I want to share a revelation I had at the start of the New Year that has absolutely rocked the socks off my marriage (That’s a good thing. You want the socks rocked off your marriage, trust me.) It sounds selfish and because I’m a Jesus follower especially, it was an extremely difficult concept to accept. In fact, my insides literally fought the idea angrily for a day or two before I realized that it was not dangerous to my soul. Quite the opposite.
Without dredging too deep into my past, let me just say that my name is Amber and I’m a recovering co-dependent. I’ve done the meetings, gotten the counseling, and even read “Co-Dependency for Dummies” a few times over. For the last couple of years, I thought I had a solid pulse on which behaviors of mine were co-dependent and which were healthy people loving. I love people and I love making my people happy. It makes me happy. How could that be a problem? Here’s how:
There was a relationship in my past that taught me–in so many ways–that to love someone well meant to consider their happiness before my own. I was allowed to consider my happiness, but always with that person in mind; and in return that person considered my happiness as well. We had an equal “consideration” relationship. Because of this I was happy quite often. But I never, not once, was happy outside of that relationship, because there was no me outside of that relationship. The idea of even suggesting something that might make me and *just me* happy, without pleasing and appeasing that other person, was a concept that was choked out–starved of acceptance–until it died altogether and was never thought of again. To love someone meant to consider them in every thought, and especially in every utterance.
I brought that thinking into my marriage of course. It seemed to serve my husband well. But when we fought over the years, a recurring message would come from my husband’s mouth: “I can’t be responsible for your happiness!,” he would say. I knew that. I knew that I was responsible for my own happiness, and making him happy made me happy. So why didn’t he consider my happiness like I considered his? The consideration relationship of our marriage was not equal and from day 1, I labeled it as his problem, not mine. He was selfish. He didn’t love me like I loved him. These were the conclusions I came to know well. These were the accusations he heard over and over. He didn’t play by the rules I had come to live by. In fact, he seemed not to even be in the game. When we would bring our “wants” to the table in effort to come to a compromise, my wants always included his happiness from the start, but the wants he would propose didn’t include mine. “How could he even suggest doing that? What about that would benefit me? He doesn’t even think of me.” Before the compromise could even begin, I was already hurt, already angry. I would demand my way, because I thought at least my way included him. His way didn’t even consider me. But you see, my husband grew up in a world of a big family with lots of siblings. In my husband’s world, the rules went like this: Without considering your happiness, I bring what I want to the table. Without considering my happiness, you bring what you want to the table. Then at the table, we lovingly consider each other’s wants and come to a compromise that makes us both happy.
When I realized the game I was playing, always considering him before I even sat down at the table, I felt so stupid. And I felt so sorry for husband. He was not selfish. He did love me. He loved me so much, he was always willing to meet at the table of compromise. But he couldn’t make me bring my true wants to the table–wants that represented a “me” outside of our relationship. That was my responsibility.
But I couldn’t do it. I literally could NOT do it. God gave us a perfect example of this again around Christmas. My husband and I have a hurtful history when it comes to gift giving. He would ask me what I wanted, and trying not to seem selfish or materialistic, I would only suggest things that included him… like movie tickets or a nice dinner out or something adventurous we could do together. He on the other hand would ask for things that only brought him joy–video games, new jeans, whatever. The time for gift exchange would come and I would be left feeling hurt. I gave him the *right* answer, but he was supposed to go beyond things that would benefit him and also treat me to some nice things that were just for me. I cringe as I can remember saying the words: “When have you ever gotten me something that was just for me?” It all seems so embarrassingly obvious looking back… I was ashamed to consider myself outside of him, so I expected him to do that for me. And I resented his ability to want things just for himself. I was jealous that he felt the freedom to do so.
This year, 2017, marks a new, exciting, and healthy journey in myself and in my marriage. Experimenting with what makes me and *just me* happy. Allowing myself to fuse the idea of my Christianity with the concept of considering my happiness in exclusive ways. Wrapping my heart around the truth that I can love someone and not have to consider their happiness before I sit down at the table of compromise. Allowing them to do the same. Trusting that the time for consideration will happen at the table. Not resenting my husband for having wants outside of my happiness. And knowing that I’m free to have wants outside of his.