Trauma Transformation

A Quest for Truth

The truth of the matter was that on the outside looking in, I had everything there was to want. Somehow, despite my devastating past, I found love. My husband was the total package. Handsome, intelligent, and God fearing, he was committed to me with a loyalty I never quite understood. However, at the time, the only thing I could see in him was his selfishness. I began reading books on narcissism. The You Tube algorithm fed me a consistent stream of videos about emotional vampires. I became obsessed with figuring out why there was an emotional disconnect between my husband and me. Finally, it all made sense when I concluded my husband was a narcissist. He had no empathy. He was simply sucking up my emotional energy. I was red riding hood, and he was the big bad wolf. 

My obsession with narcissism landed me in the divorce from hell. My client, a tall, gorgeous model, convinced me her husband was a narcissist. I pictured her husband as my own–heartless, monstrous. Over the course of time, however, my client began to really get on my nerves. I was searching to verify all of her claims against him. He was not the world’s greatest husband or father, but I was not able to substantiate all of the horrific claims made by my client against him. My biggest hangup was how he played games with child support. But aside from that, the longer I worked on this case, the more it appeared to me that the real narcissist in this situation was actually my client. She was self-absorbed. She was demanding. She had insanely unreasonable expectations. And despite my clear counsel and setting of expectations, her end goal was to manipulate me and the legal system. She wanted her husband to be publicly shamed. She wanted his parental rights terminated. She wanted to prove to the world that she was the world’s best wife who had been cruelly victimized by an unloving husband. And when I carefully examined the evidence, none of her claims were true. 

This was my first contested divorce case. My client had been systematically manipulating the legal system to confirm her beliefs that her husband was an abusive narcissist. What most of my colleagues and I came to learn about my client, however, was that our client was abusing our law firm and the system. I became strongly disillusioned with the family court system after that case. I was seriously considering a change in my practice. If this was family law, I wanted one of it. Then there was my own marriage. I began working with a therapist to cope with the stress of life. I was still in a young marriage. We had a very young child to raise. I was full speed ahead trying to learn the ropes in my profession in high-conflict, high stakes family and civil litigation. I needed help. 

I went to see my therapist week after week, convinced my husband was a narcissist. All I wanted was for the therapist to help me navigate life with a narcissist. How would I survive? All of the books and videos suggested that the only way to cope with narcissistic behavior was to leave the relationship altogether. This created extreme emotional conflict for me. I already raised two sons in broken situations as a single, financially unstable young mother. How could I put my third son through the same brokenness? In the weeks and months to follow, I met dozens of women who remained in hurting marriages for the sake of their children. But they had hit the wall. They were sitting in my office, reviewing divorce papers because they were on the verge of a psychotic episode. As much as it hurt them to put their children through a divorce, they reached a point where divorce was the only way to preserve their own sanity. 

I totally understood that. 

One day during a therapy session, as I wrestled and groped in desperation to find a way to cope with a narcissistic husband at least until our son would be old enough to understand, my entire dialogue was brought to a screeching halt. The therapist posed a most bizarre question that I never considered before.

“What if your husband does not know how to love you?”

Hm. I never considered that. Of course, I found it unreasonable that he wouldn’t know because I was on repeat, constantly drilling about his habits that drove me up a wall. I persistently reminded and guilted him about his acts and omissions that made me feel unloved. How could he NOT know? I returned to my practice for the next several months with this question nagging me in the back of my mind. What if the way he loves me is the only way he knows HOW to love? I began to explore this question with clients. Like myself, all of my clients were convinced they were not loved by their husbands (or wives). All of the evidence they presented to me was clear and convincing. But I was not ready to deliver a verdict against my husband yet. Sure, I was convinced that he was the problem. He married a woman who was very emotional. He knew that. But then somewhere, somehow, my emotions became overwhelming to him. To me it seemed he just wanted to find the cut-off switch and turn them off.

Did he love me?

I recalled one of the most dramatic moments in my career. One of my colleagues needed backup to meet with a client for his divorce, so I agreed to meet with the client. The client was a man in his sixties. He wore his faith on his sleeves and was quite unapologetic about it. His wife served him with a divorce after nearly forty years of marriage. She left him for a younger man and was off with the business our client helped her to build. At some point during our meeting, I shared with him how hard marriage was. In fact, that very same day after work I was going to pay the first month’s rent on an apartment to separate from my own husband. I couldn’t take it anymore. 

