We stumbled on a third segment of our Far Between interview on youtube yesterday, and were a little disappointed to see that many of those “unsolvable” issues are still, five years later, unsolvable. He still doesn’t know “how to do this” and I’m still feeling bad that he feels that way.
The girl in those interviews was in a constant state of panic. Her fight-or-flight instinct was in overdrive, but at the same time she knew she was where she wanted to be and why. It was uncomfortable to watch and even more uncomfortable to think that nothing much had changed since then.
After some discussion and time to let those feelings settle/gel/clarify, we both realized that even though we still have no idea how to do this, we are doing it, and have become much more present in the intervening years. There’s a gravity to our togetherness. I no longer live in the constant, gripping, physically overpowering fear. Thank you Lord for that. (It wasn’t without it’s long term effects. I’ll write later about that.) He is facing down his junk and I’m (thinking about) facing down mine. There is more padding on my hips, more hair on my head (and on his face) and life is taking on the patina of age and experience.
But we are still largely without concrete answers. Maybe the answers are through the lived experience and not in trying to live a proscribed experience.
A few weeks ago we met up with some fellow MOM couples for a “group meeting” of sorts. I had been feeling a lot of the old fears and insecurities, and he had been feeling a lot of the old “what the heck am I doing” so it was with a pretty hefty measure of trepidation that we approached that house full of vulnerable strangers. We seemed to be the most outwardly fragile people there (upon reflection, we may have merely been the most honestly introspective couple there. Maybe not. I like to make up stories, and I’m working on that. There will probably be more on that later).
We all shared a recent positive and a negative relational experience, and it was very freeing to share the burdens of living life. Middle age, parenting, marriage, all of those universal life experiences that can weigh but feel lifted with the nodding head and “I’ve felt that too”. Without the common gay, there was common life experience.
One of the couples talked about a sharing/check-in exercise they use called FANOS. Fanos is a greek word meaning, “to shine” or “to reveal”. Now, because I a) make up stories and b) think the worst I live in a constant state of “oh crap, he’s at the end of his rope and it’s one breeze away from being over. Yeah, for 22 years I’ve had those feelings. For this reason, I’m constantly begging him in sometimes really unhealthy ways for reassurance. My reassurance cup is more like a funnel so no matter what he says/does, I’m in a perpetual state of insecurity and begging. Fun.
Don’t worry, he hates it too.
All either of us want is for us both to be healthy and content together. We do this dance around the pain, carefully stepping around the tender spots. We find a safe spot and gently plant ourselves down, careful to not upset the fragile balance. This, we excel at. (Speaking of dancing, I’ll write about ballroom dancing too. That’s a fun one.)
So- FANOS. Through the Sexual Addiction 12 steps, there is a lot of talk about checking in. But it felt like checking in to your parole officer- more of a chore than anything. The last thing either of us wanted was for me to be any sort of authority over his sobriety. Nevermind the fact that my emotional minefield isn’t exactly the best spot for him to plant his insecurities and indiscretions. FANOS stands for Feelings Affirmation Need Ownership and Sobriety. (This concept comes from Mark and Deb Laaser of Faithful and True Ministries. Awesome people. If you’re doing the Sexual Addiction thing from a Christian walk, their books and seminars are golden. I cannot recommend the wive’s book enough.)
So every day we check in using the FANOS formula. The boundary around it is that it is quick (no drawn out conversations) honest, and no judgment. The “quick” boundary is imperative. So many nights he is just diving in to bed to avoid the long, drawn-out conversations I love to have late into the night.
I cannot believe how it has opened us up to each other, strengthened trust, shored up our relational and personal foundations and elevated our contentment. So simple. I’m able to stop hiding my junk in fear of his judgment, I’m not making up stories to fill in the blanks, and he is beginning to believe in me. For years and years, the dance was becoming more and more restricted without either of us realizing what we were doing, but sensing the constriction that was choking us. Stupid fear. He was afraid of hurting/freaking me out, and I was afraid of rejection/pissing him off with my crazy ugly mess.
We are “shining” or “revealing” ourselves. Something that can be pretty darn scary to someone whose pain receptors are especially ripe around vulnerability (usually because of past experiences with rejection). The gorgeous truth of my lived experience with Shining a light on the whole-of-who-I-am to him is that it is more like falling into a goose down comforter with a roaring fire and steamed vanilla almond milk than walking through shards of glass (which is more akin to our previous experiences with checking in).
So- there you go. One more thing that makes Us work. Or whatever it is that we do- it doesn’t always feel like you could call it “working”. Give it a try.