. He helped my son buy his first vehicle. He has helped my daughter with math and got my youngest son involved in youth group. Just yesterday he sold his chain saw and planned to use those funds to buy a new front door for the house. However, when we went shopping for his birthday he ended up spending that money on me, purchasing $120 shoes on a whim just because I liked them.

He’s not all bad. He’s human. Like I said, he’s broken and full of sin. But, he has some redeeming qualities. Yet, when I look at him playing video games all I can see is the man from the past in a news video defending a Jewish man from white supremacists. When he ignores my children and leaves the house to talk to his father on the phone, excluding us from wishing my father in law happy birthday, all I can see is the man from the past visiting my mom or playing volleyball in the yard with my older children or taking me to his parents’ house on Christmas. My husband just can’t compare. He’s no match for tall, dark, and handsome, who also happens to be humble, loyal, hard-working, and driven. I expect my husband to be this other man, not the unique individual that he is. And, he fails, in every way, to live up to my expectations.

But, as the man from the past said, “I chose this.” This is my husband. My struggle is that I can’t be content or committed to pray for this man when he is such a failure in my eyes. He’ll never be as good as the one that got away. And, that’s not really fair to him, is it?

My heart needs tweeked. I need to appreciate what I do have instead of longing for something I could have had. I need to be grateful that at one time I was loved….. by my now deceased cousin and by my now married ex-boyfriend. I can’t get either of them back, but I can cherish those memories. And, I can honor those two incredible men by loving the way they did. They loved me unconditionally, in spite of my brokenness and sin. Perhaps I should try to do that for my husband. Perhaps I should try to do that for the Savior who commands us to love one another. Perhaps I should give as I have so freely received.

Overcoming Triggers; Not Blaming the New Partner for the Sins of the Old Partner, Part Two

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New Man has seemed obsessed with his ex at times, and it has caused me to feel unwanted and unloved, like a second rate, second hand, lame replacement. It wounds me to hear how deeply she hurt him and how much he wanted to save their marriage. I’ve felt pierced when he’s told me he did whatever she asked of him, no matter how many turns her requests took, while he doggedly refused to perform the simplest of my requests. I couldn’t understand why he’d want her so bad and want to please her so much, catering to her ridiculous whims, and how he could care so little about my sincere needs. She is physically quite ugly, resembling the classic caricature of a witch, and she has the personality to match. That isn’t the assessment of a jealous second wife. My adult daughter looked her up online and asked if I’d seen a picture of her. I had not at that point. She exclaimed, “You’ve got to! She looks like a witch!” Upon finally meeting her, my husband’s sister took me aside to ask how the meeting had gone and exclaimed, “I’ve always thought she looks just like a witch!” What did this woman have that captivated him so? She’s horrible on every level, in every way.

On our prewedding trip to visit New Man’s family, the ex gave him a birthday gift from her, not their children, just from her. She hugged him multiple times, reminisced about their life together in front of me, and then draped her arms around him one more time and invited him to “come back alone so we can have a one on one, face to face” and smiled coyly. We laughed about the ridiculousness of her behavior, but he kept the cheap gift hidden in his briefcase in spite of telling me he didn’t know where it was, he thought he’d thrown it away. I interpreted him keeping it as hanging on to a special momento from her. It had hurt me to experience that entire incident with her on our special trip. And, it hurt me eight months after the wedding to find the gift hidden away. I told him so, and he blew me off. I have simmered and stewed over it but finally decided not to say anything more about it. I really didn’t want him to get rid of it because I insisted. I wanted him to get rid of it because he didn’t want something from a woman who inappropriately gave it to him on our engagement trip and asked him to dump me in a large unfamiliar city to come back and have sex with her the month before our wedding.

We’ve been lying in bed following afternoons of incredible intimacy when he’s, out of the blue, begun talking about her. I know details of their sex life and her body that I never wanted to hear. He’s received texts from her and stood at the back of the truck, away from me, to respond. He leaves the house to FaceTime with his children rather than trying to occasionally include us all and allow us to get to know each other. She is always involved in the conversations and joins in as though they are a separated family, happy to hear from the head of their household while he’s temporarily away from the family home, so he goes off to himself to have these moments with her and their children. And, why? For what purpose? What was it that caused him to call me by her name? To talk about her incessantly? To hide his communications with her from me? Why doesn’t he shut her down?

I just keep coming back to that he isn’t over her.

