Tag Archives: Marriage

“Excuse Me, Ma’am, But Your Cracks Are Showing”

27 Jun

las caletas at night

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…

*crunch*

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.

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It Made All the Difference

21 Mar

image from jungyunjae on wordpress.com

Where is he? Where is he where is he? It’s two thirty and she’s coming at three and he’s not picking up his phone which means he hasn’t left yet which means he won’t be on time and, dear God, where is he? Whereishewhereishewhereishe?

Me: “Honey? Where are you? Why weren’t you picking up your phone?”

A: “I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in a bit. What’s wrong?”

Me: (Said in increasing tones of agitation and desperation) “You’re leaving now? It’s two-thirty. We’re not going to have any time before she gets here. We need to talk, we need to plan. We need to pray. What were you thinking? You set up the times, for your appointment and with her, why aren’t you here? This isn’t ok, I’m not ok. I need you here now.”

A: “I was planning on calling you on my way home so we could talk about things. This is important to me too, I want to plan this out, I want to pray with you. I’m with you…I’m sorry, I didn’t know I had to be home now. I’m heading out the door, I’ll call you when I’m on my way. Love you.”

Me: “……(sullen silence)……”

*click*

Not often, but every now and then I have to have a Very Important Conversation with someone. By this I mean a conversation that I anticipate will be difficult, emotionally taxing, with high risk if it doesn’t go well. I never embark on having that kind of talk without a lot of prayer and outside wisdom to make sure I’m not overstepping or overreacting. In short, a conversation that creates a perfect storm for one Christy A. being seriously stressed out. Usually I’m on my own as far as the stakes go, but in this case A was in it as well. In this case, we were both hurt, both feeling misunderstood, and both far more invested in making sure both parties came out of this talk maintaining a strong relationship with each other than in being right.

It’s taken me a long time to get there.

I grew up in a family who would scream at each other at the slightest offense. The offended party would come at the offending family member with both barrels blazing. Guilt, blame, hurt, anything but vulnerability were used to try to make the person feel badly that they’d hurt them. In turn, the offending party would look for any reason that the offended deserved what they got, had earned their hurt, and would endeavor to beat the other down with words and emotional blackmail. Nothing is my fault, everything is yours. We would yell until we were hoarse, no one hearing the other, and break apart at an opportune time hoping that the other would change and actually hear us and care about our point of view. Needless to say, it never happened.

The way I was brought up to fight was broken, dysfunctional, and poison to healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. Thank the Lord that A, avoider of conflict though he is, called me on my crap early in our dating relationship and told me that the way I fought made me a bully. I was a broken person. He was too. Neither of us came from families that equipped us to handle real-world relationships in a way that put our marriage before the self. But we are called to be better, to be less ‘me’ and more ‘we’, and we learned.

Here’s how our conversation went when A called me back,while on his way home:

A: “Hey, Baby.”

Me: “…..Hi…..”

A: “Before you say anything, I called and asked if she would come over at three-thirty. I’m sorry that my appointment ran long. I want to be there for you, and I’m sorry we mis-communicated about when you needed me to be home. We’ve got time now, and I’m happy to talk to you now, or when I’m home in a bit.”

Me: “………………………….”

In one simple swoop, he completely disarmed me. Took the wind of indignation out of my sails.

I was already stressed about the upcoming Very Important Conversation, and when he wasn’t home when I needed him I freaked out. But instead of hearing my anger, he heard my hurt. Instead of hearing my frustration, he heard my need. Instead of hearing my bitterness, he heard my fear. And that made all the difference.

Emmerson Eggerichs once said (I’m paraphrasing, it’s been awhile) that all the marriage advice he offered in his study Love and Respect is assuming that you have a good-intentioned spouse in your home, who wants better for you than they want for themselves. I chose well, and as far as our marriage is concerned, this is generally true for us. We (mostly) want better for the other than we do for ourselves, and we definitely work to put the heath and viability of our marriage above being right, above feeling self-righteous, above the illusion of being infallible.

And that’s what A showed me when he called me and said, “Before you say anything, I wanted to let you know that I called her and asked if she would come over at three-thirty.” That he heard me, he loved me, and he put me first. He knew that he would be dealing with a pissed off and defensive wife when he called me back, so he preempted me with love. He knew that I was hurting and needed him, even though I came at him with pain and disappointment.

