Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Q: Are you and E okay?

Last night, like every night since the dawn of time, I called Lis on my way home.  Lis, my sis.  While catching up about life, my blog, D being at the gym, running, cooking, and potty training (I see you there being jealous), she asked if I was okay.  Specifically, she asked if E and I were doing okay.  It surprised me, but I'm glad she did.  I hope she doesn't mind me exploring it here, because I think it touches on a point that is really relevant to my relationship with E, and in a greater sense, the reason for this blog.

I want to paint an accurate picture.  It may not be neat, but I want you to see the brush strokes.  I want you to see what it takes to put this marriage back together.  I want you to know that it will always be like this.  This is how it is.

And there's nothing wrong with it.

Photo from Flickr
Surprisingly, there's not much out there about marriage that's really honest.  I wish I could say that when we separated or that we had trouble, I found a lot of resources that showed me that it was going to be okay, or gave me hope that there were strategies out there that could help us stay together (which is all we both really wanted in the first place).  Nope.  People are very afraid to have you know that there is any sort of difficulty in their marriages.  I also found it common in churches and church families.  It was even hard to reconcile that within myself.  The day I sat in church and heard "God hates divorce," I literally wanted to die.  But I felt it was my only option.  Our society shows us repeatedly that marriage, like everything else, is disposable.  If it's hard?  Throw it out.  Get a new one.  You deserve better.  I believe, however, that you deserve another person that loves you unconditionally, and it's work.  Or at least, it can be.  For us it always will be.

Lis wasn't being weird.  We can talk about anything, anyway.  She was concerned because of this post about crafting a careful apology.  Just so we're clear, for all of you.  E and I are okay.  We're better than okay.  Our relationship has matured and I think that we each enjoy the other's company much more than ever before since we have been through some pretty arduous times together lately.  Sure, he bugs me, and sure I'm a big baby about putting the laundry away, and I don't like to clean off the bathroom counter, but we are meant to be.  I am sure of it.  I told Lis pretty much the same thing, but since so many people were there for me during the darkest parts of our separation, it's easy to see how this concern is probably not unique to her.  I thought I'd clarify, just so nobody else out there is worrying either.

Look, I'll tell you a secret.  I've learned something about myself.  I'm not very easy to live with.  And I'll tell you another secret.  Neither is E.  When we practice some very specific strategies and remember that we love each other and need each other, though, we do pretty well.  At the end of the day when I put my cold feet under the covers and on his legs, we laugh because we're happy that we have each other.  We have no doubt that the other one loves us, no matter how big a punk we are.  We have those tough times, and then we work through them. It's the working through them that we didn't have before.  There's something so wonderful about being worked for.  It shows you that you're worth the effort.  I didn't have that before.  So it was easy=happy, and hard=miserable.  Not a way to live life.  Inevitably, it will fail.

Things are different now.  Do we still argue?  Fight?  Bicker?  Sure.  Call it whatever you want.  I know that there are some people who play labeling games and like to convince themselves that they never fight, only disagree.  I've heard people say "we've never had a fight," or "we've never gone to bed angry."  I call semantical shenanigans.  I call baloney.  I call something else that comes out of a bull.  I believe that people who agree all the time or "get along" all the time are in a relationship where one person (at least) isn't allowing themselves to be present in the marriage, or to speak their mind.  Or, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.  Everybody is different.  That's not us--that much I know.  It doesn't matter what you call it--we're two independently thinking, thoughtful human beings.  We're both looking at the world and trying to find the best way to do everything all the time.  We both come with a complete set of preferences, feelings, desires, dreams, hopes, and fears... can you see how another person could get in the way of that, right quick?  It's gonna happen.  Like I keep saying, I'm gonna argue.  He's gonna argue.  So we better have a disaster plan.

I hope you don't think this means that poor Roo and Mr. B are sitting here being subjected to us screaming obscenities over their little blond heads.   No.  That is not what I am saying.  Do they see us disagree?  Yeah.  In healthy ways.  If it starts to get beyond healthy, we go in our bedroom and lock the door.  Just like we do for other stuff that needs taking care of but isn't for their little eyes.  And we struggle, even with that.  Sometimes we screw up.  But we're working on it.  