She told his sister that she still believes he will hit rock bottom in his new home state and will come back to her. After a recent visit with her and the children, New Man’s parents told him that it seems like she really misses him. She has texted him that several times over the last year.

It all creates terrible insecurity in me. I have expected that one day he’ll succomb to her wiles and go running back to the love of his life, happy that she wants him back. I fear that he really wants to be there, not here with me. I even wonder if he thinks about her when we’re making love. It’s crazy, the places I go in my head with all of this.

I finally just had to submit it to God. I had to find some way to at least appreciate, if I couldn’t enjoy, the moments with my husband sitting in church, sharing coffee in the morning and wine in the evening, making love as the sun comes up, working on our new home together. I was losing every joy in pleasant things by obsessing about the what ifs. And, as I backed off on it New Man began to talk even more about her but in a different way. As I relaxed and showed more grace in all things, he loosened up and shared more of what he felt about those memories he goes to constantly. And, as I kept my insecurities to myself and merely asked clarifying questions he was more willing to explain himself and not get defensive and shut me out. I quit triggering him and, in turn, he quit triggering me. We were able to just talk.

The grand revelation is that I’m not the only survivor here. New Man is also a survivor of narcissistic abuse, and some of my behaviors were triggering him. When he triggered me I’d run to my friends, my children, and our church and tell them all what a rotten bastard he is. She had done that to such a degree that she got him fired from his job and excommunicated from their church. There were a couple of times when he triggered me and I changed locks on interior doors in order to feel protected. She had changed the locks on the family home and denied him access to the house he’d bought and paid for and denied him access to his own personal belongings inside that house. My actions triggered him on a visceral level. His responses then commonly triggered me, which then caused me to react in a further triggering way for him. It became a shit show of triggering behavior and trigger responses.

His dear friend who acted as our officiate asked us to do premarital homework that consisted of writing down our needs, dreams, and greatest fears and then share them with each other. New Man listed one of his needs as being forgiveness, healing, and a safe place to grow in trust with one another. When I first read that a year ago I didn’t understand it. What did he need healing from? What did he need forgiven for? What was he talking about a safe place? I didn’t want to be his therapist. I didn’t want him to work out his demons with me. I wanted him to adore me and nurture me and take care of me. I wanted the passion and fun and adventure of our courtship to continue into married life.

Interestingly, I’ve received the same piece of advice from several people who’ve been in relationships for 30+ years: the passion will end. Enjoy it while it lasts but cultivate the friendship because that is what will be the most important thing once the physical fades.

What is friendship if it isn’t a safe place to grow? Someone you can trust with your secrets. Someone who will help you heal when you’ve been hurt. Someone who always forgives you and stands by you.

My husband needed me to be his friend. He is an emotional image bearer just like me. But, I had to make a shift to be willing to die to self and not hold him accountable for the sins of my former partner in order to help him heal from the sins of his former partner. And, in doing that, he has bonded to me in a deeper way that has been the soil in which the passion and fun and adventure have taken on new dimenions. And, my needs are being met.

It’s difficult to not grow hard and have the attitude that, “I will NEVER allow another man/woman to do that to me again!!!” While we need to protect ourselves from ABUSE, we can’t be so fearful, so watchful that we aren’t willing to sacrifice or extend grace. In love and marriage we MUST put all our guards down and be truly willing to get messy and hurt for the sake of our partner.

As for that gift? He gave it away yesterday. And, her continued inappropriate communications? He received one this morning (their anniversary, that wished him a good day and said she was, of course, thinking of him), showed it to me, and then he texted back, “Of course I want to hear about the kids’ medical updates, but I’m a happily married man and your communication is neither appreciated nor welcomed.”

Remarriage after abuse won’t be easy for either partner, but it’s worth the struggle and the sacrifice to have a friend for life.

Overcoming Triggers; Not Blaming the New Partner for the Sins of the Old Partner: Part One

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I’ve struggled to write for so long now.  I’ll begin and edit and delete and begin and edit and delete some more.  And, then I just walk away.  My first year of marriage has been a rollercoaster.  How do I share that with my readers?  It’s not fair to ask others to join me in this emotional chaos.  One day I’m crazy in love, and the next day I hate him.  I’ve printed divorce papers three times and purchased a house with him.  I’ve sought legal advice and am attending marriage counseling through our church.  It’s been awful.  And, wonderful.  And, then worse.  And, then better.