The man I was married to a year ago wouldn’t have realized that. But the man I’m married to today does.

In my house growing up, you never said, “I’m sorry.” It was an admission of weakness, an admission of failure, and our home was not a safe place to be fallible. What we never realized, church-going family that we were, is that we all fall short of the glory of God. Which means that we are fallible. Learning to say, “I’m sorry, I messed up,” was the most grown-up thing I’ve ever learned to do. And, as I often say to my high school kids, if I hadn’t learned to admit to my fallibility and married a man who would do the same, our marriage wouldn’t have made it a month. Really. If I’d had a recorder and could replay our arguments from our honeymoon and that first month you’d know what I mean. But we learned, together. Which brings me back to my story…

A year ago A would have had a very different response to me in that second phone call after the way I’d talked to him in the first. Then he would have heard my hurt, the implied failure on his part, the accusatory tone. Though I’m sure he still heard all that, this time – to my amazed surprise – he heard the panic, the worry, the hurt at feeling like I was facing a Very Important Conversation alone. And he took care of it without me asking. Throughout our relationship, I’ve been the one to instigate change. I’m always looking for the next great marriage book we should read, to seek out the next small group, to suggest prayer topics and call us to look at the bigger picture. But the man I married is willing to grow. He’s willing to not be right if it means keeping us close. He knows how to say, “I’m sorry.” And it makes all the difference.

“Before you say anything, I called her and asked if she would come over at three thirty…”

No, he didn’t understand my need from the beginning. But with those words he showed me that he heard me through my fear, through my accusations. He heard me, and he fixed the problem. Without me asking. Because I would have found a way to make it work, even though I was stressed, even though I was scared. But he made it all go away, because he heard me.

It’s moments like this that show me that despite the dysfunction we are born into, despite the human tendency to never admit when you’re wrong, when we love each other (and I’m talking sacrificial love, the kind that puts the other’s daily well-being above your own,) we can choose to put your needs second when our partner is hurting. A could have been defensive, self-righteous even, given how I reacted. Instead he chose to act in love. And it was beautiful.

You have many choices in marriage. The greatest choice you can make is to put the health of the marriage above yourself. Even with both of our backgrounds working against us, we’ve learned to choose marriage. And I believe that if we can learn, anyone can. Which will make the world a more beautiful place.

Marriage Letters: I Know You Love Me When…

27 Feb

Every Monday, Amber and her husband Seth and others, write Marriage Letters.  It is an effort to encourage others to fight the good fight, to do the hard work, to bless other marriages as we write to bless our own. And I love the idea. So I’m joining in on this week’s topic: I know you love me when…

photo from smitten kitchen

Dear A,

I learned early on not to expect you to stop at the store on your way home when I forgot to buy an onion. Do you remember the fight we had? One more example of how expecting your marriage to have the same dynamics you grew up in doesn’t work. That’s why I smile now, as we head into our sixth year and you offer to pick up dinner on your way home if I can’t make it to the store. You say you’d rather avoid stopping for bread, but if I need it you won’t mind. If an onion is essential and we have company coming, you’ll pick it up and chop it for me. You know I cry a river chopping onion.

I could have written about any number of things you do that let me know you love me, but this one’s on my mind because coming off a week of being under the weather and you taking care of me. Even though you could probably go straight to bed by the time you get home.

More often than not, I end up making it work; I don’t want to add more onto your packed day.  More than anything it’s the change in your heart, your willingness that shows me how much you’ve grown and makes me feel so loved. You can pack a lot of love points into a $3.89 baguette.

I know you love me when you stop on the way home, just to bring me flowers. I love when you bring me flowers. You always look for the most unique bouquet, because you know roses and baby’s breath won’t work for your sideways-wife. When you stop to pick up a few posies it packs a double whammy on my heart, because not only did you stop on your way home, you did it just to see me smile. Usually it’s on the days I need a reason to smile the most. You’re so good at that.

Love,

Wife

Marriage is Cheap on ABC

23 Feb

What is up with all these separated couples on TV thinking that separation equals a dating free for all? Ok, it’s really only two couples on two shows that I’ve seen, Desperate Housewives and Private Practice, but it’s a trend that I find really disturbing.

