First, before I sound like a goofball, I just want to go on the record as saying that I almost never watch Dr. Phil. Don’t get me wrong. I think he has a lot of wisdom, but I rarely find myself in the mood to hear about how bad other people’s lives are….except when my own is flailing so badly there is nowhere to go but up. In an unfamiliar act, I set my DVR to record one of his past episodes a few weeks ago. The only word I remembered from the advertisement was “Dealbreakers” and I thought about my whole relationship with Chef this last year, and the word stuck with me. It’s just been fraught with dealbreakers lately.
Then, in a more normal display of rebellion, I ignored the recording for weeks. I don’t know why I find myself afraid to hear some things, but something in me told me I wasn’t going to like hearing this. I couldn’t have been more wrong, or more right.
The truth is, had I watched this episode a few weeks ago, it would have only made me feel worse about myself, but lately, I’ve been able to adjust to how I fit in my new world, and while I feel still a bit unsure of myself, I have to say I’m feeling much more adult than I ever have before.
One of the guests on the show was the young wife of a man caught in a sting trying to have sex with a 13 year-old girl. Now, I’d like to think that had Chef walked over that line, I’d have kicked his nasty butt to the curb, but these days, I find myself less sure of what I will and will not tolerate. I’m not so quick to decide I’d do anything. I’ve already compromised more than I said I ever would.
And so, I could really empathize with this poor wife who hated what her husband had done, yet still loved her husband and was so broken and confused by what he seemed to find lacking in her. As I watched her cry and struggle to answer questions about reactions in herself that she simply did not understand, I got it. I just understood. Sometimes, we are appalled at our own reactions. I knew that I could get over Chef using drugs, and even the porn, with a little help. I was even pretty sure I could get over the affair, given the proper amount of remorse and regret, along with love and kindness. And in an enormous amount of humiliating lack of self-respect, I figured I could get over my husband moving the girl into my home, giving her love letters that basically said the same things he used to write to me, and letting her hang up her clothes in my half of our closet, lay her head on the pillows I used to sleep on, and even use the clothes I hadn’t taken with me, not to mention what she does sexually with my husband. Yes. I thought I could get over all of this.
The problem for me is that I never really had a list of dealbreakers in my own mind. As Christians, I do believe we should go above and beyond to make our marriages work. But the Bible says to let an unbelieving spouse go his own way, too, and that is where I got stuck. I didn’t want to believe that Chef had tricked me for all of those years. I wanted to believe in this fantasy I had created in my own mind of just who and what Chef was all about, and he just couldn’t live up to that dream. I think the man he was is worthy of the grieving I did for him, but the man he is now doesn’t want to be a Christian man, and I have to leave him to it, then. A marriage won’t work if both people are struggling towards different goals.
Which leads me to another realization I came to. And this one is a bit harder to admit. Because of my age when the predator starting molesting me, I have spent most of my life in a “child-like” bubble. Most of my reactions to big emotions seem to be those of a teen-age girl, which explains why I’ve avoided them completely when possible. My relationships have always looked more fatherly/daughterly than two equal partners and it wasn’t until I started to refuse to allow Chef to order me to do things I just didn’t want to do that we started to really have problems.
There have been an alarming number of compromises I’ve made in order to keep my husband happy, and it is with a lot of shame I admit that. It seems to me that God did actually answer my prayers when I begged Him to rescue me and Chef out of this drug-induced, porn-tainted hell I found myself in. I just figured He would magically make Chef suddenly well. I didn’t realize God, instead, started my healing first.
Ask any of the many people who knew me growing up and you’ll probably get the same story. I was an obedient, respectful child. And even though I was being molested, my reactions to authority were not a farce. I obeyed without question. And that is the kind of wife I was too.
Over the last few years, though, God was bringing that sexual dysfunction and emotional retardation to surface and we had been dealing with it, piece by piece. And as I was able to address and unravel some of that shame, guilt, and rage, I was healing. And as I was healing, I wasn’t so quick to allow Chef to bully me into doing things I just felt were wrong. I don’t know how this looked from his side, but I’m guessing he probably didn’t understand this spineless girl growing the huevos to say no to him. And if we’re going to be fair here, it wasn’t what he had signed up for.
It’s kind of scary what doors can be opened in your own mind just hearing and seeing a similar situation for another person, but I have to say I’m glad these doors are open now. I don’t think Chef’s needing to replace me with T says anything bad about me anymore, nor do I feel that overwhelming, erratic urge to win him back just to prove there never had been anything wrong with me in the first place. The prize would not be worth the pain I’d continue to be living in. There have been way too many dealbreakers for me to even consider it. And as an adult woman, I’m clearly placing a line in the sand about what I will and will not tolerate from someone I love and trust. No more fairy tales and grieving for something that, in the light of day, was unhealthy from the very start. And I don’t say it was unhealthy because of Chef. It was unhealthy because I was a broken, unhealthy little girl when I set out down this path.
I’m not mad at Chef anymore for all of his meth-linked mistakes. He’s a broken person just like me, and he hasn’t found his way to his Healer yet. But I’m thanking God tonight for a little clarity and for allowing me to begin seeing Chef and T from a different viewpoint that isn’t so cynical, hurt, and angry. We are all just a lot of people who are broken, radiating towards other broken people, replicating a horrible dance that feels familiar to us. Abused people find people who abuse them to dance with. Addicts find other addicts to dance with. We all rebuild the nightmares of our childhoods, and live in those frail castles until God plucks us out and renews our hearts and our minds.
I just left the stupid dance early, and Chef got another partner that still knows the steps. I’m sorry, Chef and T. I’m learning the steps to a new dance now.