November 7, 2012

Public vs Private

My Mom was the oldest of 10 kids: her, one brother, then eight sisters. Without going into too much detail, her father was an alcoholic and there was abuse in the family. Some families respond to abuse by hiding it and pretending it never happened. In that pattern, you blame the victim when they want to (need to!) expose the trauma. In Mom's family, the sisters opted instead to not let secrets have power over them. As a result, in our immediate family, the greatest sin was lying or hiding something.

On the positive side, I watched over and over as Mom would share her story in various settings, and God would use it to open the door for other people to let out their secrets. She was an amazing agent for change and healing in many, many lives. When looking for an image to illustrate this post, I came across another man who is doing the same:

Another truth teller
I left for college with that as one of my deepest core values: no secrets. No shame. If I did something embarrassing, the easiest way to take the sting out of the memory was to turn around and tell someone about it. I shared deeply and openly with any of my friends. If it was happening in my life, it was fair game. As an artist and a writer, it felt like my life was fodder for my art. I joked that I felt sorry for anyone I married since they would join me in the fish bowl.

Well, it didn't work out that way.

Instead, I had to paint over parts of the glass, choose to not talk about certain things, become a participant in silence. Part of me hates it. I sometimes feel violated by my husband's need for privacy. Yet he felt violated by my need to share private things.

During a bad phase of our marriage, for a class project, I made a book that was supposed to represent the river of pain in my life. To be fair to Jrex, part of the pain was from my Mother's death, but some of it was due to issues in our relationship. I folded a long strip of blue paper, torn along the top and bottom edges, accordion style into a book. I'd written an essay that had no specific details, nothing shaming yet voicing my emotional journey. Over a couple of days, I wrote it out onto the blue strip in calligraphy. When I showed Jrex, he didn't want me to share even the little that I'd written. To honor him, I went through and wove in quotes that masked the text, tore out pieces, and basically shredded my art piece to help him feel safe. It's a stunted piece that grieves me when I look at it.

As I write this blog post I'm realizing how much it's hurt over the years to have to shut down as much as I have. And yet...

I love and respect Jrex a lot. He truly works hard to give me room to be who I am and not try to control me or pin me down. It's just this one area. Where MY story intersects with HIS story. He doesn't want his story told. At least not yet. Or at least not by me. He sees no value in telling other people the private things in our marriage. On top of all that, he's an introvert. He doesn't need to process his emotions by discussing them out loud with someone else. It's a nice to have not a need to have.

In addition, there's a huge culture gap between us. He's been raised in a culture (or at least in a family) where no one talked about 'private' things. No sex talk. No discussion of dreams. No analysis of negative family background. With a culture that believes the ancestors come back to check in after they're dead, the idea of not speaking badly of the dead is visceral. Going to therapists or counselors is unheard of! It took five years of begging, praying, pleading, crying and prodding to get Jrex to agree to go to marriage counseling.

So I've struggled to find a balance. My need to share vs his need for me to not share. I'm sure that much of the time, I've opted to just shut down so I won't need to process things. Apparently that's not working anymore. What do you do in a marriage when you each have gut level core values that violate each other? You have to compromise. This blog is an area where Jrex let me do something that dances close to his violation zones. Butchering my art was a way to retreat from hurting him.

Trying to do a series of delving posts in the context of this dynamic tension is going to be challenging. Yet, based on what I've seen, as we share our pain with each other, we give each other permission to be real. Reading Kay's blog this week about reviving her dead marriage is a reminder of how beautiful truth telling can be.

I need that like a parched, transplanted tree that needs water in order to put down roots.


NGS said...

I am so sorry to hear about your struggles. I hope that this project helps you to ease some of the pain you are feeling.

sarah said...

Thank you for sharing these things! As a newly married wife of a Tiawanese man I find that I am resonating with much of the things you share about the challenges of a cross-culteral marriage. I appreciate your openness!

Elizabeth Harper said...

You are very brave and I love your insight and the way you work at things. I don't always comment, but I'm always here reading, and sending you good energy and hopeful thoughts.

Rachel said...

That's a really tough, thorny issue to work through. It's something I always think about when I read memoirs: how did the author's family feel when everything was laid bare? On the other hand, to write *well* sometimes you have to go to those deep dark places.

The cultural piece is huge. In Asian cultures, shame/ face are so important. Through my marriage and my relationships with various people, I think one of the things I've learned is that silence has value, and sometimes talking can actually make things worse. This is hard for me, because I am a big talker. The dynamics in my marriage are really similar, and blogging tested that boundary for us. I hope you guys are able to work it out somehow.

OTRgirl said...

The way we've made it work is that if the post is about him, I show it to him first. So, he actually approved this post! It's definitely been a challenge, but I think it's been good to stretch each other.

I've also learned the value (and texture) of silence. Actually, that would be a good blog topic...