I’ve never read a single marriage book or heard of a marriage counselor or reputable psychologist that said “you know what would be a great idea? You two separate because of your irreconcilable differences, make vague promises about working it out and just seeing how things go, then start sleeping with other people. It’ll be a great test to see if your marriage was meant to be!” But that sentiment seems to be the major plotlines this season between Lynette and Tom Scavo and Dr. Pete Wilder and Dr. Violet Turner.

How in the world are people supposed to try to save their marriage when they’ve got someone else, someone exciting and new in their beds? Dealing with marital problems is hard enough, never mind problems serious enough to separate over, without a third person adding jealousy, resentment, and feelings of betrayal to the mix. And yet on two major television shows you’ve got people actively in relationship with someone other than their spouse, with their spouses’ full knowledge, while they’re still married. Worse, their friends on the show are all for it and advise them that they can’t do anything about their spouse’s behavior and they should hook up with someone too, as soon as possible. Really ABC? Really?!? Can we back the crazy train up for a minute and look at the messed up message that sends?

What happened to recognizing that until a person is divorced it’s still called adultery? I’ve seriously heard on both shows dialogue along the lines of “why feel bad? You two are separated. If it makes you happy, then go for it!” or “He’s moved on, you should too.” And that’s another thing: if both parties are ready and moving on, then why keep them married? Why keep them in a perpetual state of limbo, ABC, letting them act like single adults while still having all the legal constraints of their nuptials hanging like an albatross around their necks? I don’t think it makes for good tv, you can get just as much drama from having them divorce and still have to find ways to be in each other’s lives, seeing the other person date, spying to see who’s sneaking out of their house at 5am. See, the drama possibilities are endless! I’m sure that they’re planning a big thing, at least in D.H. which is in its last season, where the man realizes that he was in love with his wife all along, drops the girl on the side, and comes back and all is happy again. But if they do that, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they won’t show the years of work that have to go into rebuilding the marriage and the trust that is lost when your partner starts sleeping with someone else while you are separated, NOT divorced. They won’t show that, because that is not good television, but it is reality. ABC, if you’re going to go down this road with not one, but two of your shows, at least give marriage the dignity of calling it over when it’s over, instead of letting your characters drag the beaten-down carcass of their failed marriages behind them while trying to decide if the person they’re with is enough of a reason to make their divorces final.

I’ve had people in my life who have lied to themselves about this very thing, starting a relationship with a married-yet-separated person before the divorce was final. Never mind all the reasons why a relationship can’t be healthy if one party is still coming off of a failed marriage, what about the responsibility that comes with potentially being the reason a person didn’t fight to save their marriage? And yet people make choices like this all the time without a second thought, regardless of whether people in their lives or their faiths tell them “slow down, wait a minute! What’s the rush? Let the ink dry before you jump right in with both feet.”

Television has a way of shaping culture, and I really don’t like how this is becoming the new norm on television. It’s not healthy, it’s not smart, and it’s not ok.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Any other television trends ruffling your feathers?

Mid-February

16 Feb

It’s that time again. Sometime around mid-February I see the weight of the season settle on my man’s shoulders like a bag being slowly filled with sand. He comes home, his walk from the car a little slower. The look on his face when he enters our home – his refuge, his sanctuary – tells me he’s needing more, that the long hours over a longer stretch of days is starting to wear him thin. When he leans into my neck as I reach out for a hug, sinks into my ready kiss, I know that he sees home each time he rests his eyes, weary from seeing patterns in numbers.

My man, the accountant. The provider. My hero.

He works so that we can build a life. So that I can have options. So we can plan a future. He loves what he does, true, but months of all work and little play gets old quickly. He’s proud of his work, and comes home with stories of conquering mountains of tax law. My weary conqueror.

Sometime in February I can expect that he’ll need more hugs, more time lingering over a good meal and a glass of wine, more priority placed on the little time we can call our own. Sundays are off-limits to everything except church. My dutiful man, who makes time for the laundry and still does the dishes, sometimes a day late, but they’re done just the same. He knows that, unlike years past, I have a full plate as well and pulls his weight. My partner, my helpmate.

In February I make sure my bosom is extra soft to catch his weary head; my embrace is extra warm to last him until he comes home again. I miss him, and cherish each bit I get.

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