Some of it, a lot of it, has been him.  He has been unemployed for the entire first ten months of our marriage.  He has wasted the largest portion of his retirement on marijuana and booze.  He’s spent untold hours playing video games and ignoring his responsibilities as a husband and step-father.  He has talked incessantly about his ex and called me by her name more times than I care to remember.  I have every reason to divorce him.  And, my church supports me in doing so.  But, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I still need to remove the log from my own eye, and I’ve got a few.

I refuse to make excuses for any man ever again.  Not after what the abuser did.  So, I’ve held New Man to task for Every.  Single.  Little.  Thing.  He has done wrong…..and then some.  I hold him accountable for what I THINK he has done and what I THINK he means by what he says.  I have flat out refused to give him space to grow and time to recover.  In my anger I’ve done unthinkable things I thought I was incapable of doing.  In my anger!  I’m not just hurt as a new wife that he hasn’t lived up to what he promised me or what I thought this was going to be like.  I’m ANGRY.  I’m so pissed off that I can feel my blood pressure rise and my heart rate increase from 0 to 60.  I’ve wondered sometimes if this is what my abuser felt.  This intense, hot, violent resentment.  I’ve HATED New Man.

I’ve hated him for what he’s done because I believed in him so much, because I was so head over heals in love with him.  I loved him passionately and with such a terrible longing that I’ve only felt once before, and that time it lasted for over 30 years until the day that man died. I believed in the immense possibilities of a life together loving the Lord and each other in this fun filled, electrifying friendship of ours.  But, he let me down.  New Man let me down with a hard, earth shattering crash.  My heart broke as it was hurled to the ground.

As I stood on the brink of divorce thinking about the epic adventures we shared and the lifelong dreams that seemed so nearly fulfilled, I had to make a choice.  Do I divorce him, as my attorney, my friends, my children, and my church tell me to?  Or, do I try counseling?  A last ditch effort to see if he has one shred of care or concern for me in him?

Chide me if you will.  I’m a lifelong victim and can’t be trusted to make my own decisions.  I know, I know.  I give people chances when they don’t deserve it to my own detriment.  It’s what I did with my mother.  And, with my abuser.  It’s what I do……punishing myself for never being good enough.  But, what if?  What if he actually is just as damaged as I am?  What if he is actually, like me, just a simple sinner in need of a Savior and the love of God wrapped in flesh?

My foolish “giving in” has given me new insight and new perspective into this new husband the Lord provided for me.  But, it has shown me more about myself.  I’m angry.  I’m pissed off at my ungrateful children and my cold, mentally ill mother and my cruel and psychotic ex husband, but I’m pretending I’ve risen above it all and have conquered my pain.  I’m a SURVIVOR now.  Hear me roar.  The truth is I’m as fake and phoney as those I say I stand in direct opposition of because I haven’t risen above any of it.  I’ve buried it.  The truth is I’m pissed!!!!  And, standing naked and unashamed before another human being in holy matrimony has exposed those ugly parts of me I’ve pretended don’t even exist.  I can’t relate to him or understand him or extend grace to him while I’m being eaten alive by this insatiable resentment.  I’ve accused New Man of being a hypocrite and a liar, but I am, too.  Marriage is a mirror, and I do not like his reflection.

Some may think I’m falling into old patterns of behavior by “trying” to make a marriage work with someone who has done, or failed to do, the things New Man has done, and failed to do.  I’m actually stepping out into brave new territory.  I’m actually bolder now, by staying with him and extending him grace and ALLOWING THE UGLY PARTS OF MYSELF TO BE EXPOSED TO HIM, than I ever was as a militantly defiant single woman.  We are facing each other in shame and embarassment with all of our wounds exposed for the other to see.  We can choose to say it’s okay, I accept you as you are.  Or, we can walk away in unforgiveness and basically say to each other that our past accusers and abusers were right.  We’re not worth the effort.

Not this time.  This time, he and I will hold on tightly and, looking into each other’s eyes, say that you, in all of your brokenness, were created in the image of a Holy God and I see Him reflected in your being.  Where it feels dark and cold, I choose to hope for light and a future.  I choose you, as I believe you are God’s best for me.  For better or for worse.

 

Self Awareness and Knowing Your Own Value

Throughout my journey I’ve sought to examine my own attitudes and behaviors in order to reign in the toxic, unhealthy, or ungodly aspects of me. Sometimes that has required dissecting the relationships I’ve chosen or remained in. Sometimes that has required quiet times of reflection. There are definitely patterns to my choices, similarities in those I choose to share myself with in close relationship.

