Sunday, October 12, 2014

Throwing marriage advice out the window

I’m the luckiest girl in the world.  No really, I am.  It sounds cliché but its true- I’m married to my best friend.  When other women sit around and husband-bash, I’m at a loss.  I might be able to think of something that irritates me about him, but I’d have to think long and hard.  And even if I did come up with something, it would probably be, “I don’t like the way he likes his egg yolks runny.”

Marriage to this man has brought me the greatest joy I ever thought possible in this life.  But the past 13 and a half years of marriage haven’t been a non-stop carousel ride.  We’ve had our hard spots. One was about a year and a half ago on a cold and foggy February day when we had the worst fight we had ever had.  I acted like a tantrum-throwing two year-old and then left to spend the night in a hotel.

What was going on?  How did we get to this point?  I was terrified.

Even in my anger I knew I was married to the most amazing man I had ever met.  If I couldn’t make a marriage work with him, there was no way I’d ever be able to make a marriage work with anyone.  It was a long, miserable night as I tossed and turned in that hotel bed with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  That night I had a long time to think about what had brought us to that point, and where we needed to go from there.

It was easy to see how a few angry words could turn into an angry day, which could then turn into a week, and then a year.  I saw how easy it is for love- and an amazing one at that- to be so easily lost, and I was petrified.  I still loved him of course, but I knew that when I got home, we needed to re-commit ourselves to what I already thought was a pretty solid marriage.  As wonderful as our marriage had been up to that point, it was still as fragile as a robin’s egg.

I sat in that hotel room thinking of some of the marriage advice I had been given as a 19 year-old bride, and thought what a huge load of crap so much of it was… at least for us.  There is no one-size-fits-all handbook of marriage advice that fits all marriages.  Some of the worst marriage advice for us came from wonderfully committed couples who had been married for years.  Some of it just didn’t work for us.  He and I came from two opposite worlds.  It’s like the bird who married the fish, and many of the challenges we’ve had to overcome have stemmed from that. We’ve had to come up with our own rule book- one that works just for us. I realize many of these things seem antiquated, sexist, and everything in between, but these are some of the things that pulled (and kept) us out of our marriage funk.

-We go to bed angry with each other sometimes.  “Never go to bed angry” was probably the most frequent advice we received as newlyweds.  But what they probably didn’t take into consideration was the fact that this little Latin firecracker sometimes needs 8 hours of sleep to cool off and think logically.  Anything I say after 9pm should be discounted as coming from a hormonal, sleep-deprived lunatic.  If it waits until morning, what would have been a 3 hour disagreement is resolved in 5 minutes.

-We know each others passwords. “In a marriage, you have to give each other some privacy,” I’ve heard it said.  But there’s an unspoken trust that stands when he knows I have nothing to hide from him and that we are an open book to one another.  He has full access to my email, Facebook account, cell phone, text messages, bank account… everything.  And with the exception of his work email (because of security purposes with the company), I have access to his as well.

-We take vacations often without each other.  “You need to become one in marriage,” but we are so very different people and we have different circles of friends and hobbies.  His idea of recreation is my idea of torture, and vice versa.  We would both be miserable if we melded into each other.  We’ve each made compromises, but recently I was listening to NPR and they ran a story that caught my attention and solidified my resolve to allow ourselves our differences.  “Harmony in an orchestra is a melting pot of various sounds, pitches, and rhythms.  If all sounds are exactly the same, it is no longer a harmony.”  Heaven knows that if there were two of me in this marriage, it would be a disaster.  We desperately need each other’s differences to balance each other out.

-We disagree often with each other, even in front of our children, but quarrel seldom.   “You need to be a unified front to your children, and take disagreements out of the room where your children don’t have to hear,” they say.  Dennis is a staunch conservative, I’m much more liberal.  I don’t like guns, he loves them.  I love big cities, he loves the quiet country.  He listens to country music, I cringe.   But rarely do we quarrel about our differences.  He keeps guns in the house and takes regular hunting trips.  I travel as often as I can, and he supports me.  He even listens to his honky-tonk whenever we drive together.  We aren’t threatened by our differences.  But in the things that do matter, such as our love for the Lord, we are a unified front and our children know it.  I want our children to see how people can disagree on issues, even on big issues, but still co-exist peacefully, without a spirit of contention.

