Thursday, February 24, 2011

Structure

Last Friday at school I got to be a part of a special program for the kids. You know the kind--you've seen it on TV--a bunch of students are put in a gym together and they play games until they feel comfortable. Then things get serious. It's not as 1985-after-school-special-y as it sounds. It was like the scene in the gym in Mean Girls, but without the complisults. If that's not a mixed analogy for ya, I don't know what is.

My point is that the day was a little hokey. A little predictable. A LOT structured. But it worked and kids made connections that they would not have made otherwise. I'm a fan.

The presenter said something after it was over about how kids want to share their stories, they just need a structured environment that feels safe. They want to talk and have someone listen without the fear of judgement or rejection. I did too, honestly. It was nice. They did a version of "cross the line" (you've probably seen it in Freedom Writers) which was very powerful even though I've done it before. We were all asked to participate and I found myself very affected by the activity, both by being one who crossed the line "if ____" and by observing my brave students who stood (some, almost alone) on the other side of the line when elements of their life experiences were called.

The day ended with students and staff being asked to write positive comments on stickies and place them on the person they were addressing, a visual reminder of positivity offered from people that most of us had just met that day. Very powerful.

I bring up structure because E and I had to make an effort to return to structure this week in our relationship. For a long while I've been quiet about our marriage. It hasn't been out of hiding anything--first it was just out of not having anything negative to write about. Lately it has been that I haven't been able to quantify some of the more difficult patterns that have resurfaced. Sometimes I don't know how to say what I'm feeling. Right now things are not the best. In fact, they're not good.

Look, the world didn't implode when I admitted that.

I am not going to get into the specifics, but it suffices to say that our patterns are very deep. Our "loop" is a well-worn loop and we find ourselves most easily in the same track we've cut since we were sixteen years old. And while I've always been honest with myself that our marriage is (and always will be) one that takes work, I don't know that I have been honest with myself about what might happen if one (or both) of us were to stop doing that work. And how that might be a conscious or an unconscious thing to do.

Marriage is complicated. People are complicated. H and E? Probably too complicated for our own good.

This week has been a week where something had to change. Again. And for now that something is that we're returning to structure. As I said before, I'm a firm believer in counseling. That's part of what we're doing. And tonight we made a choice to use the dialogue structure at home which we first learned in Retrouvaille. Dialogue is a delicate and careful way to communicate. Basically both people write in response to a prompt on their own and then they come together to have a really structured, guided conversation about their feelings. There are all kinds of rules about how it is done. It's not just a conversation.

I sort of love it and hate it. The writer in me goes "oh, goody!" when I get to write something to E or read a note from him. But the teacher and snob in me goes "Jesus, this again? This is so dumb" when it comes to the VERY strict guidelines about how it can be done. You can say "I feel" but not "I feel that." Don't even think about writing "you" or "you make me feel..." You get it. It's hard. It sounds easy but it isn't at all. And there's the silly factor. I feel like a kid in junior high when I have to stick to something like that. The part of me that wants to be 31 and just "get" how to talk to other grown ups is frustrated that I need that structure.

But it has worked for us in the past. And in this time when things are challenging, again, I find myself feeling an old familiar feeling: helplessness. When things are bad or hard, the first place my mind goes is "how am I ever going to get out of this?" and a lot of times I honestly just don't know. I don't know if this is the right way to fix what's happened, but it feels like something. I think what people want in a marriage is to talk and feel heard, too, without judgement or blame.

We were able to have a dialogue tonight and see something--a very small thing--with more perspective. We were able to offer each other a morsel of kindness through our written affirmations (a part of the exercise) and also by really listening to each other. We haven't been able to listen for a while now. I'm hoping that the structure we have available to us allows us to heal from some things that are painful.

Structure feels like doing something. For now that's enough. It is movement forward.

The Roman Arch.
Proof positive that structure can keep things in place, even when it doesn't seem like it's enough.

4 comments:

  1. I really admire you for saying these things "out loud" to the world. I really appreciate your honesty.

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  2. kayda took my exact thought. i don't think i can write about my relationship as honestly as you can.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. I appreciate your honesty about the strength it takes to make a marriage work.

    Oh and I used to be one of those peer counselors, I loved those special days...

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  4. I am so glad that you are so open and honest! My husband and I went to marriage counseling for the first 3 years of our marriage and it isn't easy. It still isn't easy...we have to work for every good day we have. But I love in your posts how you always say love is a choice. It is so true. And sometimes it feels so much easier to not choose it, but basically I just appreciate your honesty. Marriage is complicated and people are complicated....I guess in general life is complicated! =) Love your blog!

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