Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Anti-Harried Wife Syndrome: Wisely Choose Your Friends

Are your "friends" really your "friends"?

Here's the thing about us women, we're sneaky when we're being mean. You can't always tell when another woman is envious of you, or overly perfectionist about herself. A conversation can look civilized to a neutral outside observer, yet from the insiders perspective of your heart, it's a flat out bar room brawl.

So St. Ignatius of Loyola's of discernment of spirits is always helpful. Jesus promises us "My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me." (John 10:27). Can you identify Jesus' unique voice over the noisy din of the world?

Jesus' words are always encouraging, gentle, and hopeful. He does admonish us, but it's "admonishment"--not eye rolling, sarcastic comments, put downs or jokes at others expense. Jesus does not give us a "manic" list of things we've got to do better, right now! It doesn't matter how Holy a woman appears on the outside, if you're not leaving her presence feeling uplifted and re-energized about your vocation as a wife, then she is not good friendship material!

I'm not always great at recognizing "hurtful" female friendships yet--but my husband is! (That his protection role coming out in full force.) A few years ago, he told me to stop reading certain blogs because they negatively impacted my psyche. At first it felt so strange to follow his advice--"I can't stop talking to these women online, we have a relationship, we're friends!" Yet in my heart of hearts I knew he was right--I just couldn't figure out how to extradite myself from messy social obligations.

My advice to younger wives is "Embrace the Awkward!" 

This year my husband asked me to ax a new friendship with someone who we see often. It is totally awkward. My withdraw has negatively impacted the friendships that my children had with this woman's children, and my husband had with her husband. My husband said "Who cares! You are more important!"

I don't think I'm the only woman who has it ingrained since birth to "play nice." Making a conscious decision to withdraw from a friendship feels so foreign. I've got to say, despite all the awkwardness--it's making my life so much better!

I like telling myself He needs me! (God) God's got things for me to do, people for me to love--and if I spend all my time licking my wounds from catty exchanges with women who I already know are not good for me, and don't have my best interests at heart--that's time I'm not spending helping to heal the world!

Remember: Jesus was many things to all people--but He never gave the Pharisee's access to his Divine Heart. Be more like Jesus!

14 comments:

Kat said...

Two thumbs up! I agree, sometimes it is better to keep distance from certain people who are not good for you or your family life and love them from afar by praying for them. That is wonderful that your husband is so perceptive and protective of you, yay spiritual leadership!

Jen said...

This is a fantastic post, and it's a wonderful blessing that you have your husband to sort of help you see where the boundaries need to be drawn. I have learned this lesson in a very deep, and difficult way this past year and a half. I had to actually cut ties with my own sister because it was a very unhealthy relationship. It started with a huge argument that took place in front of my children and had a major impact on my then 8 year old son who witnessed it. I tried to patch things up, with certain boundaries in place, but it always fell through because I wouldn't take the passive role I had before. This happened right before our First Promise, and bothered me so much because I thought I wasn't being forgiving. Then I started with a spiritual director at the Franciscan Friary, and he showed me that the relationship could not continue. He basically said it was toxic, and showed me how my relationship with her was affecting my marriage. Like you, I have seen the benefit in no longer having the stress of managing that relationship. It still hurts, mainly because she's my sister and I love her. At the OCDS retreat I felt called to write her a letter explaining things, placing no blame on her. Even after all the time that had gone by, nothing on her end had changed. I brought this to my new spiritual director, who only conferred what my old one had said. Sorry to make this long, but this post hit home with me. It is awkward and difficult, but sometimes, it really is for the best. For ourselves and our families.

Abigail said...

Ugh, doesn't the label "Carmelite" make everything worse sometimes.

I'm trying to overcome severe brain-washing that a good Christian means "being nice to everyone."

It helps to think that I'm not called to "be nice", I'm called to a higher standard. I'm called to "be kind."

Kindness means not standing still and letting someone punch your heart when they are feeling low themselves.

So I like Kat's idea--retreat, and pray for them at a safe distance. That doesn't mean that you'll always have distance with that person--but the reattachment needs to be on Jesus' time line NOT OURS.

Jen said...

Well said ;) Fr. Stephen said something the same thing. I think the kicker was when he said, when I was still interiorly conflicted about the whole thing (and honestly, I think that's just the devil sometimes), "If she needed you, would you still help her? Would you be there?" I said yes, of course. He said, "Then that's all that matters. Other than that, keep the boundary lines as they are, and pray for her". It's still hard. I struggle with that "being nice" thing.

Kat said...

Exactly, God's timing not our own! I had to cut ties with several people even family because it was toxic for me and my marriage, especially with dealing with infertility/subfertility. There is one friend that God is bringing back in slowly but my husband always reminds me to keep boundaries, so that I don't fall back into that same pattern. A good book that deals with this stuff on an emotional level is called Born Only Once by Conrad Baars.

Debbie S said...

Thank you Abigail. I am so thankful that you have time to post your thoughts and reflections. This is poignant post for me as I have been struggling with a similar issue. I will now focus on kindness.

Abigail said...

Wow that is so cool Kat and Jen!

