(Family Magazine October 2011 3rd Issue)
Agnes Wai Yan Ip Ngan
I lead a full and hectic life with many roles and responsibilities. I am a wife, a mother of two teenagers, the Founder and President of Presence Ministry, a doctoral student of clinical psychology, a clinical intern in various organizations, a California licensed marriage and family therapist, a writer, a speaker and more than I can count. Had I not been blessed with a good man, my husband Benny, I would not have the privilege of taking up all these roles and receiving the invaluable learning opportunities they provided.
Benny is not a typical old-fashioned man with a big ego. He has committed wholeheartedly to support and assist in fulfilling all of my God-given visions and to share in the mission that God entrusted to us. He not only accompanied me to the U.S. to obtain my master’s degree, but he also went grocery shopping, cooked, and cared for our two young children while I was busy with my studies. He even helped proofread my homework for English grammar. There were a few years when Benny had to work multiple jobs to support our family. He could barely get in a few hours of sleep before waking up to work again. But what I admire most in Benny is his noble and selfless character. He not only helps me achieve my goals, but he puts in a great deal of effort and time everyday, anytime, anywhere to help people in need.
The Benny today is a good husband who knows how to appreciate and cherish me. However, looking back to the beginning of our marriage, Benny did not understand his own emotions, and he could not accept my negative emotional responses. Over the past twenty years of marriage, there had been many emotional setbacks. We had gone through countless struggles and we have definitely stumbled along the way. I am glad to say that we are now finally able to taste the sweetness in our marriage. The main reason that we can walk and grow together as a couple in the face of adversity is because we insist on obeying biblical principles — to obey one another, treat each other with love, and inherit together the grace of life. With Benny’s consent, I will briefly share some segments of our life to illustrate how we strive to understand and learn to manage our emotions. This has been the key to building intimacy in our marriage.
Conflicts Arising from Not Understanding Emotions
On the seventh day of our marriage, I tried to run away from home. I felt neglected by my husband because of the differences in the way we handle our emotional responses. When I got upset with him, he stopped talking to me completely. After three days of “Cold War,” I could stand it no longer. I packed two bags full of clothes, with streams of tears gushing down my face – I was on my way to flee back to my parents’ home. I remember the moment before I walked out the front door, Benny loudly blamed me and shouted at me, “You are an adult, and you should be responsible for your own actions. You should know that it is wrong to leave! You should not do this!” Not only had he not spoken a single kind word to me, he even preached at me with a long checklist of what he believed to be legitimate reasons why I was wrong. I thought to myself, I could never live with such a cold-hearted husband. At that moment, I did not want to be with him anymore. With feelings of justice on my side, I furiously grabbed my two bags and turned my back to leave, running straight down the stairs from our apartment on the 13th floor to the street.
The moment right before I left the building, I suddenly regained my rational thinking. After only a few days of marriage, I was ready to abandon it an return to my parents. What would they think of me? Is there anywhere else I can go? Benny and I lived in Mong Kok, the red light district of Hong Kong back in our day, an area full of prostitutes conducting their business. If I were to walk around that area by myself late at night, I could have found myself in a dangerous situation suffering from unimaginably serious consequences. Given the circumstances, I had only one viable option – to return to the 13th floor. So I sat helplessly in front of our door, sobbing endlessly to try to alleviate the pain of my psychological wounds.
What seemed to be most unusual was that when I stormed out in fury, I actually brought along a Bible. After I dried my tears, I still did not feel reconciled. I opened the Bible and read Ephesians chapter 5 with the words “Husband and wife should submit to each other, the wife should obey her husband.” I asked God, “Why would you give me such an obnoxious and harsh husband? When he isn’t watching TV, he is doing his own things without consideration to my emotional needs. He is stubborn even in the smallest details and insistent on carrying out his plans. There is no room for us to compromise. How can I submit to such a husband?” After reading the Bible and praying, my mind and spirit began to calm down. I did not wish to obey Benny, but I knew I had to obey God. Since God wanted me to do so, I had to listen and follow. So I stood up, opened the front door, and walked back into my apartment. When I entered the room, I found my husband sound asleep.
Learning to Accept Negative Emotions
I was determined to learn to obey God and submit to my husband. Unfortunately, that incident of running away was not the only conflict in our marriage. Being patient and developing acceptance towards my husband is my lifelong lesson. In the first few years of our marriage, I was still unable to feel that Benny recognized my emotional needs. Whenever I had negative emotions, he would begin his long list of reasons to lecture me not to get upset. When reasoning proved useless, he became more irritated than me. If I cried, he would get even more angry, demanding me to stop crying, accusing me of using my tears to manipulate him!
Benny felt that the hardest thing for him was to put up with my anger. However, he did not realize that he also often had negative emotions of his own. His emotional dictionary only contained one word–“happy!” He was usually extremely cheerful and optimistic. However, Benny often suffered from a mild form of depression. Whenever he was depressed, he slept. After he woke up, he would go about silently doing his own thing — watching several movies, visiting computer stores and spending money on all sorts of cheap but useless household items. In the period of his self-isolation, he did not think about anyone else; he was a well-qualified married “bachelor.”
Then one day, the change began. We were to participate in an inner healing course. I cannot remember the details, but the night before the class an incident caused Benny to misunderstand and blame me to the point that I broke down in violent tears. The intensity of the emotional pain that I suffered was so great that I almost fainted from crying excessively. Benny got even more upset at me! The following day, Benny went to the class by himself. He learned and realized that crying was not necessarily a way to manipulate others, it might simply be an expression of sadness. When he returned from class, he promptly apologized. The sight of me lying in bed and looking like I was barely hanging on to my life overwhelmed him with memories of the past that he had suppressed and he suddenly broke down crying.
