She never even knew she had a choice and that’s what happens
When the only voice she hears is telling her she can’t
You stupid boy
Oh, you always had to be right but now you’ve lost
The only thing that ever made you feel alive
— Stupid Boy by Keith Urban, lyrics by Sarah Buxton
It was 2008 and I was in Bay City, Michigan with an old friend. We were at a small venue to see country singer, Jimmy Wayne, perform. The opening act was a virtually unknown singer/songwriter named Sarah Buxton. Her claim to fame was that she had written the song, Stupid Boy, which country star, Keith Urban, recorded on his album Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing. I had never heard the song before, but my friend, knowing the struggles I was going through at the time, said, You’ve got to listen to it. You’ll hear yourself in it.
Sarah Buxton performed Stupid Boy that night, but before she did she lightly touched on the fact that the song was personal to her and that she was doing her own thing now, no longer held back by anyone.
Stupid Boy has been one of my favorites ever since.
This is not right for me
For four years after that concert, I gathered strength and courage to break out of the ill-fitting life-style I found myself in. The lifestyle valued income more than fulfillment. Schedules, achievement, conformity and competition were valued more than freedom, kindness, creativity and relationships.
It was a hard place to be vulnerable, open, tender-hearted and loving.
It was a hard place to be me.
My former husband’s leadership style called for compliance over engagement. In our home, there was more criticism than appreciation, thus making it difficult to speak or act freely without fear of judgment. It did not feel safe to make a mistake.
Keeping your guard up is exhausting.
Being an IFP type in Myers Briggs, an introverted feeling type with a deep discomfort with conflict and negativity, I stuffed emotions inside, and slowly built a wall between my husband and me. There was so much stimulation and tension going on inside of me, eating up all of my energy, I could barely demonstrate outward affection. If I wanted to be the woman and mother I wanted to be I knew I had to make a change.
Everyone always says surround yourself with positive people and distance yourself from those who bring you down. That’s not easy when you live with or are related to the ones who bring you down.
I admit to seeking validation and understanding from outside sources, such as my writing group and my guitar teacher. I started doing volunteer work with abused and neglected children. I found kindred spirits and meaningful work away from home.
I felt valuable, understood and downright blissful for the first time. Ever.
Looking back, I realize avoidance and outside emotional attachments were not the best way to handle the situation, but the free benevolent time away from home felt like love.
I also began implementing little rituals at home, like having everyone at the dinner table say what made them happy each day. But five minutes of mindfulness before dinner was not enough to compensate for the berating, inhibited conversation and quick eating that comprised the rest of the meal. I hosted small gatherings at our house and called them inspiration parties. But two hours of warm, open-minded companionship only made the emptiness afterward that much more pronounced.
Not helpless or a victim
I do not mean to make this sound like, Poor me, my life was all suffering and victimhood.
The truth is, I chose that life, dominant partner and all. I had a beautiful house, a personal trainer and I got to stay home with my children. It felt nice to have someone make decisions, provide financial stability and get things done. I could focus on creating a home. I could foster the emotional and relationship aspects of things.
I chose security, loyalty and a family. All lovely things, but chosen before I knew who I really was.
What I didn’t have was authenticity. I traded that for security and belongingness.
I wanted to spread my wings but my husband was not ready to give up his security. He wasn’t ready for me to grow, to change the picture.
He did not support my volunteer work, downplayed my writing and taught the kids that my way of thinking was ‘hippie talk’.
I was not meeting his expectations. I no longer valued what he provided. I couldn’t appreciate all of the material goods and concrete information he contributed. He probably thought I was the negative one. I’m sure resentment ate him up.
Contempt silently poisoned our home.
I became less attracted to and less supportive of him. I withdrew from his negativity. Our personalities, once complementary, were in daily competition. The conflict wreaked havoc on my sleep and I started to have anxiety attacks. The children undoubtedly felt the tension. We maintained a relationship in that manner for four years.
Grow together or grow apart
I recently watched a webinar by relationship coach and former psychotherapist, Jayson Gaddis. In it, he said the best relationships are ones where the people involved have each other’s backs. Both partners have a growth mindset. They foster growth in their partners and continue to grow themselves.
I had my husband’s back for the first ten years of our marriage, but then I couldn’t do it anymore. My key values — freedom to be yourself, freedom to do meaningful work, harmony over winning— were dismissed. I didn’t feel he had my back. It always felt like a zero-sum game. If I won, he lost and vice versa.
It was hard. Really, really hard.
It would have been easier with mutual support but we could not do that. We could not honor each other’s differences. Our core essences still butted heads. I felt I always lost. My growth felt stunted within the marriage. I had to leave.
It took awhile for her to figure out she could run
But when she did, she was long gone, long gone
— Stupid Boy, lyrics by Sarah Buxton
We grew apart instead of together but my ex-husband fostered my growth unintentionally. All of the conflict between us — most of it internal — pushed me out of my comfort zone. I learned how to stay engaged and communicate about the tough stuff. I learned (still learning) to own my way of being and show the kids a different way of living. I became more confident. I wrote more. I started space2live. I found new positive relationships. For those, I am grateful.
I know he’s done growth work too.
Since the divorce, three years ago, my former husband and I still struggle within our co-parenting relationship. In fact, I’ve been up since three this morning mulling over why we are adversarial instead of having each other’s backs. It is a tremendous loss of energy and a huge source of stress. Then I remembered a quote I recently read, Discomfort and pain accompany every transformation.
Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in
Stupid boy, it’s like holdin’ back the wind
— Stupid Boy, lyrics by Sarah Buxton
Is there a negative person in your life you can’t escape? Does your partner encourage your personal growth? Do you foster his/hers? Did you trade authenticity for the stability of a relationship?
If this post hit home with you, I would appreciate it if you shared it with your special people.
P.S. I just noticed Keith Urban is playing near me at the State Fair in St. Paul tonight, August 28, 2015. Sweet!