I’m reading “The Midwife’s Revolt” by Nancy Daynard a story placed during the Revolutionary War. It took me awhile to get into the book as the language and behavior are so formal and Victorian. Men and women treat each other as strangers or alien beings. Although emotion and anger are camouflaged in subtlety and innuendo, their tension and ensuing body language speak volumes.
A quote expressed in the thoughts of Lizzie, the midwife, clearly describes her impressions of her former in-laws after the death of her husband in the war:
“God has seen fit to place two kinds of people on this earth: those who, though they had nothing, would give you half of that nothing; and those who give nothing, though they had all the riches in the world. And while it is blasphemy to say, I believe that no amount of piety or churchgoing changed one kind of human being into the other.”
In this particular scene, she had discovered a beautiful portrait of her husband in their home, and on the back was a lock of his hair taped there after his funeral. The photo had been in her in-law’s possession for four years and not once had they spoken of it. How comforting it would have been to gaze on his likeness during her intense loneliness.
Rather than express her own grief, anger, and shock, she made a choice: “It is more honorable to be kind even if one is not repaid with kindness.” And so she held her tongue and continued to nurse her husband’s father in sickness even though he had tried to take everything dear to her away. During the war, even wealthy families were in desperate straits.
Behavior is a choice. Intimacy of a physical and emotional nature is the lifeblood of marriage and families, but there are several things that can discourage or destroy it:
- Resentment. Begrudging your partners social interactions with others, times of aloneness, solitude, or other independent activities turns joy into sadness, and freedom into bondage. Unequal partnerships where one spouse is allowed to come and go as he or she pleases and the other must account for every moment are stifling.
- Authoritarianism. When one spouse rules with an iron hand and the other must tremble at every command, intimacy and friendship cannot exist. Adults should have freedom of choice. They’ve earned it! Cooperation is vital, but only if both partners are willing to meet each other half-way. If one partner does all the giving, eventually the imbalance will create a boiling over of anger.
- Jealousy. There is no room in marriage for suspicion, pettiness, or possessiveness. Controlling your partner’s time and friendships is unacceptable. Trust is a critical component of a relationship. If it is broken, or disregarded the ties that bind are weakened. Sometimes a relationship is destroyed because of a former partner’s misbehavior. If trust is betrayed, it may be difficult to trust again. The wronged party bears the brunt and the current partnership suffers.
- Possessiveness. A partner or spouse wants you all to him or herself. They don’t allow their partner to go anywhere without them. They resent phone calls. They fear other associations such as clubs, classes, church activities that do not include the other partner. If their spouse is 30 minutes late, they assume the worst. The possessed partner begins to go out less and staying home more because it is too much hassle to exert independence.
- Uninvolvement. Another barrier to intimacy is uninvolvement. A spouse or partner may be absent in mind or heart and fail to listen talking over the other partner or ignoring them altogether. Some people even though married are unbearably lonely. The dominant spouse may withhold attention. Ignore the other partner’s questions or suggestions. Communication comes to a standstill. If your partner, whom you love, is not interested in how you feel or how you think, the ignored spouse begins to feel invisible, unimportant and worthless.
Uninvolvement or ignoring your partner is a slow and empty death to the relationship. There is sometimes more pain in a lack of intimacy than in a physically abusive marriage. An abusive partner may shout, but at least he or she is noticing you. An abusive partner’s love-making may not provide tenderness, but it does provide touch without which we perish.
- Abusiveness. There are many forms of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, and absenteeism. Sometimes all of these are involved during the relationship. It is critical to find help when abuse escalates, as it always does. If you fear for your life either through physical violence or suicide, don’t hang on hoping things will get better. It never does. Get help. Leave if you must. Don’t wait.
Unfortunately negative personality traits do not always show up during the romantic phase of a relationship. One party may or may not admit that they have these flaws and purposely hide them. Oftentimes, a bully may be attracted to a dependent and needy person knowing that they will likely be able to control and manipulate them later.
Even character traits like uncontrolled anger or impulsiveness may seem cute at first, but under a continual barrage they can wear you down. Impulse buying can put your family in debt. Uncontrolled anger may escalate into a shouting match or worse. Poise and self-control may last for awhile, but when disagreements flare up a temper tantrum may ensue and escalate into abuse.
A talkative and controlling partner may appear quiet and shy in the beginning, treading lightly until they feel more secure. Allow enough time at the start of a relationship before making a commitment. Hold off long enough for negative quirks to manifest themselves. A bad relationship is not only heartbreaking; it’s bad for your health. Behavior may be a red flag. Grace and integrity under fire is everything.