We all bring baggage from our families of origin into our adult relationships. Our role as children determines our behavior throughout the rest of our lives. In my family, I got the message that I was responsible for keeping everybody happy. My job was to prevent emotions that weren’t “nice.” The problem with this role was that, predictably, I was attracted to a man who had no trouble expressing his anger and articulating his unhappiness with me. In our couple’s dance, I shrank in his presence, an ineffective attempt at restoring harmony in our home.
Outside in the wider world, I was a different person. The people around me mirrored respect and caring. I liked them and they liked me. I found I had skills that made the world a better place. I functioned using all of my self.
The following excerpt from the memoir I’m writing describes one of my attempts to change my part in the dance. As a psychotherapist, I know that if one partner varies the steps, the other must also change. That’s basic couple therapy theory:
It was cold and bright that Sunday morning in January when I entered the First Unitarian Congregation for the annual Fire Communion. We Unitarians have four communions a year. This one asks that we explore the qualities we wish to leave behind with the old year, as well as the ones we want to embrace in the coming months.
Ushers hand out a small candle, a piece of flash paper and a stubby yellow pencil. During the service we will write on the flash paper the quality we wish to burn in the flame of the lighted chalice at the front of the room. I’m determined to stay as big as I am with Harvey. I no longer want to shrink in his presence. On my little square of flash paper I write ‘the shrinking wife.’
I follow the line of people getting out of their chairs and approaching the chalice at the front. When it’s my turn, I touch my paper lightly to the flame and watch it disappear. Whoosh! It’s gone.
In the second part of the communion, we are asked to bring forward our candle to add to the lighted candles already in the sand surrounding the chalice. As we place our candles in the sand, we’re to proclaim to ourselves the quality with which we want to connect in the New Year. For me, it’s ‘being all that I am.’
The story of my attempts to stay “big” in my relationship keeps changing. You’ll read a lot more as my story unfolds.