I'm just saying that it is possible for them to see us disagree, and I actually kind of want them to.  Oh please, don't send the hate mail.  I'll explain.  I want them to see that you can disagree, especially on an intellectual level or express your feelings, and you are still worthy of love.  You can do so in safety, and you won't lose the love or affection of your loved ones. They value you for the free-thinking and independently-feeling person that you are.  God made you that way and he accepts you even when you're not perfect.  It is a blessing for you to have a family that does the same.  I'm not talking about excusing rudeness, verbal abuse, or disrespect.  I am talking about healthy expression of opposing viewpoints, or one's beliefs.

I think we needed that freedom in our relationship.  One of the major stumbling blocks for E in our marriage came from the fact that he thought that if we loved each other, we'd never fight.  His idealized view of marriage was that there would be no fighting, and no affection.  We would essentially be buddies.  He thought that none of that should be in front of the kids, and if there was fighting, it meant that we were not meant for each other.  It meant that our relationship wasn't worth holding on to.  I would bite my tongue and I would try not to argue, but inevitably we'd erupt into some grand explosion, further adding fuel to his "we shouldn't be married" fire.  The problem is that we wanted to be married.  We need each other.  I believe that our marriage, for us, has to represent the full spectrum:  from affection to arguing, from making up to being selfless, and all of it in the middle.  All of it with the same hope that we can model healthy behaviors for our kids, and show them that we are imperfect souls--beautifully created.

I think a big part of me + E + the next 50 or so years is that we need to work with the truth of exactly what we are.  We honor our relationship and ourselves by admitting the difficulties that will always be there.  We're not my grandparents, or E's parents, or my aunt and uncle, or you.  We're just us.  We've made our peace long ago with approaching parenthood in a way that works for us and us alone... we're just now adopting the same approach to our marriage.  Just like the peace I felt when I finally realized that nobody on earth knew what was better for our babies than me and E, I feel the same sense of release about our approach to our marriage. 

I'm afraid you're reading this and you're thinking, "oh, poor, poor family.  They must be miserable."  The thing is, we're not.  We're right for us.  Where before E and I were roommates only, "married singles," we now have a much stronger bond.  The glue is better.  What's the glue?  Oh, I don't know, maybe it's when E tells me that he's drawn to me, that I'm his "true North."  Good stuff.  That good stuff doesn't wash away the strife, either.  Stress happens.  Kids happen.  Dog poop happens.  The California State Bar Examination happens.  All of it, conflict-laden.  Things like careful apologies, like thoughtful speech, like the honest expression of feelings, these help bring us even closer in those difficult times.

So that was the long answer.  We're fine.  We're better than fine, we're growing together.  We're very new to some of these things that are essential to a healthy marriage.  We're getting there.  We're not trying to be something that we're not, and we need each other.

I want to continue this blog in the vein it began.  When I started, I wanted to show honesty about the difficult world of separation and possible divorce.  Now my goal is to show truth about the reality of my marriage, how conflict doesn't have to be scary, and how as Frou Frou says, there's beauty in the breakdown...

5 comments:

  1. "There's something so wonderful about being worked for. It shows you that you're worth the effort."

    I love that. I feel the same way. I also agree that it's important to have disagreements in front of your kids. If you never do, they will grow up thinking that if you fight, you shouldn't be married, and so it continues.

    And I will proclaim that Christopher and I fight. A lot. But we always get over it and we know that we love each other and those fights are annoying but worth the bigger picture.

    I'm glad that you know that the only opinions that matter for your marriage is yours and E. I hope everything continues to go as well as it has been going.

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  2. I'm glad to hear you guys are in it for the long haul! You are so right, marriage is sadly looked at as disposable in our society. My parents showed me first hand what the definition of marriage is by sticking it out. My mom used to threaten divorce quite a bit when we were little. They both had their issues. My mother went into therapy first and learned that she would never be able to change my father but she did have power to change her own bad habits and the way she reacted to him. By taking the initiative to change herself, my father slowly began to change himself. Today they have a wonderful marriage and rarely experience the type of blowout arguments they used to have when I was little.