The point has never been to ridicule those individuals, though I do make damning statements about them. The purpose is to determine what could I do differently. Why do I seek out individuals and groups who embody certain characteristics. Why do I feel comfortable being treated a certain way.

The Importance of “Allowing” a Survivor to Make Their Own Decisions

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Once again I’ve written and deleted posts several times over the last few months. These early months of marriage have been up and down, and I’ve vasillated between wanting to vent and share the lessons I’m learning and wanting to protect my infant union.

I love and appreciate the support (and protective defensiveness) of the online community. It’s a beautiful thing when strangers encourage one another and embrace one another without ever laying eyes on each other. But, honestly, I’ve also really not wanted to hear, “Get out!” or, “Oh, Sweetie, he’s another abuser.”

I chose this man. This marriage was MY choice. Right or wrong, good or bad, that feels pretty damned empowering. I fiercely loved my first husband, but I was not ready to get married at that point and my mother had strongly encouraged me to find a man of his nationality. I did love him, but I felt a bit out of control of that decision. I knew I didn’t want to marry my second husband. My brother and a close friend very strongly suggested I do so though. They said he was humble and just the nicest guy and no one would take better care of my kids and me than he would. However, deep in my gut, I knew it was a bad idea.

This time I met him and chose him on my own. I liked him, regardless of what anyone else thought. We’ve considered and come dangerously close to divorce three times now. Papers printed and bags packed. Papers were even signed once. But, each time we’ve chosen to humble ourselves, show vulnerability, and extend grace. We’ve grown. Together. We have had little support, yet we have chosen each other time and time again. In spite of horrendous obstacles, our choice has been love and commitment.

During our arguments I’ve said some pretty awful things. I’ve flipped him off and called him names. And, he hasn’t choked me or thrown me across a room. I’ve experienced the “luxury” of expressing ugly anger toward a man and receiving forgiveness and gentleness in return. That has been very empowering in a really strange way. I don’t like the feeling of knowing I’ve wounded another human being, especially the one I vowed to spend the rest of my life with, but it has been life changing to reveal the darkest side of myself to a man and still receive his tenderness.

In six short months I’ve learned so many important things about life, genuine love, and myself that even if this ended tomorrow I’d be eternally grateful.

His unconditional love gave me the courage and the strength to apply for and pursue my dream job. I am now a shelter advocate for a women’s crisis response organization. I’m in love with my position, my boss, my co-workers, and the women we serve. It’s exhilarating, fulfilling, and humbling. Some days I’m not sure if I’m serving them or if they’re serving me. I’m so blessed to get to spend time with the incredible women who come through our facility.

One of the vital truths that we must constantly be aware of is that we are not there to advise. We are there to support and offer services. Anything and everything is the client’s choice. No one knows better than she what is right for her unique situation. Even if that means she returns to her abuser.

Victims and survivors have had their voices stolen. They’ve been denied the right of self determination. They are not the masters of their own destiny. If we come in like heroes and tell them what to do, are we really much different than the abusers? Or, has the victim merely traded lords? She needs us to tell her we believe in her ability to make choices. She needs to explore and experience her own successes and failures. She does not need one more person in her life telling her what to do. We can lead with questions, hoping she’ll see the potential risks we see, but the decision must be hers. The journey is hers alone.

This is my journey. While I don’t want to shun godly wisdom, I want the freedom to make my own choices, learn from my own mistakes, and bask in my own success. I want to be respected as the capable adult that I am.

Facing Hard Truths About Myself

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I haven’t posted in quite some time. I’ve started and stopped and trashed more posts than I can recall. My last post was negative and condemning, full of harsh judgments. It stood to destroy your opinion of New Man, and several people left comments of support and encouragement as I determined to break things off with a potential new abuser.

I deeply appreciate your love and kindness! I do!

But, I don’t always deserve your well intentioned, love filled, yet blind, support. I don’t.

The break up I last blogged about only lasted a week. (I deleted that post.) With much trepidation I took him back and have continued with the relationship. And, in these last few months I’ve faced some hard truths about myself.

When my abuser first left, I had a conversation with another survivor wherein we both declared an unabashed commitment to remain soft and gentle and to forbid abuse to harden us. We did not want to become jaded. We sincerely wanted to retain those parts of ourselves that initially, most likely, attracted our abusers to us and made us vulnerable to being used. Something happened along the way though as I got stronger and became more determined to make it on my own……I did become hard.

