There are some real oxymoron's for abuse survivors – no matter our age. Most of them centre around the idea that you can disagree and still be okay. You can be expressing your thoughts and worries without fear. It is a mine field with all sorts of triggers, bombs and emotional landmines.
This is one area, though, that can be a source of so much confusion and hurt in relationships. It deals with old habits and coping mechanisms that don’t need to be used anymore, that are in-fact, not healthy for us in a healthy relationship. Dealing with someone who is out of control and dangerous gives us survival modes and coping mechanisms that don’t work when we are safe, when we are in a safe and healthy relationship, when we are moving forward through the hurt into the healing. For those who learned those as children, and had it reinforced into adulthood this becomes quite a struggle. Add into the mix our spouses who are often wondering what they can do to help and still avoid being caught up in ‘friendly fire’.
The challenges our spouses and children face as we learn, sometimes for the first time, that conflict won’t get you injured or cause someone you love to be threatened with death, are so daunting. How can I disagree with him still be okay in our marriage? Is it possible for us to argue, even loudly, and neither of us be threatened with violence? That we can at the end of the day not harm ourselves or our children? How do I stop shaking and feeling like I’m going to be ill when he says, “We need to talk.”
As children of God and survivors we have both advantages and challenges. One of the challenges we face is that our faith culture does not often encourage us to share about our past, so when we do flash back and respond with old habits, it is shocking to everyone. The advantage, of course, is that we have a faith community who can pray over us, for us and with us. We are forgiven and redeemed, we are washed clean. Even if the devil delights in reminding us daily that we were soiled and bloodied. Friendships, prayers and learning new ways to deal with both the stress of a marriage, and working on the healing.
Having support is so important, prayer support and good friends who can help learn what is safe, positive and healthy when it comes to resolving conflict are critical for us who wish to learn new habits and new communication skills.
Often when we have an argument or having trouble resolving and issue, my sweet husband doesn’t know if it is something from the past flashing back, something more recent between us or a complete survival mode knee-jerk-reaction. What he does know is that it is confusing and hurtful. Sometimes it is a tone, a word, a look. Oh yes a LOOK was sometimes all the warning I got that the world was on the verge of ending, or so it seemed. With those who abused me disagreements were when they told me what I did wrong, why I was wrong and how useless I was to them, to the world. I know it is a lie. Even then part of my soul screamed that it was a lie. What we both know is that we can learn, together, how to communicate in healthy, Godly ways.
Reading Nina’s post (here) got me really thinking. If it was my old life with the sump pump it would have ended badly for me, no matter what I did. Now, with my loving husband, we would have decided when together (perhaps after some debate) and we would have installed it together. We have learned to do things together, and we both have learned to communicate better with each other about things. And that means with respect, with love and without fear.
One of the saddest days of my life was when my husband told me he didn't feel safe telling me things, and that when I lost it I really hurt him. I was still so deep in trying to protect myself I was in reaction mode to everything. Even the things I should not be reacting to. We had a rough spot there, but we came through together. No one was abused, even though we both were hurting. We prayed, we cried, we gave each other space and we came back. We always come back. God never leaves us, and even if we have to step back for a time, we come back.
Life is fragile, handle with prayer the saying goes. Relearning and sometimes learning anew is also fragile, and needs to be handled with care too. We are better now than we ever were, but sometimes I get confused about what battle I’m fighting or even if it is a battle at all. I either shut down or I fight back. I’m learning to pray first and to know when God wants me to speak and when He wants me to be silent and in both I trust in Him first. Being in a healthy marriage and doing the Respect Dare, again, has truly been a blessing. A challenge to be sure, but a blessing that has given us a stronger marriage. Don’t stop on the path of healing, no matter what happened before, keep going through the hurt into the healing. That is where the hard work remains but so do the blessings, and it is safe there. Knowing I am safe, our son is safe and my husband is safe with me is such a blessing. Yes, we will argue. Yes, we will disagree. We even fight with words, but we always come back. God never leaves us. If you are in a healthy place, a safe place, in your marriage then you can let the other things go too. Relearn how to communicate well, and let go of the old tools that don’t serve you well anymore.
Please share, and don't forget to visit Nina at http://ninaroesner.com/2013/02/05/got-conflict-2/ to see her take as well!