At the beginning of January, I told my sister that I was done. Three of our four children were done. And as soon as the fourth child gave up on Dad, we would officially be done.
The next day, our pastor called us to fast. I did. My husband did. And an amazing thing happened. For the entire 21-day fast, we did not fight at all. He was kind. He was caring. He helped with chores. We enjoyed each other's company. The kids got along. It's amazing how the family dynamic shifts when you're not living in fear of receiving a screaming fit of rage. It was wonderful!
But I didn't let myself hope. Because we've had spurts of happiness along the way, and they always passed. They always petered out until he was sure he was a victim again, and everyone was supposed to serve him until he felt better. And if he didn't get his way, then he was entitled to show all of his feelings. "It's unhealthy to bottle up those feelings. I should be able to let it out so we can work through it." And he could never understand that the way he let himself think dictated his feelings, and the way he chose to express those feelings burned everyone around him. So I didn't hope.
His fast was from unhealthy foods that he couldn't seem to stop eating. Mine was from Castle boards, where I got the lion's share of my support/ distraction. He lost weight & felt better, and I had to learn to talk to him again instead of avoiding. (By the way, I gave up unhealthy foods like two years ago, and have lost 15 pounds total. He dropped 10 pounds in 3 weeks. SO not fair.) So he continued the diet (still calling it a fast), in order to maintain the health benefits. The difference, though, is that a fast is denying yourself something that you need in order to rely on God and let him work in you. So continuing to call it a fast did no good when he was no longer seeking God in times of temptation.
So through February, he quit helping. He cheated on his diet, so he didn't feel as good. He got grumpy. He got self-absorbed again. I could see it all dissolving and I cried. I guess I had started to hope, after all. So last Thursday, after he and two kids had stomach virus for three days each, and I felt sick but never actually got worse than a stomach ache for five days (but I didn't take a break) and I had dislocated my knee and couldn't walk for a day, the house had gotten messy. Not terrible, but messy.
He watched TV. I cleaned. He read. I made dinner. He came to me and said, "I'm not trying to upset you, but, you need to know that if I come home from work tomorrow and the house still looks like this, I'm going to be a bitch all weekend." So I walked up to him and very calmly said, "I need you to listen and really hear me. I have worked my butt off, despite how bad I felt. I am doing the best I can. And you do not get to say one negative word about the house when you have not done a single thing to help in the last two weeks. That is not okay with me."
And he went apeshit.
Our 8 year old daughter was standing between us, because she was helping make dinner.
And he was a screaming, cussing, insulting mess.
Nine years of trying to stay calm and take the higher road has brought us to this point. Being reasonable, respectful, trying to listen to his point of view, hes not worked.
I said, "You will NOT talk to me like that."
He continued his tirade.
I yelled, "You will NOT talk to me like that."
I marched up, threw down the bowl I was holding, and screamed, "YOU DO NOT EVER GET TO TALK TO ME LIKE THAT AGAIN. I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO DISRESPECT ME LIKE THIS."
Our little girl ran out of the kitchen. And I told him what a self absorbed ass he was and that the kids didn't want to live with him anymore up until he started that fast. I'd been heaping praise on him, especially when he wasn't around to try and make the kids see his improvements so their relationships could heal, but I expected it to all go away, and I was right. He'd quit helping and now he's out of control again, and I would not stand for it anymore. I could not go back to the way things were. He had plenty of criticism and blame and excuses but finally quit yelling after about 15 minutes. We argued for a good 45 minutes. I continued making dinner all the while.
M came back in and hugged me, trying to make me feel better. She hates to see me cry, and she thinks it's her job to cheer me up. That broke my heart more than anything.
I served dinner, but didn't eat. The fight had left me with no appetite, and for some reason that seemed to bother him. "Venting" makes him feel better, but he always forgets that it crushes me.
After dinner, M decided to dance & sing & tell jokes to try and make me smile, so I just hugged her & apologized that she saw that. She said it was okay, that we hadn't fought all year, and he seemed to listen this time.
He sent me a scathing e-mail in the middle of the night for waiting until things "got explosive" to address problems, and that he's trying to do all the changing, but I'm not doing anything.
I ignored the e-mail. We cleaned house the next day, not for him, but because it needed to be done. The kids cooperated more out of fear that another fight would bring divorce. I guess that means their relationship with Dad has healed enough that they no longer wanted him gone.
He got home, and said it looked better (not nearly the overflow of praise I wanted after 5 people cleaning for 10 hours, but at least he said something). He apologized for making me cry and for not helping. He said he doesn't want to be the horrible man I described the night before, and he'd keep working on changing.
I said thank you and offered no apology in return.
And I went back to doing my best, trying my hardest, keeping the house, raising the kids, etc. He settled down. He apologized to M & told her he knows it was wrong to be so mean to me and that he knows he's got lots of changing to do. He hasn't helped with chores, but he hasn't criticized my work, either. He's been nice. He has spent time with the children, he's done the couple of things I specifically asked him to help with. I've given him his "cave time" when he gets home from work. I made sure to explain to the kids that our fight had nothing to do with them and everything to do with kindness and respect, and I let them know that I fought because I wanted things to be fixed instead of giving up.
And for the first time in a very long time, I feel like there might be hope. He finally heard me. After 9 years, I think he finally heard me. Plus, that's one fight in 7 weeks; so much better than our previous track record.
I'm still frustrated, because I don't think it should be this hard. I don't understand why we have to go through all this hurt. My kids don't need it. But I'm hoping that there will be great returns on the effort, and there will be something great later. Maybe we'll be one of those stories where we go tell young people how, if they stick with it, they'll end up with something remarkably beautiful. I hope.
(I'll post something funny in a few days. I'm tired of being a downer.)