A very timely topic for me, this. I don’t have a marriage relationship to look into but my visit to Austria in a few weeks’ time looms heavily on the horizon and I know there will be many days when I need to retain (or reclaim?) my emotional independence.
In our family, we didn’t argue. My solution has always been to “check out” – emotionally at first because that was the only way I could, and later on of course, physically by moving away as far as possible. Now when I go I still check out emotionally. It’s what I want to do. But the problem is that I’m only able to check out superficially: I don’t really become emotionally independent from my environment, despite having worked on this for the biggest part of my life! To be honest, apart from being away at a distance, I still don’t know how to do it and that’s why a week with them drains me so much. I can do a week per year, but I come back needing lots and lots of healing every time.
When I get together with my father’s side of the family, there isn’t open conflict so much as there is underlying seething resentment. After less than a day with all of them together last year at our birthday celebration I was literally unable to smile for the photo. I could not do it. I had a pokerface on so firmly that I couldn’t even break it for the photo. I don’t know how to describe the emotion, the list of words in Paul’s book doesn’t seem to list an adequate word – I think hatred is the best word, although it’s not a fiery angry kind but a cold one, and not just in myself but underlying every interaction within that family. They resent, undermine, disrespect, and hate one another with a cold detachment disguised as civility. And I can’t seem to isolate my emotions effectively enough.
How do I become emotionally independent in such a situation? I don’t participate in the needling of hurtful comments that fly around, in fact if anything I will defend the person attacked; I say good things about others; I refuse to engage in character assassination behind someone’s back – all of these are completely counter to their ways. I do this, but it’s not enough. It’s not like I can take my stand once and for all; the same person will continue to try, and try, and try to draw me out just a little, to get just a tiny slip, chipping and chipping away at me. That’s what is wearing me down.
I hate it all. I have chosen to abandon my family (my father’s side, anyway) by moving away and it was the best decision ever, and I’m emotionally healthy enough to take the drain for a week. But it’s not easy and I don’t look forward to it.