The most painful event in Benny’s past occurred one day during his high school years. His elder brother complained of feeling discomfort so Benny accompanied him to the hospital. Just two hours later, his brother was pronounced dead due to excessive hemorrhage in the brain. Benny’s brother had been very healthy with no signs of illness, yet death came so suddenly. Since childhood, Benny and his brothers and sisters were taught by their mother to not cry. At a very young age, he believed that all negative emotions were bad. He was able to suppress his own negative emotions, and eventually he forgot all the pains. However, in our relationship, he had to deal with my strong expressions continuously. That irritated him and often found himself out of control. On that day, Benny got in touch with the painful feelings from his own past. I also gained a husband who was more understanding and accepting that people can legitimately have both positive and negative emotions.
Learning to Relieve One’s Emotions
Understanding and accepting his own feelings was Benny’s first step in learning to be both reasonable and emotionally sound. Unfortunately, learning to relieve his own emotions was yet another long journey for my husband.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my body had very strong and reactive responses. Not only could I not drink nor eat, I also vomited frequently. During the first four and a half months of pregnancy, I was in and out of the hospital twice. I lost fourteen pounds. Every day from midnight to four in the morning, I vomited yellow bile. It resulted in injuring my esophagus and I vomited blood as a result. When I desperately needed to be comforted by him emotionally, Benny created a wider distance between us. At that time, he was struggling for a breakthrough in a career change. Due to the family financial burden coupled with my weak health, he could not make the move he desired. Since he had no way to relieve his feelings of helplessness, once again, he locked himself up in the island of isolation and depression.
I did not have the ability to resolve Benny’s struggles. The only thing I could do was to first manage my own emotions. Then I tried to give him enough space to think and support him emotionally. When I was eager to have his company, he was still in the process of finding himself. My own loneliness was intensely hard for me to bear. I could only kneel down in front of my bed clinging hard onto a pillow. I sobbed endlessly with excruciating emotional pain, begging God to meet my emotional needs so that I could accept my husband’s circumstances. I asked the Lord to open Benny’s eyes to see the next step in his life path.
After years of struggle, Benny was renewed and found the direction for his life. It suddenly became clear to him that he valued the visions and life goals that I had for my life since I was young. With already two children to care for, he realized that I would never be able to reach my goals without his support. So he made it his goal to help me accomplish my dreams. This was truly an inspiration from God. He decided to relocate our whole family to the United States for me to obtain a degree in marriage and family therapy so that I could help people in need. As a result, his own melancholy mood was greatly reduced. He spent less time in isolation and the speed of his mood recovery became faster and faster. My own emotions had also stabilized and I was no longer a psychological burden to him. We managed our schedules to allow time for just the two of us to be together. We also set aside personal time of our own by ourselves to communicate with God. When we become accountable for our own emotions, our relationship with each other grow to be more intimate. When we no longer criticized and blamed each other, respect and trust cemented even deeper into our relationship.
Learning to Love the Wife More
I have learned to obey my husband by respecting his opinions. Whenever we have a disagreement at an important decision, I would wait patiently by praying. I have repeatedly seen God changing Benny’s mind so that our hearts could move together in one stride. Psychological studies show that after age 40, men pay more attention to their family and relationships. As we get older, Benny has learned how to take my feelings into account. His stubbornness has subsided and he is more willing to meet my needs on a daily basis. Our feelings towards one another grew stronger every day. He told to me: “I will learn to love you even more and I will protect you as much as I can.”
As the person in charge of Presence Ministry, a non-profit organization, I am always under immense pressure. I often worry about the organization’s financial sustainability or a shortage of human resources. Although Benny doesn’t think I should worry over so many things, he no longer preaches at me. On the contrary, he knows how to encourage me and reminds me to recount God’s blessings upon us through the years. He prays with me. Whenever my mood is down, he surprises me by giving me a bouquet of flowers to cheer me up. In our busyness, he knows that it is important for me to have enough time studying and working, so he willingly kept our housekeeper even during times of financial difficulty. Usually, we insist on having dinner at home together as a family. When I feel overwhelmed I am not able to have a home-cooked meal ready when Benny comes home from a hard day of work, but he has never uttered one word of complaint. If I manage to squeeze in some time to make a meal for the four of us, our children and Benny would gratefully thank me for the meal I prepared for them and thoroughly enjoy the food.
Benny’s emotional understanding also made him a better father. While I personally have very deep conversations with our two children and know what they need emotionally and spiritually, I am unwilling for Benny to learn about our children and their needs through me. I want their father to know his children on his own terms. Benny graciously accepts my request and tries his best to increase interactions with our children one-on-one so that he can have strong communication with each of them.
From the bottom of my heart, I am especially grateful to Benny for supporting and cherishing me, as well as for the unconditional sacrifices he has made throughout the years for our family. However, I must not forget to express my gratitude to God for His grace. Because He loved us first, we have the ability to love one another.
Agnes Ip is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a Ph.D. student of Clinical Psychology specializing in multicultural-community clinical psychology. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Theology and a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. In 2003, she founded Presence Ministry in devoting to building positive family relationship. In addition to leading Presence Ministry, Agnes is a professional counselor and a popular speaker on diverse subjects.