My wife gets angry. Very angry. At me. Which, when I stop and consider why, its not that surprising that she gets angry with me. As my therapist in our intensive said, her wound is no less real even though you can’t see it. Yeah. Its very real. I caused it. Or, I caused them. Her wounds. A lot of them.
So I shouldn’t be shocked or caught off guard or surprised when she gets angry. Somehow, though…I am. I am taken aback. Shocked. I immediately want to make it stop. To do whatever I need to do to end the conflict. Whether that is walking away, shutting down, trying to make her “feel better” by changing the subject or saying whatever I have to say to make it ok. Only, in listing my flaws for my 4th step, I came to a realization. Trying to avoid or assuage her anger is manipulation. I have a long history of manipulating my wife. I have done so over all of our marriage. To keep her attention elsewhere, to avoid conflict, to get what I want.
Early in my recovery, someone in one of the groups I attend said that recovery is not just about stopping acting out. Its about being healthy in how we deal with relationships and being fully alive in Christ. I am doing well in the first part. I am not acting out. However, as my sponsor recently told me, God reveals things to us when we are ready to deal with them. So evidently I am ready to deal with making my relationship healthy with my wife. That starts with how I deal with her anger.
I spoke with my counselor about this. He reminded me of the differences between guilt and shame. Guilt is I feel bad for what I have done. Shame is I am bad. So how am I responding in my wife’s anger? I have to not dive deep into shame, but to focus on guilt. I was at a friend’s house one night before we did our marriage intensive and disclosure. My wife was very overwhelmed by anger and wanted me out. My friend, no stranger to recovery, reminded me that I am not what I ought to be, but I am not what I used to be either. That helps now. I know that I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I also know that I am not acting out anymore.
I have been so afraid of failing in anything. Dreading the response from my wife at one slip, one mistake, one goof up. Evidently its obvious because my counselor told me to give myself permission to fail in the small things. He reminded me I am not perfect and that my character flaws don’t magically disappear because I am in recovery. He’s right.
The other day I lied to my counselor. Then I lied to my wife about it. I had to apologize to them both. I was terrified at the response. I thought for sure my counselor would reset my sobriety date and that my wife would dive into a deep rage. Neither happened. She wasn’t angry. He didn’t scold me.
My wife later got mad. For no reason. Over a reminder, a memory, of something that brought back my acting out and former self. I wanted to hide. I didn’t. I remembered what my counselor said that God doesn’t make anything bad. Anger isn’t bad in and of itself as an emotion. She has the right to be angry at what I did. I need to let her work through that rather than trying to manipulate her out of it. I have guilt for what I did to her. I can’t change it though. I can only live today in a way that is different than how I did before. My accountability partner called it “living amends.” I like that. That’s how I approach her anger. She needs to have that emotion to deal with it. That doesn’t mean I did anything today to cause it. I can be supportive without being ashamed. And I can make living amends.