    This type of self-initiated change has really helped my husband and me to get through our difficulties...and, yes, like you said, everyone has them. I have learned that I am only responsible for my own behavior, not my husbands. I need to own up to that responsibility. I've learned to stop being so sensitive to criticism. Why do I get mad at my husband for telling me he would appreciate it if I would keep the kitchen cleaner, etc.? He's more of a neat freak than I am...the source of many an argument. I can't change the fact that he's a neat freak. I chose to marry him knowing that quality. I CAN change the fact that I don't pick up very well after myself. That's not to say that he isn't working on his issues, it's just that I don't have control of him working on his issues. I only have control of me working on my issues. It's really freeing when you realize that YOU have the control to change your marriage.

    Some of the books that really helped me were "The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage" By Dr. Laura Schlessinger and "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands" also by Dr. Laura. Please don't be turned off by the title of the second one. It is such a good book. It's just specifically focused on some of the issues us hormonal females tend to struggle with in marriage. I highly recommend them both.

    When times get tough remember: the joy is in the struggle.

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  3. Michelle--I have read both of those books. :) I would agree, we can only change ourselves. We both fall into that trap in our marriage of thinking the other person needs to change. I think that back when I was reading those, specifically TPCAFOH, I was thinking that what needed to change in my marriage was that I needed to do more for him, and that I needed to be a better wife. He was happy to show me that he agreed. I think that's just a reversal... In our marriage that perpetuated the idea that if I didn't do certain things, or do them the way that he liked them, that I wasn't deserving of love--it was kind of off, for us, because of other history and ideas we brought to the marriage. I think I kind of misinterpreted the message in that book back then--we had some major communication issues too. So that worked for a while, but in the end it took us looking at each other and BOTH being willing to show each other some kindness in order for us to figure out that we could make it. We had it kind of skewed.

    I'm glad those books were helpful. I think anything that puts out the message that it's not all fairytale and romance, but it can be great if you work at it. I know that's one of Dr. Laura's main points. People seem to love her or hate her, she seems to work for a lot of people. I'm glad it worked for you guys. :)

    I too had to learn that threatening to end things wasn't okay, especially when there are kids involved--they need stability in their family unit. The thing is that I didn't really even want to end our marriage, I just felt like I'd tried everything I knew how to do 800 times, and it wasn't working. Now that we have some new strategies--and I can't say ENOUGH about Retrouvaille (www.retroca.com) for giving us those--I feel like I have options. I have tools to make it work when it is hard, and I'm not just feeling hopeless anymore.

    I guess the moral of the story is that if you can find something that works for the two of you, that's the key to success. For lots of people I know, it has just been intuitive. For us, it took some resources and lots of guided instruction (ha... sorry to use one of my teaching words).

    Thanks for your thoughts, M!

    Netty--thanks. I'm glad that there are people reading this that are both new to marriage and "seasoned" --I wish you and your hubby all the best. Marriage is sooo worth it if you're willing to hang in there. :)

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  4. Heather,
    Everyone seems to think that Matt and I never fight, wow, boy are they totally wrong! My hubby may be quiet, but when we fight, he speaks up. Sometimes I find myself picking fights with him just to get him to speak his mind more often because I feel I am always the one talking. Fighting is essential and is a part of marriage and those who don't think so are blind and just kidding themselves. Fighting is merely another form of expression and the making up part is always better than "regular" times (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more!) I am so happy that y'all are doing great and we'll be praying for you! So excited for you future together!

    Love you!
    SJR

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  5. You talk about some of the stategies that Retrovaille gave you. Maybe someday you should blog about them so us readers can see what info is available that helps you two in your marriage. In my marriage, I think sometimes we get frustrated because we do not know how to fight effectively. One of us (usually me) feels resentment. However I did like your blog on crafting an apology. -kayda

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