“Oh no!” he cried. “No, no, no!” 

I appreciated his sentiment, but my mind was made up. “I’m tired,” I relented. “I’ve been trying everything I know to do. He won’t even agree to get help. I can’t do this anymore.”

“Can I pray for you?” he asked.

I didn’t hesitate, “Sure.” I did not really think anything mattered anymore. But I could certainly use all the help I could get. 

I will never forget what happened next. We wrapped up the legal documents. The old man kneeled on the floor next to my desk. We held hands. And out of the pain and grief of his own divorce, our client prayed for a miracle in our marriage. He called on divine help–a heavenly 9-1-1 response to stop this marriage from ending. What in the world is happening here?

In tears, the old man finished his prayer. I thanked him and gave him a big hug. He was such a nice man. I went about my day as planned. On my way to my new apartment after work that day, I received a call from my husband. He was ready to get pastoral counseling together. He did not want me to leave. He was willing to do whatever it took to make things work. 

In light of his change of heart, I could only respond with a willingness to try. This moment, along with other small, but significant ones, left evidence of my husband’s love for me that I could not honestly deny. So why is our marriage so painful? And what am I supposed to do? And how am I supposed to make sense of the emptiness and loneliness I feel being married to this man?

The answers to these questions would eventually introduce themselves to me. Yet for two years, I merely survived our marriage by simply holding on to the possibility from the question posed to me by my therapist:

What if he does not know HOW to love you?

After mama and Aaron passed away, I developed a relentless attitude towards life. I was tired of pasting on a smile for everyone else, and crying when I was alone. I was tired of being strong for everyone else and feeling desperately weak and helpless. I needed truth. And if the truth was that I married the wrong person, so be it. If the truth was that I would be better off living alone the rest of my days, so be it. If the hard, honest truth was that I was simply too much woman for any man in this world, then so be it

Our family went on our regularly scheduled program for a winter vacation one year. I hated every moment of it. During the preceding years, I developed what I thought was a benign coping mechanism. Given my commute, raising our young child, and being submerged into everyone else’s heartbreak and legal problems, I purchased a subscription to Audible. Suddenly my two-hour daily commute became a great escape and I could, for a moment, forget about how painful life really was for me. During our trip to Florida one particular year, I downloaded Brad Blanton’s Radical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth. This book was simply amazing, life changing. The author’s premise was that honesty–even if it meant possibly losing something you believe you want or need in life–is more valuable than the object of your desire. 

I was so empty, angry, and resentful. Yes, we tried counseling, but over time we both slid back into old patterns and routines. It was maddening. And after listening to this book after one of the most miserable and lonely vacations ever, I decided to get real with my husband. At the risk of losing him forever, I came clean. With everything. And in a moment, my house flipped upside down. What I revealed to him was an emotional affair. It was some years in the past, but he never knew about it. I suppose I could have quite easily taken it to the grave. But I was convinced: I had to be honest if I wanted to change my life. To this day I wish I never slipped into the “harmless” relationship I had kept secret from my husband for years. And to be completely transparent–most people would have agreed there was nothing wrong with having a male friend to confide in. For many people in today’s society, so long as your conversations do not cross the “line”–whatever that may be–then friendships are permissible in marriage. But where my friendship was a breach and a threat to my marriage was in the secrecy of it. 

For more than two years, we tread water in our marriage as my husband wrestled with the decision whether to divorce or stay, and how he could ever trust me again. As difficult as this was, I was satisfied to no longer have secrets, to live openly, truthfully. What happened to me was that I made an oath with the truth. I decided that no matter the cost, I would only live truly, speak truly, and accept truth. And although I nearly lost my husband and family by telling the truth, it was a price I was willing to pay. Living two lives was making me miserable. Having a public life of strength and success and a private life of misery and secrecy nearly bankrupted me. And while my husband took the space he needed to wrestle with my raw and uncut disclosure of secrets to him, I had all the time I needed to get laser focused on searching my own soul for truth.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *