Interdependence: Joined at the Heart

Jeff McVay

A few weeks ago, we had a celebration in America. People across the country prepared their grills for barbecue. Pools were cleaned. Firefighters prepared for the fireworks shows (both professional and the amateur) in case anything went wrong. And most importantly, folks unfurled their flags and joined in parades to celebrate the Independence Day of the United States of America.

Of course most countries have a day in which they celebrate the moment that they proclaimed independence from another nation or people and determined to make their own way in the world in the manner that they saw fit.

In the United States, independence is more than just a day that is celebrated. It is a way of life. We are taught to be ‘self made’ people. Some classic phrases that describe this thought are: ‘pull yourself up by your own boot straps,’ ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me,’ and (my favorite) ‘I did it my way.’

In the US, independence is not just about a people group breaking away from another country in order to make a new way of life; it is now about each individual person breaking away from all other people in order to do life their way. Most of us think that we have the right to live the way we want and not have anyone else ‘tell us what to do.’ This concept of individualistic independence has done some good for our society; however, it has also led to great isolation, loneliness and fear as we try to determine our existence without the help of anyone. This loneliness and fear also leads us into many avenues of false intimacy (such as pornography) in an attempt to make us feel better about being alone without really having to deal with the possibility of abandonment by another person.

The reason the loneliness becomes so great is because we are made for real relationships. We were not meant to be alone.

Maybe it is time for us to sign a new declaration; not one of independence but one of Inter-dependence. You may be asking yourself, ‘What is the difference?’ Well, interdependence is the radical notion that we really do need other people in order to survive in this world even after we ‘grow up’ and move out on our own. In fact, I am not sure that total independence even truly exists. Human beings perish without others. Even in subtle ways, we depend on one another. In the words of the writer Thomas Moore, ‘no man is an island’. This does not mean that you cannot do anything yourself or that there is no way to tell ‘Where I end and You begin,’ but that we must find the balance between allowing others to connect with us and help us, and what is the work that we have to do to help ourselves and others.

This is especially so when it comes to the addictive struggles that people may have. Addictions tend to isolate us from anyone who might find out what it is we struggle with. In fact Patrick Carnes says that the core beliefs of a person struggling with an addiction are ‘1) I am basically a bad, unworthy person, therefore 2) no one will love me as I am. 3) My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend upon others and 4) whatever the addiction is: it is my greatest need.’

All of these beliefs foster an atmosphere of isolation. If I am a bad person and no one will love me, then I must face the world alone and I cannot rely on anyone to help. In that isolation I begin to look for something that will always relieve my pain. An addiction becomes that one thing that will always but temporarily relieve the pain. The addiction, however, becomes a source of embarrassment which leads to a greater need to isolate and repeat the cycle. Those that love us the most (family, spouses, children and friends) are usually the ones that we push away the most and who feel the greatest effects of both the addiction and the isolation that it creates.

How can a ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ help someone in this situation? It is only in coming out of isolation and being willing to let someone else speak into your life that anyone can begin a road to recovery. Remember that from the very beginning God declared, ‘It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.’ We need one another. In beginning the recovery process we cannot do it on our own. We need to be interdependent on others who have the same desire to change behavior so that heart change or faulty core belief change can happen. This is probably the reason that the first 5 steps in a 12 step program deal with opening ourselves up to God and to other people as the beginning of behavior change.

Think of it this way. Pretend that there are absolutely no mirrors or reflective surfaces in the world at all. How would you know what you look like? There would be no way for you to know unless someone else could tell you. The isolation brought on by addiction and the faulty core beliefs that encourage them take away our abilities to see our own reflection.

The purpose of interdependence is to allow someone else to tell us what we look like. God tells us that we are loved enough to die for. Other people can talk about the good things that they see in us that we have forgotten or never seen due to addictive isolation. When we grasp how much we are loved and have a greater sense of who we are and whose we are then and only then is recovery a road that is opened up to us. This road joins us to the heart of God who calls us His sons and daughters, and to the heart of others who walk with us on this road all the way home. Maybe today can be the beginning of your own celebration. The day that you signed your ‘Declaration of Interdependence’!

For help with alcohol or drug addiction, please call our Resource Center at (800) 639-5433.
For help with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.

How to Be a Good Listener to Your Wife’s Heart

Bob Parkins

Feeling like you are not heard, or misunderstood, is one of the fastest paths to loneliness. When we don’t believe that another person really knows or understands our heart, we can get lost in a crowd, feel all alone. Many men who struggle sexually will know exactly what I am talking about; this may be his daily experience. Tragically, it is also likely that he may feel alone and misunderstood in his marriage.

As a man in recovery learns how to communicate his heart to his wife, it is extremely important that you first listen to hers. This will begin to strengthen the connection between you and hopefully soften each other’s hearts to each other. To go bounding in, expecting her to just listen to you, while you have not listened to her, may become a set-up to recreate the wound that makes you feel so alone and insignificant – possibly leading to relapse.

This is not an article about communication tools or how to communicate (read those too). My primary focus is to encourage you to understand and connect with your wife’s heart and not just what she intends to communicate; her heart is deeper than that. That is not to say that verbal communication in and of itself cannot be intimate, but you can frequently connect at the heart without needing the rules of healthy communication, or even a word.

Likely there are times that your wife will repeat herself. This is both an opportunity and a signal. If your wife is repeating herself, most likely she is signaling that she is not feeling “heard” or connected to you. This can be an opportunity once you recognize the signal, because now you know you have probably missed it. You can clarify her intended message, but the heart needs to be “held.” You may do this simply by holding her. An empathetic word or touch can go a long way. Of course there may be times when a hug is not appropriate. If she doesn’t want you to touch her, maybe she is angry with you, make extra efforts to empathize with her by listening respectfully. The expression on your face may say to her if you care or are just trying to appease her.

Another way to “hear” your wife’s heart is to watch for it. When you first started dating your wife, you may have made an effort to notice things she likes and dislikes. Do this again but in deeper ways. Get to know more fully what makes her happy, sad, what her dreams are, etc. When you know these things, never stop looking for them and use them to exhort and encourage her.

When she is upset after a phone call from her parents: “I know how devastating it is for you when your dad disregards your feelings. Do you want to talk about it?”

When she is screaming at you: “If I hadn’t selfishly had my mind solely focused on work all night, I would have remembered how disrespected you feel when I forget to take out the trash.”

When she won’t say a word to you: “I know when you won’t talk to me, you are usually hurt. I would love to talk about it when you are ready.”

Don’t wait for the difficult moments to engage her. Engage her in the easy ones. It may seem too simple to start dating her again, but it isn’t. First, it will be difficult to be consistent, you won’t always feel like it or fall into old patterns. Second, it may not be complex, but it got you a wife the first time. Just like you hopefully do with your kids, look for connecting moments to share. Just as Mary Magdalene poured her precious perfumes over Jesus’ feet, treat her extravagantly. Extravagance is not about money, although some scrooges will have to loosen up a bit, it is about time, affection, and serving. As you get moving, she will be on your mind more, and it will be easier and more rewarding to continue. You will remember what you once knew about her and learn what you never did.

Healthy communication tools are an essential element to hearing her heart, but this is the long (also essential) way around. When you rebuild the connection between your hearts, it may take time for her to be able to trust it. Be patient and gracious with her, you haven’t earned her trust yet. Many men will come to realize they never “heard” their wife before. Take heart; things may be rough in your marriage right now, but to know and connect intimately with your wife in deeper ways than you have ever known will change things – the best years may yet be ahead of you.