This is the second post of Lessons on Marriage, skim through the first here.
We’re in the car on Sunday morning and Caleb is driving. A spot right in front of church is open. On the first attempt to parallel park, Caleb backs into the curb. I impatiently roll my eyes. “This isn’t a boat,” I say, “It’s a tiny, compact car.”
After church, we head to the Maker Market in Bayview. The streets are full of cars. “There’s one!” I say, as I point to a spot to park. Caleb drives past it. I groan. “You’re so bad at parking,” I say, “why does this always have to be so difficult?”
“Caleb, if you’re going to pick up groceries for tonight, you might as well just shop for the whole week.”
“Caleb, can you not leave your socks on the living room floor?”
“Are you using the grill pan? Just use the regular one.”
“Caleb, when you’re done showering, don’t leave the curtain open.”
“Why are you going over there? Photograph from here.”
“Are you going out to smoke again?”
“Caleb, just leave it. It’s easier if I do it myself.”
I am highly critical. And that was exhausting to write out.
When we got married 670 days ago, we became one. And, no surprise to anyone here, the biggest struggle of any newlywed couple is smashing your two worlds together into a singular, cohesive, and complementary life.
Have we done that? Well, no. Not yet, anyway.
Remember that voice or feeling I mentioned that keeps me busy, even on meaningless tasks? That voice is also my harshest critic, brutal enemy, it’s-never-good-enough dad, you-can-always-do-better mom, inner bully, and empathy-lacking asshole (yes, asshole).
The thought of losing that voice is both liberating and frightening at the same time. That voice doesn’t leave me alone– there is no respite and I never feel happy, let alone content. But I also fear that it’s the only thing keeping me working hard and making progress.
If the voice that tells me I’m “too fat to wear that shirt” leaves one day, what will stop me from satiating my sweet tooth? What will happen to our business when the voice is no longer there, telling me it’s useless because I will never become anything?
While I know it’s ridiculous to fear ridding myself of that inner voice, I know I must. And part of getting rid of it means getting control over my mouth.
For each mean comment or unyielding criticism I pass onto Caleb, it’s the voice saying to me,
“You are so lazy.”
“You’re a slob who can’t even keep the living room clean.”
“You’re such an idiot.”
“You’re a terrible photographer. Stop kidding yourself.”
“You are ugly on the inside and you can’t even fake it on the outside. I thought you were going to lose 30 lbs?”
“You are such a failure. You’re absolutely worthless.”
“No wonder Caleb doesn’t love you.”
By marrying me, Caleb became an extension of myself and, unwittingly, the Voice has gone after him as a result. It saddens me to share that and it saddens me even more to say he’s not the first person who has endured my criticism. The voice doesn’t care how you feel and it certainly has no regard for my feelings.
My inner self-hatred knows no boundaries and it often feels like a monster with a mind of its own.
But it’s me. . . That monster is me.
It breaks my heart that the same criticism I feel is the same trash that comes spewing out of my mouth toward unsuspecting victims. I no longer want my insecurities and self-loathing to be cast onto the one person I love the most (or anyone, for that matter).
I’ve been on a mission to be nicer and kinder and gentler for the last year and I’m not sure if I’ve gotten any better. I think I’ve been kinder to strangers and those an arm’s length away from me, but my behavior toward Caleb has seen only small changes. Similarly, my own contentment and confidence have seen only minor improvements.
But maybe, just maybe, I can excise the monster within by killing myself with kindness.
My first step in doing that? Setting myself up for success by signing up for the Summer Accountability Sisterhood.* Seeing as I can’t trust my monster to be nicer to my fragile self, then I’ll trust someone else to keep me on track.