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.

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