My Dear Brothers, I see your valiant efforts – you are the few men in the world who go against culture. You remain faithful to your wife, work diligently to steward the hearts in your home, deal with your wounds and come vulnerably to the relationship. This letter is not a rant, bashing or a ‘how dare you’. It is meant to advocate for your wife’s silent suffering, to spur you on and encourage you: you are strong enough for this job! God did a beautiful thing when he brought you together to partner with your wife.
“The widows are desolate and starving – dying on the vine of their marriage – unseen and unheard… the children are isolated and lonely – starving for a daddy who can provide affection, tenderness and empathy.” -Rochelle Sadie
I wrote that quote above in one of my blog posts, “Dear Pastor, Teacher, Elder and Deacon” There’s something in that text that has been haunting me for the past month, and I want to return to it. It’s been a slow burrowing and I’ve been collecting moments in my own life which mirror that quote.
My soul aches, even re-typing that line.
In order to go to this place, I have to share it thru a real-life experience. I was scared, irritated and worse; I shamed her. You see, we had all just taken an amazing beautiful walk on a lantern lit trail through the Minnesota wood. It was crisp and the night air was perfect – not too cold as the sky turned gold and pink. The leaves crunched under our feet as I carried one on my shoulders and the other three ran in front of us. She seemed fine. “Good”, I thought, “she’s having fun, she’s engaging, she’s playing with her friend”. Slowly, as we began up the trail -the four of us happily talking – it started. She checked out – like the flip of a switch. She disengaged. The dirty looks started, the isolation started while walking paces ahead of us where no one could hear the mumbling under her lips. Arms crossed, angry face. “here we go”, I said under my breath, emotionally bracing for what’s to come.
As the rest of us made it down the long slope and out into the open field of picnic tables – the two littles played with their Happy Meal toys, while I sat and watched as she paced round and round the open yard, segregating herself from the group. Stomping, shouting, never looking up, but only to shoot death darts toward me with her beautiful dark eyes.
We made it longer than I thought – I even saw her doing a few cartwheels. The quick burst of energy turned back to isolation, this time throwing herself into the grass with a wail. We picked up on her cries right away, little brother – always the hero, swooped in to save the day – making her cry even more. This wasn’t any cry though, as he pounced repeatedly on her back – this was violence. A cry from a place where only those who’ve been violated know where this comes from – the deep. I could feel myself becoming triggered as the volume increased. (one of my triggers: loud noises)
I gathered her up – grabbed the others and speed walked to the car with a 9 year-old in my arms. People gawked, almost to say; “what did you do to that child?” In my own insecurity I said the worst possible thing: “This is ridiculous, there is nothing to cry about – you are 9 years old, this is not okay.” SHAME. I can tell you what little Rochelle instantly heard as the words came out of my mouth: “You are ridiculous, there is something wrong with you. You should not feel your emotions, emotions are wrong. You are bad for causing this. Your pain doesn’t matter. Suck it up.” I instantly recognized my mistake – and pedaled back. “Okay, honey – me and you are gonna take three deep breaths together. It’s okay to be upset. We will be home soon” I thought that would be calming – but the crying intensified. So much so, I thought I would need to pull the car over. I have never, in my life heard wailing like this. Was someone in the backseat stabbing her??!! Did she crack or break a rib when she did a cartwheel???!!! What is happening?
Home. Get the other two settled. Send her downstairs to take a break – I’ll come when I’m done with the other two. The truth is – I didn’t want to go down there, because what I heard next was a slew of cuss words, and a smear campaign about my reputation – from a 9 year old! “She doesn’t love me. She doesn’t care about me. I’m not made in the image of God, she lied! God doesn’t think I’m precious – she doesn’t think I’m precious” In the violence was birthed lies, manipulation and assault – from a 9 year old. Tears welled up in my eyes at the top of the stairs – as I bargained with my better sense about going down there. “Lord”, I whispered, “I’m genuinely afraid of what will happen next, I don’t wanna go down there Lord, that is the last person I want to spend time with. She’s caused a scene, she’s taking everything I’ve given for granted – she doesn’t even see my love for her – WHY WOULD I SPEND TIME WITH THAT???!!! I’m not touching her or snuggling with her!!!”
