What I’m experiencing in marriage is very different from what my husband is experiencing in marriage—even though we are here together, having the same discussions. I think this is true the majority of the time because we are separate individuals, but it becomes most apparent in conflict. Something I’ve realized is that the conflict we have isn’t usually about the content of the matter itself, but things underneath that we don’t know how to speak for yet. Deeply rooted sore spots that are only now feeling safe enough to peek out. And by peek out I mean pour out, which can be pretty ugly, or scary, or sometimes both. It’s wild how much we don’t actually understand our own reactivity. Have you ever been shocked by your own reaction to something? That’s what I’m talking about. Like a response that was so visceral that you didn’t even have time to process it– whether it’s hurt or anger or shame or just flat out meanness. Sometimes I hear something fly out of my mouth, and I think, “where in the hell did that come from?” Or one of us will just completely shut down, and the other is left thinking, “wait, what did I miss–what just happened?” The problem is rarely the actual problem, and that’s what always throws me, because it’s more subtle. The most confusing, frustrating, and painful moments are usually attached to nuanced pain from past wounds that haven’t gotten around to healing yet. It is the things that the problems ignite within us that haven’t been dealt with yet, things that still ache, but have been subconsciously tucked away.
As intimacy deepens in our marriage, safety increases, and as we feel more safe, old wounds and deeply seated insecurities come out, and they come out of no where. The majority of the time, I have no idea what unlocked it or pulled it out, what it wants, or how to fix it. Reactivity, by nature, is automatic, cryptic, and urgent. There are times that I cannot find the words or the understanding to make sense of the reactivity that is coming out of me. It’s disorienting. Like cold air hitting a cavity you didn’t know you had. You can’t blame the air for the cavity, but that doesn’t change the pain, and once you feel the pain, you can’t unfeel it. It can feel so overwhelming and hopeless. But it is not. Thirty minutes later, an hour later, the next morning, eventually—it clicks. Oh. That’s what that was.
To realize that there is an undercurrent in both of our inner worlds filtering how we experience a given moment, especially those of conflict, gives a lot more space to that claustrophobic feeling of reactive pain. I’m learning to give us both some more credit. All we really want is love. That’s what this is about. Sometimes we’re terrible at remembering this one thing when it counts most. I’ve learned that pulling each other into the reactivity and making it about the other person is the least productive and most unhealthy thing you can do. Instead, I’ve learned that when one of us gets reactive, it’s paramount to let it be their moment and not make it about yourself. Their reactivity is their own stuff. This is when I have to remind myself that though we are one, we are separate.
When you first feel the pain of a cavity, it is unproductive and inaccurate to blame the last food you ate. What’s important is that you act on behalf of your own wellbeing in taking care of it. Once you feel the pain of a cavity, you go get it filled. Similarly, once you experience reactivity, you tend to the wound connected to it. We don’t blame each other. We realize that the pain evoked by the other is pointing to something beyond what is happening in this single moment. Sometimes he’s the air that blows into some emotional cavity I didn’t know was there. Sometimes he understands my knee-jerk reaction, and other times he has no idea why I’m in pain. It isn’t vital that we understand fully as this won’t always be possible. What’s important is that we don’t confuse pain for failure. What’s important is that we let the pain count for something. What’s important is that we honor each other in the painful moments instead if blaming each other for it. Instead, let it lead you into new freedom, and walk alongside each other towards healing. We are one, but we are new at being one, and parts of us will forever be separate. Separate, but one. What a mystery this journey is.