10/12/2006

And I hit him across the other cheek, too

[Note: this is a re-telling of an incident that happened about 8 years ago]

It was late, the kids had gone to bed hours before, and I was sitting on our upstairs balcony in the dark, waiting for John to come home from the airport. He’d been traveling on one of his many business trips—to Chicago this time, I think—and I was anxious for his return. I was weary of the days spent caring for our young children by myself and I yearned for some adult conversation. He came home, sat down next to me and began telling me about his disbelief in Mormonism.

I had counted the hours till his return home, and I was so tired, and so hungry for some affection from him. When John spoke about his doubts, a huge anger welled up in me. I realized that these ‘faith issues’ that he’d been having for a few years weren’t just going to go away. And in that moment my mind flashed backwards and forwards in time—remembering the dutiful and faithful Mormon missionary John that I corresponded with for two years; I thought of our children and my desires for them to have a strong Mormon father; I thought of my dreams that we would, as an elderly couple, serve missions to Japan or to Africa. As all of these thoughts raced through my mind and surfaced in rage as I reached out and slapped John across his right cheek, as hard as I could.

Then John took off his glasses and turned his left cheek to me, tears welling in his eyes. And I hit him across that cheek, too. Hard enough that it left a red welt on his skin. And then he bowed his head, ready for me to hit him again. Which I didn’t. I stopped, overcome with sobbing. So shocked that I had struck the person I loved most in the world, but also aware of the way I also hated what he was saying to me, that I felt betrayed down to my deepest core. This was my John. But it wasn’t my John. It was someone who was telling me these things that I just couldn’t believe, that I couldn’t reconcile with my understanding of who I had married.

As I write this I am crying. I can’t think of another time in my life that I have hit someone so intentionally, so full of anger. I had no precedent in my life for lashing out like that—I had never seen my parents hit in anger, John had never hit me, we had never spanked our children. I was hurting so badly inside. I was so upset that John’s changes were affecting my future, too. That my life wouldn’t necessarily proceed with the script that I had written when we were married. [And John, may I say once again, I am so, so sorry for hitting and hurting you].

In the months and years that followed that awful night, I have still sometimes felt anger and frustration with John’s changing religious beliefs. But I have also realized that I am not the same person that John married fourteen years ago, either. I have certainly grown and changed in ways that might surprise my 21 year-old self. And I have come to realize that these changes are okay. That life is about changing. About learning and experiencing and adapting and evolving. And while these changes sometimes bring risk--even the chance of failure--that that’s okay, too.

In the past eight years or so, as John and I have navigated the waters of Mormonism together, and as his Mormon belief and practice has waxed and waned, I have learned many important lessons. Most importantly, I have learned to appreciate the value of the journey, of the struggle to find the right path to follow. I would like to think that my relationships are not based on my idea of who John or others should be, or how they measure up to a standard that I have in my mind. Rather, I have tried to listen and learn from others’ journeys. As I interact with my students, grad school cohort, fellow freecycle moderators, Sunstoners, cyberfriends, my kids’ teachers, Mormons, Quakers, gardeners, democrats, UCI employees, or any other number of people “that I meet when I’m walking down the street,” I want to seek to understand their journeys, to learn from them. I want to make sure that I don’t react in anger to another whose beliefs differ from mine, that I can separate my expectations from my desire to affirm and love them as individuals.

More than anything, I want to learn a lesson from the time that I hit John. I want to learn not to react in rage, not to make others’ choices be about me. I want to learn to love even when I am blinded by anger, even when my ability for compassion is at a breaking point. I want to see the divine, the godliness, in each person. To understand their struggle to find it within themselves.

24 comments:

John said...

It's difficult to respond to this,
although I respect your candor and vulnerability. And I'm certain that I've inflicted deeper (though unintentional) wounds without laying a hand on you.

I've forgiven you and all but forgotten this incident, but still don't think that I've forgiven myself. Part of me still feels like it deserves to be hit.

Anonymous said...

