Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Strong Wife

Laura Munson wrote a few years back how she persevered for her marriage, and it had, oddly, some critics (she has a book detailing her experience). 

Before I begin, I would like to preface that I would be the first person to walk out of an "abusive" relationship—I don't mean just physically abusive, I mean any sort of relationship where the other treats me as though I am inferior or not worth their consideration. Anytime a playmate would diss me I was out of there, and never went back. I was pretty lonely as a five-year-old. 

Back to Laura Munson: 

After over twenty years of marriage, her husband comes home and says cruel things to her. "I don't love you anymore," "I never loved you," "I don't like what you've become."  

She decided to take his words from another angle: he didn't mean them. It was impossible he could mean them after twenty years of marriage. 

So she calmly responded, "I don't buy it." 
His desire to end the marriage, she knew, didn't have to do with her, but with his own issues. It was obvious he wasn't in his right mind when he said ridiculous things like "The kids want me to be happy. They'll understand." 
I said: “It’s not age-appropriate to expect children to be concerned with their parents’ happiness. Not unless you want to create co-dependents who’ll spend their lives in bad relationships and therapy. There are times in every relationship when the parties involved need a break. What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?
“Huh?” he said.
“Go trekking in Nepal. Build a yurt in the back meadow. Turn the garage studio into a man-cave. Get that drum set you’ve always wanted. Anything but hurting the children and me with a reckless move like the one you’re talking about.
Then I repeated my line, “What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”
She refused to let him move out, for the sake of their children. However, he could do whatever he wanted otherwise. 
My trusted friends were irate on my behalf. “How can you just stand by and accept this behavior? Kick him out! Get a lawyer!”
I walked my line with them, too. This man was hurting, yet his problem wasn’t mine to solve. In fact, I needed to get out of his way so he could solve it.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m a pushover. I’m weak and scared and would put up with anything to keep the family together. I’m probably one of those women who would endure physical abuse. But I can assure you, I’m not. I load 1,500-pound horses into trailers and gallop through the high country of Montana all summer. I went through Pitocin-induced natural childbirth. And a Caesarean section without follow-up drugs. I am handy with a chain saw.
I simply had come to understand that I was not at the root of my husband’s problem. He was. If he could turn his problem into a marital fight, he could make it about us. I needed to get out of the way so that wouldn’t happen.
She told herself that she would give him six months. 
And one day, there he was, home from work early, mowing the lawn. A man doesn’t mow his lawn if he’s going to leave it. Not this man. Then he fixed a door that had been broken for eight years. He made a comment about our front porch needing paint. Our front porch. He mentioned needing wood for next winter. The future. Little by little, he started talking about the future.
It was Thanksgiving dinner that sealed it. My husband bowed his head humbly and said, “I’m thankful for my family.”
He was back.
And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore.
I found this woman's story to be inspiring. Of course, plenty of people wrote in to the New York Times that she was pushover, a doormat, an advocate for abusive relationships. But that is not what I came away with. 

Her husband's ego was hurt when his role as provider began to flag, and had a midlife crisis. He felt the only way to reclaim his manhood was to cast off his life as he knew it and start afresh. 

Meaning, he went temporarily insane. 

He had responsibilities to his children that, despite what he told himself, he could not walk away from; his wife would not let him. Divorce is beyond traumatizing to children (never mind adults), and she was willing to sacrifice her self-esteem until her husband dealt with his personal issues. 

I find Ms. Munson admirable. Her path, obviously, is not available to everyone. Not every relationship can be saved. But she was able to see past her husband's out-of-character childish behavior, take the long view, and preserve their home.
The Munsons
As yet another neighboring couple goes their separate ways, and all sorts of misinformation hits the phone lines, I ponder. Was this damage to the children necessary? How many men and women misinterpret personal crises with marital unhappiness? If one side held their ground, could this marriage have been saved?   

I also wonder if I, too, she of the "I don't have to take this," could be strong enough to put her ego aside. 


Tovah11 said...

What a great post!

I cannot imagine being that understanding only because those words the husband said were so hurtful that I feel they couldnt be taken back.

I don't think it has anything to do with my ego; I just think he would have turned into such a disappointment, that I could never look at him the same again.

Princess Lea said...

I also have a long memory. A really long memory. And she was just as hurt as I would be with her husband's hurtful words. But she was able to hold on, not react immediately, and in the end it worked out for the best.

I guess he eventually made it up to her . . .