It’s been a few more days. A few more days of peace in my household.
One of the strange things, but not so strange, if you think of it, is that it’s suddenly easier to keep the place tidy. I mean, sure, with my husband gone, there is one less person here. But he’s gone at work most of the week anyway, so it can’t make that much difference. And it’s not that the whole mess was his doing anyway.
I think it’s that I’m able to think more clearly. The kids are responding more when I tell them to do their chores. Maybe with me being the only parent in the house, I’m taking on the authority more.
At any rate, the kitchen is clean, the floors are swept and on next I’m tackling those bathrooms.
I hired a gardener, so the lawn looks nice. I hired a plumber when my bathroom sink suddenly started leaking. I defrosted the freezer and discovered that the problem wasn’t just ice – the fan was broken.
My husband happened to be here when that happened – he had picked up the youngest son and taken him out to get a Christmas tree.
So I spent a rather puzzling morning working side by side with my husband getting the freezer fixed. The thing is, we work together just fine. If it’s a clearly delineated task that needs doing, we can do it. The dynamic between us isn’t the typical “I can’t stand the sight of your face” thing that Hollywood portrays in movies about troubled marriages. So we worked on the fridge, planned which gifts we’re getting for the kids, discussed replacing the bathroom cabinet that got waterlogged by the leak and from all outward appearances seemed to be a very unified couple.
This is part of the problem, however. People actually comment on what a great couple we are and how we make such a great team. We have perfected the veneer.
But behind that? It ranges from co-dependent enabling (on my part) and control (on his part) to complete lack of emotional engagement (on his part) unless I wheedle, cajole and entice.
This week, however, as I have been living day to day without having to jump through the hoops and tiptoe around the land mines and cover up the mistakes and pretend I believe the lies, I am beginning to see just how toxic this relationship has been. Tonight, as I type this, I feel a peace in my own home that I haven’t had in years.
The separation was set up on a “week-to-week basis,” but that would require the pastor and small group leaders to meet with us once a week, which is something none of them have time to do. As it is, we have to wait until Day 8 to meet with them at the end of this, our first week. So I’ve suggested we extend it to at least month-to-month.
But those friends of mine. Those family members. And 3 out of 4 of my kids. They are all saying, “What are you messing around with that for? Make it permanent.”
I eventually drew up a flow chart in an attempt to organize my thoughts. I had to re-draw it five times before I got it right. On the first few attempts I realized I was making it far more complicated than it has to be.
What it boils down to is this: at the meeting in two days, I will either realize that my husband has changed, or that he has not changed at all, or that I have no way of knowing whether he has really changed.
From those three events, the action required boils down to four choices: he moves in and we go to marital counseling, we stay separated for another month and then check back in, we stay separated for 6 or more months and then check back in, or we make the separation permanent. I left the word “divorce” off the flowchart because the last thing I need right now are appointments with an attorney, and the ensuing paperwork, not to mention the court dates. A permanent separation achieves the same thing without the fees and paperwork.
Once I had that flowchart set up, I was able to think more clearly. Considering that he’s a narcissist, it’s more likely that he has not changed and is simply doing actions in a last desperate attempt to maintain control over me. But he might actually have had a giant change of heart. Or maybe it’s a small change of heart. I have no way of knowing. I can’t tell if his claims of change are honest. There hasn’t been enough time to see a pattern of change emerge. I have had three points of contact this week – one where he behaved according to his old patterns and didn’t call before he showed up, and two where he very carefully contacted and checked in and even asked if he was staying too long when the fridge project cropped up.
That appears to be weighing in on the side of change, because he is acting more respectful toward me, but it’s not enough to confirm it. There just hasn’t been enough time.
So the “he has changed, he can move back in and we’ll start marital counseling” path is really not on the table yet.
That leaves me with “I don’t know” and “No change.” Which then leads me to the choice between a 1 month separation, a 6 month separation, or a permanent separation.
The thing that has been holding me back from making that decision has been the thought that things might be different if he has changed, and wouldn’t it be a shame if I gave up right when he was finally going to get on board with this marriage?
But then I looked over my flowchart and realized that I cannot make a decision based upon what might happen in the future. I can only make it based on what I know right now. And what I know right now is that he is a narcissist who will do and say anything to keep me and the kids under his control.
My oldest son pointed out to me that if I make a mistake and choose the wrong thing here, I can always say, “I made a mistake” and change my mind. Nothing is actually final.
So I have finally come to the conclusion that I cannot let him back in the house. One week has not been long enough for me to see change, and one month won’t be much better. My experience with him is that he can fake it for a good 3-4 weeks at a time. That leaves me with a 6 month time frame, or an indefinite time frame.
So I still haven’t made the decision. But I’m closer.
Because what difference does it make whether it’s indefinite or has a deadline of 6 months? What’s the deadline for, anyway? So that I can have another meeting with the pastor and small group leaders and decide whether or not it’s time for my husband to move back in?
But if I choose the indefinite time frame, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a meeting like that at some point down the road anyway?
I think the 6 month time frame is me being afraid to say what I really want. It’s me trying to appear “reasonable.”
But why on earth do I need to be reasonable with someone who has emotionally abused me and my children?
And if it turns out I am being “unreasonable,” what’s to stop me from mitigating that down the road if I realize I came on too strong there?
And on top of all of that, there is the thought that 3 out of my 4 kids want me to separate from him permanently. The only one who doesn’t is young enough that he hasn’t realized how much anxiety his father has induced in his life. And even he admits that he feels anxious when Dad comes around right now. He thinks he’s picking up on everyone else’s tension, and he may well be. But I’m pretty sure some of it is his own.
Mulling this over, the thought occurred to me that if I were a single mom and started dating a man, and 3 out of my 4 kids didn’t like him and did not want him in the house, I would probably stop dating him.
So I’m pretty sure I’ve already made this decision.
I’m just hoping I find the courage to speak it out before the next meeting.