Hi jana, I know you don't remember me, but for a very brief time (a month?), I was your visiting teacher when you guys lived in married student housing at the U. I only had one visit with you, but I remember you told me you were a little stressed about your husband's spiritual journeyings/outward behavior (I remember you were concerned about his longish hair and wearing bandannas or something. And his questioning.) What popped into my head to tell you was that perhaps he was going thru a type of "spiritual adolescence"--like an adolescent, he was trying on different identities, learning about himself/his spiritualities, and would eventually find himself. And like any loved-one of an adolescent, it is hard to watch their journeyings--wanting to step in and guide them away from the dangers, but we have to let them go. Anyway. I just wanted to say that I remember you (tho' like I said, I am quite convinced that you do not remember me) and I remember when you were stressed about this, and I am glad that you two have found a spiritual path together.

jana said...

Dear anonymous:
Yes, I am fairly sure that I do know who you are. Your visiting teaching visit was one of those 'tender mercies' that came just as I needed it. I did appreciate your willingness to just listen to me and my frustrations, and then your insight that followed. It's funny that you remember my frustration about John's hair--he still wears it long but I'm used to it now, and get such a thrill out of his long, loose curls.

It's fun to touch base again in the cyberworld, and I appreciate your reaching out to me once again by leaving a comment on my blog. :)

jana said...

anonymous:
do tell me where life has taken you since the UofU. i've seen your name pop up on AML-list a few times, but I can't recall any details about your geographical location/career/lifepath.

Anonymous said...

thank you for such a touching post. i read it twice just because...

Anonymous said...

Your story sounds very familiar...

My nightmare with my RM-temple-marriage husband started out innocently enough with long hair...and then an innocently enough changed demeanor toward the church...and then innocent enough late-night-video-gaming (which was, unbeknownst to me, a convenient cover for a pornography addiction)...and then less innocently enough showing very little interest in me after business trips...and then even less innocently enough, rarely being at home because of work (a catch-all excuse used whenever he wanted to leave the house for whatever reason)...and then an affair (which he vehemently denied for years)...and then moving out...and then excommunication.

Maybe I should have slapped him years ago?
Poor guy.

Hope you guys' story turns out a lot better than mine... :)

jana said...

Oh my:
Wow, your comment gave me pause as I could read a world of hurt and pain into your story. I'm so sorry that you had to go through this. But thank you for sharing it here on my blog--there are certainly many LDS women who (unfortunately) can relate to your experiences.

Anonymous said...

wow Jana, that is a powerful post. I think in some ways your relationship with John must be deeper because the two of you weathered those feelings and actions and continued to forgive and love each other, despite your differences.

John said...

Danithew, I wanted to acknowledge the truth in your observation/speculation. I don't say this often enough, but Jana's is the closest that I've experienced to Christ-like love and forgiveness. It's the kind of unconditional love that I wish I could feel from parental-figures, the church and from God (instead of the conditional, guilt-inducing stuff that I've received, because I never seem to measure up). I feel closer and more in-sync with Jana than at any other time in the 17 years we've known each other, and feel that we're still far from peaking. We will sometimes quote from that song by Sting that goes:

If I ever lose my faith in you,
There'd be nothing left for me to lose.


Sorry for the ramble. If incoherent, at least it is heartfelt blabber. :)

SoCalSingleMama said...

Wow, Jana, thanks so much for sharing this emotional time for you with the rest of us.

Ryan and I really "look up" to you and John and the way you have grown together - even through times when many couples would have chosen to grow apart.

The two of you seem to be on the road toward a happy ending, even though it is filled with not so happy moments like these along the way.

Anonymous said...

Jana, I read this and had my husband come read it too. It helped me understand some of his feelings (mostly anger) as I've struggled with faith issues this year. We had a very enlightening conversation tonight...I thought you'd like to know that you facilitated a much needed discussion, breaking through a communication barrier in our marriage. Thank you.

jana said...

