So there I was, last night of vacation, on a private beach in Las Caletas lit by torches and candlelight, enjoying a sumptuous dinner of local delicacies with my sweetie. Desert offered a choice of extravagant-looking confections, and I chose to indulge my craving for sweets with several pieces of fresh tropical fruit enveloped in a thick layer of dark chocolate. I speared a piece of chocolaty pineapple and brought it to my lips, breaking through the chocolate shell and sinking my teeth into the ripe, juicy flesh beneath…
I’ve accidentally bitten my fork several times in my adult life, but this was the first time I’d suffered a tooth casualty because of it. The last night of our vacation, and I had a tine-shaped hole in my tooth. And it wasn’t an out-of-the-way-oh-you-can-hardly-notice-it break. No, this was a full-on, okie-fied, plait my hair and call me Billy Sue hole in my face. Cute on a 7-year-old, maybe, but not on my 28-year-old self. Needless to say, it put a damper on the rest of our evening.
While on layover in Phoenix I made an emergency call to our dentist, who was thankfully able to see me the next day. I was lying back in the extra-cushy chair with his hands all up in my grill, when he said the best words I’ve heard in a long time, “It’s just a cosmetic break. We can patch you up right now.” Hallelujah! So he goes about his business, and when he’s done he asks me if I’d noticed that one of my other teeth looked chipped. I had noticed, but had figured it had just worn down over the years.
You see, I have the oh-so-attractive habit of using my teeth to break through things. A thread hanging from my shirt, ribbon, uneven fingernails, plastic cellophane packaging, all have fallen victim to my chompers more times than I care to cop to. After having me move my jaw this way and that, my dentist let out a satisfied, “Ah-ha!” If I moved my lower jaw a half-inch to the right, my bottom teeth fit like a puzzle piece into the worn space on my tooth. I asked the dentist if he could patch it up, like he did my fork-tine break. “No,” he said, “it looks like you grind your teeth without noticing, so you’ve got to break that habit first. If I patched your tooth and you keep unconsciously grinding against it, you’ll break off the patch sooner of later. It’d be a waste of money.”
A and I have been married for six years. This vacation was a celebration of this achievement, as well as a time for us to rest and reconnect without the stress of everyday life wearing at us. We’ve been working hard over the past few months to resolve the few issues that we’ve faced over our six years of being married that we seem to always get stuck on. We look at this as preventative maintenance; work the tough things out before time and life circumstances grow them past the point of simple fixes. Work them out before love wears thin and resentment sets in. We want to hit our ten-year, twenty-year, thirty-and-beyond anniversaries strong, dealing with conflicts as they arise instead of letting them fester and eventually decay the roots of our love and commitment. It’s not fun, it’s not easy, but it is worth it.
During this process we’ve had several quick-fire fights come up. You know the kind – they flare up hot and fast and die down just as quickly. When this happens I can feel the intimacy between us break. We don’t feel close for awhile, and things don’t feel normal, settled, or good. Happily, some time and effort on our parts to swallow our pride and patch things up always sets us right, and we can go on with our happily married lives.
During this process we’ve also had to revisit old arguments. Ones that we’ve tried as many different ways as we could think of to fix only to find ourselves back at square one in the end. We needed help, a fresh perspective, people on the outside to give us fresh ideas and hold us accountable. Laying our problems bare before an (albeit trusted) outsider has been humbling to say the least, but also really cleansing. We’re digging deeply into old, ingrained habits that allowed negative patterns to build up in our marriage. Little by little we’re learning to reshape our hither-to fixed reactions and change the way we function as individuals and as a couple. Every day we have new things to work on – homework, if you will – that challenge us to break out of our molds and try and be a little bit better than we were the day before. It’s been totally easy, and if it was homework we’d be getting an A+. Sorry, I couldn’t even type that without cracking up. It’s been darn difficult, thank you very much! But as I said before, it’s been worth it.
When my dentist told me I’d have to stop unconsciously grinding my teeth before I could get my worn tooth fixed, I was at a loss. How was I supposed to stop doing something I wasn’t even aware I was doing?!? He said I’d have to start paying attention to how I hold my mouth and work hard to stop it. “Teeth should never touch,” he said, “so you have to start noticing when they do, and knock it off.”
It shouldn’t be much of a stretch to see where I’m going with this.
I feel like this is what A and I are doing now. After six years of letting some things go and letting old habits turn into pitfalls, we’re finally slowing down and paying attention. We’re saying no to the behaviors that have been wearing us down and starting to fill in the gaps.
A good friend has told me more than once that eight other friends of theirs married around the same time they did, and were divorced by the time they celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary. The most common years for divorce are after year one, seven, ten, eighteen, and twenty-five, according to my therapist. A and I still say our wedding vows to each other, and every now and then – always on our anniversary – he whispers in my ear, “I’d marry you again tomorrow.” Having listened to New Life Live for over eight years, I firmly believe that even the most broken marriage can come back to life if both partners are willing, but the longer you let things go the harder and longer the rebuilding process has to be.
We don’t want to let things come close to getting that bad, and so we’re working on it now. We’ve learned that there’s no shame in admitting that we need help; it’s not like they hand out manuals for how to be a perfect spouse with your marriage certificate, and there’s no other relationship prior to marriage that prepares us for the intense 24/7 unrelenting intimacy that marriage is. We’d be fools not to seek help from those who have done it well and know more than we do. I’m a big believer in preventative maintenance in marriage, rather than letting things get to the point of being broken.
I just wish I’d figured that out in time to save my tooth.