36: The Wedding Rings

In life, we cannot always control the first arrow; however, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.

– The Buddha

I recognize that towards the end of my marriage with Beatrix, I demanded a great deal of attention for my discomfort and simply managing and minimizing hers. 

I unconsciously looked to Beatrix to fix me, seeking her approval, acceptance, and love. I did this even though she hurt too and carries a list of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) rivaling mine. She unconsciously and actively avoided her ACEs too. She did this while gingerly navigating mine.

As a result, we lived in a relationship where we unconsciously tossed the hot potato of pain back and forth. Throughout our marriage, we often made the other person responsible for our comfort and discomfort.

For example, very early in our marriage, Beatrix decided to stop wearing wedding bands. 

Her choice struck me as an arrow strikes flesh, causing pain to deeper, hidden wounds. “The first arrow arises from causes and conditions beyond our control,” writes Tara Brach. ^1

In this case, Beatrix’s decision not to wear the bands was beyond my control. The arrows struck a deep and hidden wound. I couldn’t control those traumas either. 

Frankly, I don’t believe Beatrix ever discussed her decision with me. She simply stopped wearing them. I noticed she wasn’t wearing the rings, and over a few weeks, her decision to abandon them became apparent. 

From my perspective, Beatrix callously decided she wasn’t going to wear my grandparent’s wedding bands. The only family heirloom I owned.

The story I carried about my family’s rings and their history resulted in me having a rigid perspective on their value. I assumed because Beatrix loved me, she would honor the value I placed on the story.  Over the following months, it became evident that Beatrix did not value their history in the same way. It because evident she had her own stories.

As I said, Beatrix launched the first arrow by not wearing the wedding rings. I now realize she didn’t intend to hurt me. However, at the time, it felt hurtful.

When it landed, the arrow struck me at a particular angle that pierced the rigid and brittle armor around forgotten wounds—as such, being hurt was a natural emotional outcome. I was emotionally ill-prepared. “The first arrow,” writes psychologist Brach, “is the natural experience that arises in this human animal that we are.” 

With the first arrow, I howled out in pain.

The second arrow was self-inflicted and fired from a bow strung with self-judgment and self-blame. The shame-laden tip of the second barb pierced old wounds that tore open issues around my sense of identity, value, worthiness, and acceptance. 

Tender places I didn’t know I carried and places where I misunderstood the meaning of the data I felt.

With the second barb, I howled out at the pain.

According to the Buddha, the next series of bolts would have been optional if I been more self-aware. I appreciate how my rigid story about the rings impacted my perception of our relationship and Beatrix’s commitment to the marriage. The tension in my perceptions gave the second and third, fourth, and every arrow afterward power and velocity.

However, I didn’t know that at the time.

Essentially, I took Beatrix’s choices personally, as a result, I was constantly uncomfortable. I imagined reasons she wasn’t wearing the rings. I imagined Beatrix wearing her wedding bands would make me more comfortable. 

The reality is nothing anyone else will make me comfortable. Frankly, Beatrix was never responsible for my comfort. 

A self-aware person would ask themselves, “Why does Beatrix’s decision not to wear wedding bands make me uncomfortable?” 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t self-aware. 

Instead, I gradually grew more resentful and bitter instead of growing in understanding and compassion. I imagined stories about Beatrix’s intent and, in the process, created my suffering. 

When I finally spoke to her about her choices, I spoke of my hurt and how I needed her to change her behaviors to make me more comfortable. She did not respond well and rebuked my demands for being heard. 

Hurt people hurt people. 

I would defensively make Beatrix’s actions about me unaware she may have had underlying motivations for her choices. 

Today I recognize that although I loved Beatrix, I also needed her to validate my experiences and conform to my expectations. My expectations were unreasonable.

As a result, I fought overtly and covertly, trying to get Beatrix to see it from my perspective and do what I wanted. For example, when we argued, I would pull this out of my resentment box and throw it into the middle of an unrelated conflict. 

In the end, I left those conversations, and many of the follow-up conversations, judging myself for not being enough, not doing it right, not trying harder, not being more sensitive to her feelings. 

I would leave each conversation not liking myself and feeling stupid for continuing to wear mine, petty for caring about wanting her to wear her rings, and shallow because of how I thought it looked to friends and family. 

After six months of trying to convince her to wear her bands, I just decided to stop wearing mine. I wish I hadn’t.

I know now that Beatrix’s responses didn’t trigger me; the stories I imagine about her responses triggered me. That is not her fault either. Neither was the volley of arrows following the first arrow.

My responses reflected a lifetime of training, teaching, grooming, and coping. Frankly, my training – or responses – isn’t my fault either. Sometimes things simply are and what matters is what I do about what is once I recognize it is

I didn’t know these things were things until much later. The fault is irrelevant. 

I now understand that Beatrix did what she needed to do for herself because that is who she was when she decided. I recognize that Beatrix was addressing her discomfort by not wearing the rings. She was responding to her distress as she experienced it even when she couldn’t name it.

I get that.

Beatrix was expressing her pain in a way that made sense to her at the moment. It is not her fault I couldn’t – or wouldn’t – hear her. Even when Beatrix tried, I didn’t listen to her over my emotional howling and bravado.

Because my discomfort was about me, and I was taking my feelings as directives, I didn’t invest the resources to learn what Beatrix was trying to communicate or what I was feeling. Instead of confronting the actual wound, I became angry, contemptuous, and sullen. I made Beatrix’s decision not to wear the wedding rings about me and imagined what it meant about her feelings. 

In the process, I pain-shifted instead of looking behind the curtain to see what emotions and wounds were pulling strings.

Of course, Beatrix had her unskillfulness and couldn’t tell me about the Thing behind her Way of the Thing. At times she made that discomfort about me. I’m still not sure she even really knows what was happening with her.

But can any of us know or is it a story?

Additional Reading

1.Brach T. The Wisdom of “It’s Not My Fault”: Finding Freedom When We are Caught in Self-Blame. Tarabrach.com. Published August 9, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2021. http://blog.tarabrach.com/2017/08/the-wisdom-of-its-not-my-fault-finding.html