Dear Tea~
Thank you so much for leaving this comment. Recently I've been criticized for the writing I do on my blogs, and I've been feeling discouraged about blogging, wondering if I should quit. It made me feel good to know that this entry was helpful to someone. That maybe you and your husband can be spared a bit of the pain that John and I have been through.

Anonymous said...

You're quite welcome, Jana. Sad to hear about the the criticism & resulting discouragement. I hope you keep blogging as long as it works for you. FWIW, the make me smile entries encourage me too.

Seraphine said...

Sorry for posting late (I haven't been around much on the bloggernacle). But I just wanted to thank you for this post. I've been thinking a lot lately about trust and the ways that relationships change and evolve, and this post really struck a chord for me.

Brad Mortensen said...

Jana,
I just have a minute but I want to tell you I like your post very much. I enjoy reading things from both you and John because you're willing to be so honest. I find that element missing in much Mormon-oriented writing. It's a shame because honest expressions help me, and I'm sure others, feel less alone in our struggles. Thanks.

I met you and John at Sunstone which has made reading your blogs and listening to your podcasts (due for a new one, btw!) that much more enjoyable. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and experiences.

jana said...

Brad (and others):
John and intend to remedy the podcast situation soon. However, now that school is back in session (we're both grad students), we rarely have time to tie our shoes, much less create podcasts. But we are eager to do more and will so do soon! :)

Thanks for your continued support :)

Anonymous said...

Hi jana, its me, Anonymous again! :^0 Re: my life path--I am an associate professor of psychology at a small, rural, isolated community college in the south. (We hope to leave the south asap.) My husband & I have 2 kids, 5 & 2. Husband will finish nursing school in Dec. In the past, I was a psychotherapist for about 10 years (mostly in SLC, but I also worked part-time for LDS Fam. Services here). I loved being a stay-at-home mom, but financially we ran out of options. I'm so glad (and amazed)you remembered me and our visit! Thanks for the kind comments!

Jennifer

ZD Eve said...

Jana, I'm late to this discussion, but your heartfelt posts here and at ExII on this subject have meant a great deal to me. When my husband and I married, I was the "liberal," questioning one who was restless in my faith. I posed all kinds of questions to my husband I don't think he'd ever encountered before. Within a couple of years of our marriage, he ran into his own crisis of faith that has kept on the margins of the church ever since, not much of a believer, but a social Mormon who accepts association with the institution itself as valuable. I'm entirely the opposite--I'm basically a believer but associating with the institution is a constant, painful challenge. (We sometimes joke that together, we make one whole Mormon!)

At various points in my husband's journey to marginal activity, I've gone through guilt and disappointment. For a long time I felt guilty that I'd introduced him to all of my questions and issues and opened the door for him to leave. And like you, I'd imagined that there were certain religious practices we would share--service missions after retirement, shared religious devotion that I didn't realize mattered to me until it clearly wasn't going to be part of our life as a couple. At times I've handled my feelings about my husband's religious choices very, very badly. It's my ideal to be accepting and understanding and never to pressure. In practice, I often fall short of that ideal.

I wonder if this is an issue every couple deals with to some degree simply because no two faith journeys are identical. Marriage in general demands that ultimate and paradoxical love of complete and total fidelity, absolute emotional investment and compassion, and complete surrender of control over the other person. I wish I were better at it. I'm trying to be.

Tangent: currently, one of the hardest things for me to deal with about my husband's religious situation is the well-meant questions I get at church when he's not there with me. I know people are just trying to show concern, but wow it gets weird fast. Some people want to know exactly what all of his issues are, and then they want to explain to me why those issues aren't valid, and then then they want to recruit me into some reactivation strategy or other. (As if I'm going to plot with them behind his back.) I know people don't mean any harm. But some of what they say puts me in an extremely awkward situation.

Anyway. Thanks so much for your honesty and for opening a discussion on this subject.

jana said...

