Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Soundoff about Marriage

You know there is no magical formula to a successful marriage. Sometimes we think some people have the perfect life even though we know know no one has it perfect. Sometimes marriages of our friends or acquaintances look absolutely dysfunctional on the surface. Even those we are close to do things or say things that raise our eyebrows. I'm sure I've raised a few in my short tenure as a married woman (almost 9 years and counting). All of us need a chance to blow off some steam about our spouse. I don't think it's disloyal in the least. It's perfectly normal to get annoyed, upset, frustrated, and sometimes angry about something between you and your spouse.

Most of the time, our friends are happy to be sounding boards for our outrage. And then sometimes, our friends say things like, "you know you should be so grateful that your husband does X and Y" that derails the entire process. These judgments have their place. Occasionally we need to be pulled up short from our complaining, particularly if we've started a bad habit. Over all though, I think these types of comments are not helpful to someone who needs a moment to vent.

I personally find that without a safe outlet to go to, life gets a whole lot worse. Sometimes you need to blow off about an event or a conversation, but not at your spouse. Little things get under your skin, or maybe it's something you've talked about over and over and while you're working on loving that part of your spouse, it still drives you nuts. I worry that people don't say enough and let things get pent up inside them. You can only swallow down so much. If you don't work it out, it will go to work on you.

I went to a mini-seminar this past Friday on marriage (it was really a kitchen sink talk, but we'll stick to the marriage part). While the speaker spoke of many things, these pointers stuck with me. First, be careful the train of thought you jump on. One negative thought leads to another and pretty soon you're having an inner dialogue with yourself about all things negative with your spouse. I confess, this is exactly what happens to me when I do not vent my feelings properly. I start the "blame train" which hooks up with the "pity party" train and pretty soon I'm steaming ahead at full-speed into bitterness and aggression against anyone and everyone who crosses my path. This is no picnic for those living with me. So I try very very hard to guard against this insidious inner thought process and instead do my best to turn my problems outward either to my spouse (as reasonably as I can) or to a trusted friend.

Secondly, how you greet each other at various intersections of your day is critical. Again, a light bulb went off in my head. How many mornings have my husband and I parted in less than ideal circumstances? I am half way through my shower, both kids are screaming, somebody has pulled all the Kleenex out of the box, both boys are hungry, I'm exhausted and all I want is a 10 minute shower and away trots my husband with "gotta go honey, wish I could stay." It's only 7:10 and I'm on that runaway train of negative energy. Recently my husband and I had a talk about this and we are working on making our leave taking in the morning better. He suggested I get up before him and shower. Then he can intercept the children while I finish getting ready in peace. I suggested he pack the lunches before he comes to bed. After making and cleaning up dinner I just can't face making lunches the night before. The jury is out on whether or not this will work, but the point is we're going to try. Maybe these seem like small trivial suggestions, but big help can sometimes come in small packages.

There are other intersections equally important. How we greet each other when he comes home from work, for example. One of the main causes of stress in our home in the last 5 years has been "what the hell am I going to find when I get home?" Now, part of me often feels like, "you'll find what you get and deal with it." Honestly, I'm no June Cleaver. However, we can work harder at saying hello in a civilized tone. I have to work on adjusting my expectations of him, of myself, and let it go when dinner does not turn out the way I hoped. He has to work on accepting that his downtime will come, but it may be after the kids go to bed. I have a feeling if we can work on these two intersections of our day together and I can work on derailing that negative train, life will greatly improve.

It's not that our life isn't already wonderful. We aren't having problems. We don't hate each other. We love each other and our children and we are committed to a healthy stable home. Healthy stable happy homes don't happen without work. Marriage takes effort and grace. People who think marriage is easy, either already do enough right that the stumbling blocks are manageable, or they've not yet been tried.