Immediately – my mind was whisked away to my marriage. It was me. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub crying. He, in his office – my voice getting louder and louder trying to CONVINCE him to see me, spend time with me, engage, help me with the budget, see my needs, care for my heart, plan a date night… ANYTHING!! DO SOMETHING!! The more he ignored me, the louder I cried and yelled. Survivors know this is reactive abuse – I suggest it is also a woman trying to break the silence of indifference, this is a SOUL CRY: SEE ME!!! LOVE ME!! SPEND TIME WITH ME! HOLD ME! She is trying to attach, albeit to the wrong source, but nonetheless she’s seeking secure attachment = SAFETY!
And all of a sudden, multiple experiences in my marriage, seemed to parallel my little girl’s melt down – in my own violence was birthed lies, manipulation and assault.
You see, YEARS of enduring indifference in childhood – particularly from a father creates a type of violence in a girls soul. Indifference (Trauma A) is, in my opinion, the worst type of emotional and psychological abuse. It says, “you don’t matter”, “you are unseen, unheard, and unknown”, “your needs don’t matter.” “You don’t have a voice and you need to stay small because that makes me, as an insecure man feel better.”
When I use the word violence here I am using it to describe the “strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive force” that a woman is forced to war against.
This particular seed of trauma (violence) is planted by someone else (typically a male caregiver). Experiences over time validate this lie that she doesn’t matter, she has no value, no one cares for her, and it would be better if she were dead. The seed has now grown roots.
Going from a home of indifference into the arms of a porn addict, narcissist, or any level of insecure man will inevitably add relational trauma on top of the pile of mounting lies she harbors in her heart. I found this to be true in my story. The more wounded I became with relational injury the louder I would yell, scream, cry, throw remote controls, and a kitchen plate. When that didn’t work I became numb, dissociative, lethargic, exhausted and indifferent toward myself.
So what did I do for the 9 year old screaming in my basement? The longer it took me to come near to her, the louder she screamed. I went downstairs, “Jesus give me strength, what would you do?” I sat on the couch as she continued – I moved in closer. I picked her up, laid her on my lap – swaddled her in a blanket and I rocked her. I cried with her and I quieted with her – I reminded her who I am, how I feel towards her and who SHE is.
You see, I loaned her myself – my capacity, quiet hope, calm and reserve. She regulated off of my nervous system – but more importantly – she became strong because she borrowed MY STRENGTH. Put another way; in that instance when she was MOST abrasive and scary: I laid down my life for hers – in that moment. Did I want to be there? Not really. Was I kind of scared of her? Yup! But SHE NEEDED ME. I stepped up to the plate and I gave up MY needs/wants FOR HER. She needed to attach to something safe – and I gave her that, as a ‘stand-in’, because Jesus and God are not yet safe for her.
I don’t know if any men are reading this – but I sure hope you do, because instead of addressing My Dear Sisters – this time my letter is for you.
My Dear Brothers,
Many of the women you are married to have been neglected and abandoned by their fathers. You might say, your father-in -law was a GREAT dad! He showed up to all her games and recitals, took her on vacations, was always there and even served as Deacon at church.
No, what I mean is: She was neglected and abandoned EMOTIONALLY. She probably went a life time of being an “after -thought” in her daddy’s day. Hardly acknowledging her. Hours away from her; fixing something in the garage, and/or taking another call for work. Maybe even serving so much in the church that he forgot to minister to his own family.
If you and your wife are a part of the Evangelical church she most likely grew up learning to be small and stay small. Not talking much around men, not being free to share her ideas, or assuming her place is always to be serving men.
Perhaps your wife experienced physical, sexual and psychological abuse from her father. The lies she copes with on a daily basis – you will never know. She keeps many of them locked up inside, suppressing their torture and praying them away because the Pastor told her to just trust and have more faith. She’s so worried about being the “Proverbs 31” woman that she doesn’t have much capacity to love herself well.