I would never ever wish for the cross of Infertility or Autism or (for me) the NICU and colic--but it is so awesome for highlighting clearly who is there for you and who is not.

And you don't have any energy left over for all the fake "drama" in your life, because you're so busy trying to carry the real Cross God handed you.

I think that's part of the whole "my yoke is easy thing." Being a Christian means carrying some pretty heavy stuff in your life, but at the same time God quickly removes a lot of useless, hopeless long term struggles and wounds.

Amazing Life said...

LOVE THIS POST!

Jen said...

"And you don't have any energy left over for all the fake "drama" in your life, because you're so busy trying to carry the real Cross God handed you."

This.

100%

Claire said...

Thank you for this post. I periodically "snip" toxic people from my life. Although many do not believe it, I am very introverted and their toxicity drains me to empty and stirs anger, discontent, profanity and general unrest. I'm still hung up on the "nice" thing, but I can no longer tolerate the disturbance in my world.

My sweet husband usually does not agree with me when I remove people from my life. He thinks we are in their lives for a reason, and we should stay there.

I believe we are called to pray for them, but if they are hurting our marriage and prayer life, they need to go.

Good for you in listening to your husband. He is viewing the situation from a more practical standpoint and he sees the real issue.

L. said...

I've had situations like Claire mentioned above -- one in particular. A very close and dear college friend had what I will call a "mid-life crisis" and became a person I no longer recognized. (I won't describe all the gory details, but one thing she started doing was cheating on her husband, keeping sexy phone videos of her lover, and calling me a "prude" when I told her I thought what she was doing was wrong.)

My husband believes that being a true friend to her means I should always be there for her, no matter what. She lives far away from us, but after one visit in which she was a thoroughly toxic person, I decided that I was doing her no favor by appearing to condone her behavior with my friendship, and putting up with her verbal abuse. Plus, I have a teenage daughter, who looked up to my friend -- she didn't know what my friend was doing, but I decided I didn't want to risk it. I didn't want a woman like her around my children. I sent her an email telling her I was upset about some of things she said and did on her visit, and I asked her not call me. And she hasn't.

I suppose I have not written her off completely, but I need to her from other friends that she is no longer doing the things she was doing, and she has resumed some shred of sanity and decency, before I resume any contact.

My husband thinks I'm a cold, hard-hearted woman and wants me to call her, but I won't -- not yet.

L. said...

Also, one more point I want to make -- and this does NOT apply to the marriage of Abigail or anyone else I've ever seen commenting here.

I used to belong to a mothers' group that supported a shelter for abused women. One woman who used its services came to thank us, and speak to our group.

She was a devout Christian, who believed she was called to love, honor and obey the spouse that God gave her. Early in their marriage, he asked her to cut ties with her family and close friends, citing their "interference." She willingly did so.

One day he started beating her, and for the safety of their daughter, she sought help, and eventually ended the marriage.

But what struck me was that she didn't WANT to -- she said, if he had never crossed the line into physical abuse, she would still be married to him, because she loved him and took her sacred covenant of marriage seriously.

She urged the women in my group to not blindly follow what a spouse told you was God's will, out of a misplaced desire to obey. Instead, she said, she wishes she had relied on her own prayers, and her own relationship with God, instead of letting her desire to obey lead her to cut ties with the friends and family who would have helped her once her relationship crossed the line.

I'm not a Mormon, but they have a good expression for situations like this: "unrighteous dominion."

Again, I'm NOT drawing ANY parallels with the loving marriages I've seen described here!

Abigail said...

Gosh L, I've got your back on that friendship thing. I think there is probably a lot of teaching here for "what is offering forgiveness"--and what is co-dependency or enabling I'm not qualified to teach on that distinction but I get your point of view and have acted similarly in the past.

As for Domestic Violence, the Catholic Church clearly teaches that is not okay.

I think that's an example of the Evil One quoting Scripture "wrongly." That's happend to me before. Jesus was trying to bend me softly in one difficult direction and I had one Scripture verse that kept pointing me in the opposite way. We've got to have humility in not getting caught up in an overly legalistic black and white test of righteousness---and instead tell God "I always want to do your will. I might be confused at to what you want for me, but I always want to do your will."

Praise God your friend made it out of a dangerous situation.

L. said...

The Catholic Church certainly condemns domestic violence, and upholds the dignity of the individual.

There are individual situations, though, in which women of faith -- of EVERY faith -- are convinced that their vow to obey includes going against what they know in their hearts is not what God would ever ask of them.

I thought of another case, the former nanny of a friend of mine. She was a devout evangelical Christian and married someone from her church. When her new husband started beating her, their pastor urged the husband to seek help -- and told her it was her duty, as his wife, to support her husband through what was probably a mental illness causing him to act violently ("...in sickness and in health.." etc.), and that it was her "cross to bear."

Fortunately, she left the abusive spouse AND pastor.

But back to the original post....I think it's important, no matter what your religious beliefs, or attitudes toward marriage, to listen to both what your own heart says, and what those who love and care about you say. If my own husband thinks that my estranged friend and I ought to reconcile, I will follow my own gut feeling on contacting her in the short term, but leave myself open to such a possibility in the long term. People who love us sometimes know us better than we know ourselves.