Eve:
Thank you for adding your thoughts to this post. The response to this--both in the comments, through emails, and in phone calls has been overwhelming. I'm sad to know that this is such a common problem in Mormon marriages and that it causes so much pain!
I will be posting more on this in the future, and if you or others want to chime in with some guest posts about your experiences (even on tangents like the misguided good intentions of ward members), I would welcome them. Let's keep this conversation going...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. The crux of it for me recognizing people change as do we and as you said, not making it about us.

It's a tough row to hoe that is for sure. Spiritual disharmony is devastating for both parties.

Kathryn Quick said...

"Jana's is the closest that I've experienced to Christ-like love and forgiveness. It's the kind of unconditional love that I wish I could feel from parental-figures, the church and from God (instead of the conditional, guilt-inducing stuff that I've received, because I never seem to measure up)."

What a gorgeous tribute to the two of you. I aspire to be the same, but often fall short. I've never thought of this as Christ-like and will have to give this some thought.

The one thing that I can say about this kind of love and being with god is that often it comes to me as an act of grace. I have no idea how I otherwise regain my faith in my husband at our lowest points - it is partly an act of regaining faith in myself as a person capable of this love, I think, since I do not like my unloving self too well at all - but my goodness do I ever feel restless and unwhole without it.

There is quotation at the stairway entrance to our meeting about true love being true acceptance that strikes me each week as both cloyingly trite and dead-on true + difficult. Very, very often Quaker meeting is about renewing my faith in marriage.

When Guillermo and I married, we chose our vows to include being a loving and faithful husband/wife, partner, and best friend. To me, the faithful part of that was not about monogamous fidelity - we had both had bad experiences with this in prior relationships that in my case welled up into slapping someone for the first and I hope last time in my life, so that kind of faithfulness is a given for us - but rather about having faith. And very often the key to that faith is to hold my husband in the light as my best friend, to ask myself what a best friend would do. It helps me escape whatever baggage I carry of being a dutiful, loyal wife who tries to fix, aims to ignore, or is desparate to suppress anger over what I do not like. It helps me to understand my husband as a whole person, to see his essential humanity, to love him with generosity and patience as I would - as I do - my best friend.

The honesty of each of your blog posts about your relationship is very, very helpful to me in mine. Thank you very much.

Kathy

Anonymous said...

Jana,
the last paragraph of your post resonated so deeply with me. I think the ability to take every experience, joyful or painful, and learn and grow from it is an incredibly powerful thing and I think it takes an enormous amount of courage to write about it. thanks for sharing so openly and honestly.

Anonymous said...

Jana,

kiri close here from x2 blog. I've been more curious of the personalities & personal lives of our X2 women. So here I am (voyeur!) posting on your blog (if that's okay with you).

I totally loved reading about you and John. I wish all lds would share how life truly is in coupledom.

thank you so much!
--kiri close
aclosefamily@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

A year and a half later...I'm reading this for the first time and crying. I googled "Lds interfaith marriage" last night and found Deborah's post on X2 about her interfaith marriage, which linked me here. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story. I'm amazed to know how many people go through similar situations. It's strangely comforting because there have been many times I have felt alone and misunderstood.

I've been married just over 5 years. My husband was a convert to the church and fully active when we married. It was only a few short months into our marriage that he started expressing his concerns and disbelief in church doctrine. At this point he is completely uniterested in the church and I don't expect he will ever be active again.

I noticed in the comments you mentioned further postings on this subject (I should actually go to your blog and see if there have been additional posts) but I just wanted to mention how helpful I think it would be. There are so many side points to this subject and navigating it can be so difficult. I would love to hear more on how other people deal with the misguided intentions of church members; the difficulties of raising children; how to cope with negative emotions that can arise. I dealt with my initial feelings of anger and betrayal a few years ago and we went through a stage where we both considered divorce. I have always felt the best I could do for him was to love him unconditionally and for each of us to live our lives the best way we knew how. For me that means consistent church and temple worship. And while I don't feel the anger I used to feel, there is still frustration knowing my life will most likely never be what I initially planned.

My point is, thank you for sharing so openly. It has been truly been a blessing for me and I look forward do reading more of your posts.

-audrijo