New Man is human, and he has many faults. But, my description of them, my interpretation of them, was not fair to him. I held him accountable, not only for his mistakes, but also for the crimes of my abuser. And, I made excuses for my own faults. I justified myself. In doing so, I closed myself off to the dangers of intimacy and the iron sharpening iron that is a necessary byproduct of intense intimacy.

No one was going to hurt me.

God would convict me of my wrongdoings. No human was going to play that role in my life.

And, I guarded my heart and my life from relationship. From love.

True love holds a mirror up before us and refines us. It isn’t always pleasant. Growing pains are just that….. painful. But, true love holds us and accepts us as it confronts us.

I used to say that I had been a good wife to a bad man; I knew I could be a great wife to a good man. But, I refused to be good to New Man, truly good, because of how the abuser had responded to my kindness and gentleness. That wasn’t fair.

The last few months have been months of growth that I’m eager to share. I’m ready to break my silence. I want to share how it feels to truly let go of anger and fear and to trust God and a New Man…..and, face my own humanity and selfish, sinful nature.

Finding Red Flags vs. Fighting The Past

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We are all sinful, fault filled human beings with insecurities, fears, and selfish desires. But, navigating new relationships and getting to know people post abuse causes us to hold a magnifying glass to other’s humaness. We dissect their every word and the subtle nuances of their tones and body language, looking for that ah ha moment when we can prove beyond a doubt that they were indeed attempting to deceive us in order to use and abuse us.

New man is definitely not perfect. He has been through his own pain that created calluses on his spirit. He was born with a sin nature that pulls him down. If I were to tell my friends the cruel things he has said to me or the time he tried to lie to me or about his nasty habits/addictions, I’m quite certain they’d tell me to heed the red flags and run. But, I won’t. I mean, I threaten it weekly. The poor man just said on Tuesday evening, “Baby, you’ve GOT to stop taking your stuff and leaving every time you get upset.” Running, leaving, bailing is my default. I operate in “flight.” But, I won’t really fly far away, not for long.

Over the last four months I’ve had to face the reality that often my anger or hurt feelings are because I’m judging New Man’s words and actions through the lens of the past. I’m holding him accountable for what the abuser did and said. He’s not to blame for all of that, but I accuse him nonetheless. I get “triggered” or just scared, and suddenly everything from every wounded moment in my life is his fault. It’s confusing for him. And, it feeds his own insecurities and issues. And, I hurt him.

Falling in love is exhilarating and fun, but it’s also one of the most frightening things you can do once you come out on the other side of domestic violence. I could choose to shrink back, unwilling to risk being hurt again. What if I’m wrong about him, too? What if he’s tricking me like my abuser once did? I’m choosing grace instead though. Because I want to experience the give and take of genuine love and friendship in an intimate relationship with a man. I really do want to try.

The truth is– the truth I’m having a hard time accepting– is that this imperfect New Man does love me. He does see good in me. He’s willing to forgive me. He’s able to walk and talk through the ugly stuff. He actually wants to recover from misunderstandings and unintentional wounds. He’s in this. He’s with me, not against me.

At this point in time with the abuser, we were already engaged. We’d already had horrible, horrible FIGHTS. He already regularly called me names. He had already ruined holidays. He was routinely insulting me. My friends and family were already being replaced by his friends and family. The red flags were more like neon billboards.

I’m a strong woman. I’ve survived so many horrors. I know I am courageous. So, I’m courageously now giving my bruised, fragile heart to another human being, hoping for the best, and trying to relax into his love for me.

Letting Go and Learning to Trust After Divorce, Domestic Violence, and Betrayal

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The new man is nothing short of amazing. He’s attentive, supportive, kind, gentle, thoughtful, fun, a great communicator….everything I’ve ever wanted. No, he’s more than I ever wanted. I couldn’t even dream of a man treating me so good. But, weekly, I find myself shutting down. I pull back for a day. I feel confused and angry over nothing. I don’t get it! Why am I feeling this way? Why can’t I just enjoy this incredible time?

My reality is I have come to expect pain and lies. I have stopped believing in an inherent goodness within the hearts of humans, especially the male kind. My default has become distrust of any and all. Guilty until proven innocent. Yet, that prohibits the closeness and intimacy I absolutely crave. It keeps the door to my heart locked and barred. It’s been lonely inside my self- imposed prison though. I want out!

The lessons taught by abuse, adultery, and betrayal are valuable and must be retained, yet there does come a point in time where we have to be willing to risk a little, a point in time where we must let our guard down and allow another human access to our inner selves….. even though that’s scary and hard.