Do you know what happened to the little girl inside of your wife? I encourage you to stop reading and go grab the family photo album. Go look at her. How old was she in that photo? Really look at her – that sweet, happy girl.
A seed of violence was sown in her and it is not her fault. She does not want it there and she prays EVERY DAY that she will be more loving, kind, compassionate, patient and self-controlled. She might not know that she is dealing with the residual effects of someone else’s shame. Implanted violence that took root in her innocent heart. Do you know what’s not being addressed by the church or by you? That little seed of violence. No one has the antidote for her. No one has given her or her partner the right insight yet – to help soothe that little girl’s wound. I’m sorry, but telling her to trust God is not going to be enough. Teaching her to speak with ‘Respect’ so that she can get ‘Love’ will only cause more shame and condemnation, making the root tighten it’s grip around her soul.
Press in. Because of the damage done by her father – it is hard for her to trust God. Oftentimes – she attends church with you and teaches your children about God’s promises and virtues, yet she’s never interacted with the living presence of Jesus herself. It’s a disconnected concept. She knows it by memory and intellectually – but has never felt the attachment to Him in her heart. She walks around feeling as though Jesus is unreachable. Why, you ask? Because it’s not safe yet.
Her dad, wears the face of God. Dear Brother, did you know that you can facilitate healing for the little girl inside of your wife? You can help her detach from her father and Attach to her HEAVENLY one.
When that seed of violence crops it’s head (you know what I’m talking about, raise your hand if your wife has ever scared you and you literally don’t know how to help her?) – and as a man – you want to run the other direction? She’s actually asking you to press in. Don’t be scared. It might feel like hugging a grizzly bear – but SHE NEEDS YOU. The little girl inside of her needs you to come, scoop her up in your lap, swaddle her in a blanket – rock her and quiet her.
She needs you to LOAN her your STRENGTH! Do you want to be there as she’s falling apart? Maybe not. Maybe her tears scare you? Maybe the sobs racking her body make you uncomfortable? Maybe she’s “crabby” and you don’t want to go near her with a 10 foot pole.
A man who can LAY DOWN his life for his wife in the moments of her own violence is a man that understands he is becoming part of the PROCESS of healing the little girl inside her heart. He knows it’s not about him – It’s about HER and her healing. Her heart can mend with opposite experiences over time with a loving, kind, consistent and dependable man. Moving TOWARD HER IN SECURITY – not running away from her in his own insecurity and fear.
I have heard men brag about how they would take a bullet for their wife if an intruder entered their home. And you know what? I believe them! I believe they actually would, but I wonder if it’s easier for a man to take a literal bullet – than to stand and take the bullet of her violence that was placed in her by someone else? Who can be strong enough for this sacrifice of love?
Will you press in? Can you stand in the gap and be safe for her, until she knows that God, her Father is the ultimate safety?
There are aspects of this violence (put there by her father), that are her responsibility: she can learn to use her voice to ask for what she needs and wants. She can use boundaries to guard her energy, time and mind. She can learn to meet her own needs or bring some needs to her community. She alone is absolutely responsible for healing her shame and triggers.
However, when a husband’s response to her seed of violence is: “Well this isn’t my problem this is all on you and it is your responsibility. Don’t you think this is yours and you need to deal with it? It’s not mine. I won’t let you put this on me.” When he backs away from her, leaving her alone -literally and emotionally- rather than pressing into her with healthy boundaries- it drives the dagger of indifference further into her heart causing the violence to deepen it’s grips around her fractured soul. And you, my brother have missed an opportunity to build deep and lasting vulnerable intimacy into your marriage relationship.
You have power within your home. Power to PARTNER with the Lord in healing her heart and setting her free. Free to fully thrive and to be authentically herself in her skin, home, business and partnership. As Ecclesiastes says: “Two are better than one, for they help each other succeed.”
Remind her that she is not alone and you will love her thru this.