14 December 2011

the merry-go-round

A couple years ago I took an institute class of sorts, designed for mothers.  It meant once a week and it was generally a parenting class but the teacher spent one week each semester discussing marriage.  She talked about how as women we are always saying to ourselves

"When he treats me better, THEN I will be more affection with him.  If he starts meeting MY needs then I will consider his needs.  When he is doing ________  then I can't feel love for him." 

Unfortunately our husbands are thinking

"It doesn't matter if I do what she wants, she still won't be intimate.  If she would consider what I want, then I could be more loving to her."  

Our teacher called it a merry-go-round.  Around and around we go, waiting for the other person in the relationship to make the first move.  Waiting and waiting to feel better, more loving but being totally self-focused.  She said that even when we have "noble" moments where we make the first move, we attach so much expectation to our gesture that we become even more bitter and hurt when there is no positive response. 

When I learned this from her, I felt in my heart that it was true.  I hold my love and tenderness towards my husband hostage, waiting for his "payment" of his own love and tenderness.  But Pete's addiction has magnified this struggle 100x.  His addiction is the perfect excuse for me to withdraw and fester, getting so dizzy on that merry-go-round that I feel sick.   

Recently a friend challenged me to set aside the addiction and share my heart with my husband once again, through an increased effort to be affectionate with him.  It was hard at first, honestly it was awkward.  And I didn't even do that great of a job, I'm still working on it. 

I think sometimes we are willing to put ourselves out there, to feel vulnerable as long as we get the response we are looking for, as long as our investment pays off.  But love doesn't require repayment.  To be truly given, love must demand nothing in return.  Naturally it will hurt if our husband does not respond with automatic adoration and appreciation.  But many of us are in damaged relationships with wounds that are deep. 

I know that when I am off that merry-go-round I feel at peace.  Even if my emotional needs are still being neglected (which is still painful) I can feel comfortable that I am not contributing to the problem.  And surprisingly my needs become less important as I spend more time thinking of his.  Sometimes I find gratitude in the smallest most subtle changes I notice in him as his indication that he does in fact appreciate my efforts, even if his pride and addiction keep him from more dramatic demonstrations. 

Some days, I admit, I am going to just hang out on that merry-go-round, desperately hoping he'll reach out.  But those selfish days are always my worst, most miserable days.  Last night at group meeting someone shared this quote and it is going to be imprinted on the inside of my eyelids until I start to feel it in my heart. 

“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?” Love them.
“If they are obnoxious?” Love them.
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?”
Love them.
“Wayward?” The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.

-Joseph B. Wirthlin Ensign May 2005


  1. I read your post and agree that we need to love our spouses-even if they have an addiciton, even if they beat us emotionally...no matter what. I feel better when I leave bitterness aside-and show love. But I do think there is a huge difference between love (the way God wants us to view and treat others) and sexual love/affection. I love my husband -and will stay with him right now as he chooses to keep a strong hold in addiciton. I love him and will be kind to him no matter what he says to me. But I do not feel comfortable loving him sexually. Or giving him affection at this point. It's not because I want to punish him but becuase he is engaging in wicked behavior both in addiction and all of it's patterns and is sometimes a scary man who can become abusive verabally at any moment...I feel unsafe touching him...my heart hurts deeply when he is abusive and withdraws for many days. And I think having sex with him-when he then chooses to abuse and become distant for weeks would cuase me to have to leave him...I would be unable to emotionally handle his abuse and withdrawl after having sex with him at this point...I don't think God wants women to have sex with thier husbands in the deep ugly of thier addiction-when they blame and abuse. That is enabling thier behavior and allowing them to think that they can be deep in thier addiction and treat us crappy...and still get sex. (We should still give love...though) In feeling that way I am still able to stay off of the merry-go-round...because I know that sex will come in our relationship as we both do what God wants us to do...and that I'm not withholding it to punish him....It seems the merry go round analogy fits when we seek to punish or hurt our addicted husbands...As long as we are constantly following God-and listening ot inspiration-and willing to give love in the form of affection and sex and in other ways -when it's safe and will draw us as a couple together...when our pride is not a part of our thoughts, words, or actions-then we stay off the merry go round...whether we have sex with our husbands or not.

  2. I love reading what you write. My husband had a terrible week. Not with the addiction--just in general with work and being overwhelmed and being tired. And on top of that he was struggling with his thoughts regarding the pornography. But he mentioned that I was great this week. That my affection toward him helped so much. This was so important for me to hear. I can see that he is SO appreciative of my extra efforts to be affectionate. And I can see that the pornography temptation is there when I'm withdrawn and there when I'm affectionate. It's there no matter what. But he is grateful and our relationship is better when we love each other anyway.

    Wife from the comment above -- You already know my heart aches for you. I understand your need to protect yourself. I know that your situation is different. But think carefully about the merry-go-round analogy with your situation, too. It may be clear to you that you're not withholding sex to punish him (that's it has more to do with protecting your own battered emotions), but he probably thinks that's exactly why you're withholding sex, which is contributing to his merry-go-round. I'll keep you in my prayers that he can understand where you're coming from and take a step in the right direction and reach out to you soon.

  3. I loved this post. I'm feeling very prideful while reading this. Ugh what a good lesson, thank you Jane! I'll be praying for all three of you.

  4. My counselor talked about this, literally drawing a circle to illistrate my husband and I's patter of behavior. He pulls away and become defensive > I feel insecure > i become insecure and paranoid > he feels disrespected and distrusted > he pulls away and the cycle starts all over again.