-…But we have hobbies that we enjoy together.  When we were first married, one of our only common interests was playing racquetball.  The USU racquetball courts were home to many of our date nights the first few years we were married.   But now we love to draw up blue-prints for future projects together.  I bounce ideas off him all the time for photography projects and he loves to show off latest his MacGyver creations to me.

-Our marriage comes first, even before the children.  This one feels a little selfish sometimes, and it’s hard to exclude the children from some of our conversations and activities.  But this was one of the first things we knew needed to change after my night in the hotel room, and immediately.  We date each other weekly now and rarely miss a week.  Sometimes our dates are only a walk around the block after the kids have gone to bed, or a run to Costco for groceries and a hot dog.  Either way, we make time for each other as often as we can.  One of my greatest moments of triumph came when my son’s Sunday school teacher told me that he told her that his parents loved each other “… a little too much.” (Insert eye-roll).

-When we’re upset, we talk straight and honestly with each other without any fancy therapist language.  We let each other know, usually right then and there, when something doesn’t fly, and don’t waste time trying to find the text book ways to approach an issue.  But we do insist on honest and open dialogue.  And rarely do the disagreements last longer than 10 minutes.  Early on in our marriage, however, we established “rules of combat.”  Certain things, like name-calling, are strictly off limits, no matter how angry we are with each other.

-We ask each other for permission.  As old-fashioned as it might seem, we check with each other whenever we can- when planning trips, spending money, committing to do something, anything.  “When you give your time away, you also give away mine and the children’s as well,” he once told me when I had committed myself to a time-consuming endeavor without checking with him first.  How true that is, especially in a large family.

-We don’t hold back compliments from each other.  My husband is incredible.  He really is.  I secretly pity all other women because they aren’t married to him.  But if he doesn’t know I feel like I hit the 500 million dollar lottery when I married him, then it wouldn’t matter if I did.

-We don’t fart in front of each other.  I know… laugh if you will, but it’s true.  If my tummy is rumbling, I leave the room, as does he.  Thank you, Dennis.  And I’m sure he silently thanks me even more.  He has seen me push a baby (five of them, actually) out of the nether regions of my body and held back my hair when I vomited after surgery, but there is a certain level of lazy comfort we never want to reach.

-We still try to impress each other.  His praise is still the one that means the most to me.  When it comes down to it, his and my children’s opinion of me, should be the only ones that matter.  Just before he comes home from work every day, I try to straighten up the house and run a brush through my hair.  I ask myself, “If he and I were single today, would he still choose me?”

-We don’t give 50/50.  This was the best piece of advice we received from a stake president.  He encouraged us instead to each give 80/20.  “When you’re each giving 80% and only expecting 20% from the other, then instead of a 100% marriage, it’ll be 160%.  If both of you do everything you can to lessen the other person’s load and you’ll have a happy marriage.”

-We leave each other cheesy love notes.  On the bathroom mirror, in text messages, on scraps of paper in the kitchen- any where we can and as often as we can.

-We keep all of our friendships with members of the opposite sex at an arm’s length distance.  “Healthy flirtation”- that’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.  There is no such thing.  We have several spoken and unspoken guidelines that we follow when interacting with other men and women, and I’m sure this especially seems antiquated to people.  But I’ve known one too many people who didn’t see the harm in a quick lunch date or a flirty email message- whose marriage (and ultimately children) ended up paying the price.

We haven’t “arrived” nor are we “safe” from the possibility of our marriage ever failing.  I don’t think we ever will be. We still have a lot that we need to work on, both individually and together, to make our marriage stronger. Our marriage, as wonderful as it is, is still as fragile as it was that foggy day in February.  It takes daily, even constant, coddling and attention- but how grateful I am for my marriage to this man.  People often talk about dreams they have for their children.  I really only have one.  And it’s that they marry someone who is of the caliber of their father.


Cher said...

Aww, that is the sweetest post. I totally relate to most of it too! Loved it. Thanks for the reminder though to put him before even the kids. We need a date night asap. :)

Becky said...

Great advice Rita! Dennis is a wonderful father and husband just as you are a wonderful mother and wife. Coming from a bird married fish marriage myself i consider this very valuable advice. Love you!