I’m admittedly jumping in to the deep end head first and disregarding the wise advice to take things slow…..in spite of being scared to death. But, the new man is patient and humble and makes himself vulnerable, which makes it so easy to dive. We’re working hard to keep respectful communication at the forefront at all times, which makes it easy to want to trust him.

I’ve had to make a conscientious decision to lay aside my pain, to stop judging him by the actions of someone he’s never met. I’ve decided to choose trust and intimacy over pain and fear with the knowledge that he may let me down. I want to live and love again. At some point that requires taking a plunge. I must take a deep breath, step off the end of the board, and allow my body to fall into the unknown waters below.

Dating Post Abuse

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Three weeks ago my teenager cajoled me into creating a dating profile on a well known dating site.  It has been interesting to say the least!  Also about three weeks ago, my sister in law met a new man while out dancing in a local bar.   

I have trepidations regarding her new guy.  I see potential red flags and feel like it’s too soon.  But, she’s eager and ready to move on and away from my brother’s adultery and constant put downs.  I, on the other hand, have needed a lot of time to recover from years of abuse and be ready to make myself vulnerable again.  

In this three weeks,  I’ve chatted on the phone with men, texted with men, and been to dinner with one.  And, the entire time I’m like a hunter, stealthily tip toeing, quietly waiting for signs.  Could he be controlling?  Is he immature?  Needy?  Is he lying about his past?  Is this image control? 

Meanwhile, my sister in law is being wined and dined and having the time of her life, feeling like someone wants her and validates her.  Whether or not he’s genuine doesn’t cross her mind. 

Being a single survivor of domestic violence has been crippling for me.  I just can’t seem to really forget.  I can’t just let go. 

I worry incessantly about my sister in law.  MY KIDS DO, TOO.  Post abuse, we’re all looking for the potential abuser behind every bush.  We’re anticipating the worst because the worst has happened, and we know it’s real.  It can always happen again.  

It’s very difficult to get to know a new person when you’re not listening to what they say as a way to get to know them, but rather as a means of deciphering the hidden meaning behind their words.  The distrust has been thick.

I can freely love new clients, homeless people, children my kids associate with,  strangers on the street.   I’m open to others.  Unless they’re single men. 

I’ve been so afraid.

The lingering question following me everywhere has been, “What if it happens again?”  As much as I haven’t trusted the men I’ve met since the divorce, I think the biggest issue is, I haven’t trusted my own ability to discern.  Nor have I trusted God to  protect me.  

I’m going to repeat that.  I haven’t trusted my own ability to discern, nor have I trusted my God to protect me. 

That’s the real issue.

I haven’t been on a New Year’s date since 1995.  I’ve LOVED our family New Year’s parties and felt no need whatsoever to kiss someone when the ball dropped.  This year was different though.  It was suddenly  critical to me that I have a date for New Year’s.  I felt a desperate need, as though I’d be setting the tone for the entire New Year based on how I spent one silly evening.

So, without really any prior conversation, I made plans via messages to meet a younger and very attractive man from the dating site.

A part of me chastised myself for feeling so desperate.  Another part was just incredibly relieved. 

He did not seem like a safe bet.  He only moved here four or five months ago from out of state.  He’s younger.  We hadn’t even talked or texted.  And, did I mention he’s incredibly good looking?  It seemed like a dangerous combination.  But, at least I wouldn’t be alone on New Year’s.  I’d take what I could get.  

As the day wore on and I didn’t hear from him, I began to assume he was standing me up.  Gah!  Not only was I going to be alone, I was being stood up!  What was I even thinking?  And, then he texted and called while I was at dinner.  I didn’t respond, so he thought he was being stood up!

But, at approximately 9:15 we both arrived at our planned destination.   He brought me chocolate and a homemade card and was a complete gentleman the entire evening.  We visited A LOT, danced very little, and he kissed me in a very platonic way at midnight.  I forgot to judge him.  I relaxed into his presence and just simply enjoyed his company and getting to know him.   

When I got home I looked up the verses he referenced in his note to me.  One was Proverbs 4:23, Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.  

In that sweet gesture, that sweet reminder, I relaxed again.  How I’ve responded to men and even feared them these past six years has been okay.  It’s helped me to guard me heart.  I won’t ever have to look back and regret a string of men or any sinful behavior post divorce.  My heart and my body have been preserved for that man God does bring me.  And, perhaps that means God has been protecting me all of this time.  Perhaps He’s used my past suffering as a gated wall to keep me in reserve for something better.