There was a moment during my marriage (perhaps you could say it was the emotional end of my marriage), when “the wall” went up. It was the moment when I said “I realize that I do not know you, you are not safe for me, and I will not allow you to hurt me any more.” I remember this moment vividly — as if it happened yesterday. Physically, I mirrored my emotional state by staying at the edge of the room, observing but not engaging, as my wife raged physically against herself and the house in which we lived.
I’ve referred to this moment before as “scorched earth”- the point at which the relationship was so burned to the ground that nothing else could grow. We would spend months trying to work through this, and our marriage therapist, my wife, and I made it the primary goal of our sessions to bring the wall down (we all acknowledged the wall as a barrier to me being able to function properly in the marriage). He was a good therapist, though, and very careful to caution that I not bring the wall down all at once.
What was the wall exactly? The wall was an inability to let my guard down with my wife. I was cut off and could not share vulnerable thoughts and hopes with her. For a while the wall felt like a defective part of me, like the part of me that connected with her was dead. Our marriage therapist helped me see it in a different light, however. In his view the wall was protection I’d built up after years of injury. It was actually a God-given boundary that would ensure I didn’t keep opening myself up to emotional pain. He believed I should work “one brick at a time” to create minor cracks of renewed trust.
Now at this point you might be wondering why my therapist wanted to bring the wall down if he thought it was protecting me. There are really two answers to this. The first is that I don’t think he recognized just how dysfunctional my wife was. In fact, he directly stated this to me when we mutually agreed to stop therapy, saying that his approach was flawed because he really hadn’t understood the situation. I can only say I appreciate his humility in halting when he realized he was out of his depth. I also think he wanted to guide the bringing down of the wall because he wanted to make sure I didn’t bring it down all at once, which he saw as extremely dangerous.
To their credit, the elders at the church did not tell me that the wall was bad or demand that I “get over it”. They insisted that I remain in the marriage, but doing so without emotional vulnerability was OK in their book. The thing is, it made me feel worse and worse about myself because it resulted in behavior that I felt was starting to turn ME into an emotional abuser. I no longer felt ok saying “I love you” because I didn’t mean it. I didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to her on the couch at home. I stopped touching her hair, giving her embraces, or talking with any depth. I remember looking online at the signs of emotional abuse, and the signs were all things I was doing TO HER because of this wall. My sense of shame increased every day.
And yet, it was the wall that saved me. When the final meltdown occurred, I don’t know how I would have survived without the wall. I’d barely emotionally made it through the incident that caused the wall, but the one that followed was far, far worse (mainly because in this case she admitted that her behavior was targeted at me, which she had never said before). Yet this time it didn’t hurt as much. I shed some tears and was sad, but I remained strong and intact. I survived.
I don’t know how many have experienced the wall or something like it, but I do know his: the wall was a gift. The wall protected me. The wall was of God. Maybe the wall was God’s way of establishing boundaries in a man who didn’t know how. All I know is that it was grace in my life.
I’m still conflicted about some of the behavior the wall caused. I don’t know how I could have treated my wife better while protecting myself, but I wish I had. In the end, though, I want to encourage anyone else who has a wall up to view it as a good thing, designed for protection and not a deficiency. God often does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, even setting boundaries.