I have been musing on these thoughts all weekend. I often do the best work on my marriage out loud--whether on paper, with my husband, or with a friend. I have been blessed with many friends; women just like me who have their ups and downs. I admire the way they make life work in their own homes. I draw strength from their love for me and letting me be, as well as from their helpful and sometimes forthright suggestions. So next time one of your friends just needs a moment to blow like Mt. Vesuvius about her crazy husband, don't assume things are bad, or even that anything is really wrong. You'll know when something is really wrong. There will be plenty of opportunity for you to gently remind her of the good points in her life too. Just give your friend time to let it all out and let it go. She'll thank you, her spouse would thank you (if they knew), and you'll thank yourself, because you never know when she can return the favor.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Political Sprint....

We are embarking on the final sprint to another election in this country. In a mere two months we will elect a new President, Congress, and various state and local officials to public office. All too often, politics in the modern 24 hour cable news cycle revolves around push button issues designed to raise hackles and emotions, instead of producing ideas and potential plans about real problems.
Indulge me for a minute. Why am I forced to decide which camp I fall under? First of all, labels are detracting and oversimplified. Secondly, choosing a political party on a single issue--which so many voters do, is poor decision-making. Alas, I have never been able to pick a camp and stick to it. I used to say I was fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Make sense out of that. I also used to say I was a Democrat because I was a woman and pro-choice and I didn't think there was any point in being a Republican. I've since discovered that idea isn't true either. Lately, I call myself an Independent. Unfortunately, I feel that an Independent doesn't really mean a whole lot. It basically means you are undecided and eventually you will go behind the curtain and choose between two candidates, neither of which appeal to you.
Our two party, first-past-the-post way of electing officials often times makes voting feel like a choice between two evils. I am certainly not criticizing our founding fathers, after all they created the electoral college which always makes close elections interesting. Our nation has survived for a long time on this Constitution and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I am, however, disappointed that we do not have a more equitable system for creating multiple political parties. The obstacles for third party candidates are huge, both financially and in the mechanics of election procedure. Think how much more interesting our political scene would be if there were five candidates standing for the Presidential election--a true liberal, a true conservative, a guy (or girl) in the middle, an environmentalist, and a populist. I mean, wow, we'd really have some choices. I wonder how much different law making would become if in our national (and state for that matter) Senate had 30 Democrats, 30 Republicans, 20 Green Party members, 10 Independents, and 10 various. I think true consensus might actually take place. Perhaps not initially, but in time, consensus would have to come. Maybe we'd really talk about issues and problems instead of regurgitating blasphemous one liners at each other until we are so gridlocked we throw up our hands and wait until the next election and start again.
But I suppose that's pie in the sky thinking. Perhaps it is naive. Apparently there is alot of that going around this election cycle. What I do know is, I sure wish I had more choices and not because I don't like McCain or Obama. I like them both. I do not like the political divisiveness that surrounds elections in this country. I get to the point of skating around saying what I really think with my friends because I still want to be friends the day after the election regardless of who wins. I am tired of 24 hour cable news that talks to me like I have the attention span of a toddler. I am sick of television ads and misleading billboards. And I am exhausted with the artificial choice between Republican and Democrat because honestly, I don't fit in either place.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Fatigue is a great enemy. I am so tired right now. I'm ready to just sit around screaming like my one year old. He's been at it for 2 hours now. It's 2:09 in the morning. I've given him all the painkiller I can give him for his molars (he's teething again). My older son is in my bed and my husband is out of town. Why now? Why always when I have no help? It's very frustrating. I'm ready to start breaking things just to hear the satisfying crash.
I have turned on the lights and turned on my favorite movie in hopes of riding it out with some semblance of sanity. Tomorrow is going to be rough. They say the darkest hour is just before dawn. Well, dawn is a couple of hours off and here we are. It could get worse. I could be going to the ER right now. He could have a fever or trouble breathing. Both of them could be crying. I could be homeless in a hurricane with two sick children instead of here. I'm trying to quell my anxiety and my anger by focusing on good things.
Maybe I should have a Hershey bar while I'm at it. That would help. Even in the Magical world of Harry Potter, chocolate cures a variety of ills from dementor scares to homesickness. At any rate, for those of you up at this hour, I wish I had some sage advice or at least something funny to say about crying children in the middle of the night. Alas, I don't.
I just hope you're 2 am is better than mine.