Marriage is Like a Mirror

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I get a lot of feedback when I blog about anything that has to do with my husband. He doesn’t read my blog, but I think he’s come to terms with this as we both hope that this venture will become viable at some point and that takes readers that are interested in what I have to say. (11 cents earned so far! Woot, woot!) While I, myself, am sometimes uncomfortable with the level of exposure that blogging brings, one of the joys of this gig is getting to write about things that mean so much to me.

I’m a student of people. I love psychology and understanding why people do what they do. I’ve always been intrigued by relationships and deeply committed to personal growth and providing a healthy home for my children, something that I often lacked as a child. This focus has driven a lot of my life, and I’m grateful for the perspective it’s given me.

While it’s cliche to the extreme, relationships are hard – I think anyone who has been in one more than five minutes understands that. But, why? Why are they so hard? An easy way that I’ve found to explain the dynamic is that marriage is like a mirror. After what I hope is some serious vetting on our part, we “fall in love with our soul mate,” and get married, handing them over the keys to who we really are. In this package, often overlooked and ignored, is the mirror that shows us who lives under our shell, naked, exposed and raw. We tend to hide from that person ourselves, so trusting someone else to care for them is a deeply intimate risk. But, I’ve found more growth and personal understanding in this process than in anything else in my life.

When we put things out into the world, those closest to us naturally reflect that back. Sometimes, we like what we see, but often, we very much do not. I think the thing that sinks most potentially great marriages is blaming the person holding the mirror, as if the messenger is responsible for what you see reflected there. There are definitely instances where our natural defensiveness finds us shoving the corresponding mirror into our spouse’s face and yelling, “Oh yea? You think I’m so bad?!” This is a sacred task, and when it goes wrong, it can be incredibly, devastatingly ugly because the ammunition available is so powerful. Still, no greater intimacy is created in a relationship than the one you find when you lean into this with a worthy partner, understand it and stop running from it.

I do not like to give people power over my inner life, and I like it even less so lately. People who meet me for the first time find me intimidating (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told that, it would be way more than 11 cents. Ha!) I am a naturally boundaried and self-protected person, and few people can really shake me. Except my husband. The gift of marriage is that while I would never actively choose this, it happens constantly. Every new evolution of our relationship peels back a layer and leaves us both vulnerable. When things shift and change, and you see fear and panic in your partner, what they’re really saying is, “Can you still handle this job? Can I still trust you with this? Am I still safe with you? Is it even acceptable to be this naked?” When the answer is, “This is okay. We’re still okay. You’re okay,” there is room for the some of the most pure gratitude and connection that life offers.

Going through significant changes in a marriage is scary and quite difficult. I participate in an online space where the whole point is navigate this in ways that are healthy for families and relationships. This is a unique forum where the point isn’t who is right or wrong but how we can overcome the challenges and grow. One of the most beautiful things to watch play out in this group is the real life, in-the-trenches work of working it out. While changes will almost inevitably expose weaknesses in a relationship, there is a definitive silver lining as well. When it’s impossible to live in pretense, you either get out or you get better. If I could impart one thing that I’ve learned here, it would be this – I know this is scary. Take a deep breath, and look in the mirror. What you find will be priceless. Don’t run away. It will be worth it.

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The Double-Edged Sword of Dogma

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For the first five years that we lived here, we were in the middle of a small, cliquish town about 15 minutes from our current house. I vividly remember the missionaries showing up at our door one day and knocking. From across the house, I hollered at my kids, “Do not answer the door, or you’ll be grounded!!” It wasn’t until after they’d given up and left that I realized that, being the middle of the summer, all the windows on our 1919 house were open for ventilation. They probably thought I was a complete and utter nutcase. (I plead the fifth. Ha!)

We don’t get many Mormon missionaries here. I think the local wards have an APB out on our subdivision as a “no-fly zone.” However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked the other day. I opened the door to a father, an old man and a little boy. The father reminded me of one of our neighbors – a tall, teddy bear of a man that is incredibly kind and soft-hearted. He introduced me to his young son, flashed his pamphlet and asked me a leading question about how don’t we all want to be happy. I told him I was in the middle of something (I was), but I would take his pamphlet and look at it (I didn’t, really.) Before he left, however, I looked him right in the eye and told him very sincerely to have a good day.

What else do you say when you can’t say what you would really like to? I can’t bombard strangers at my door with invasive questions like, “Why can’t that little boy have a birthday party? Why does Jesus care?” “Why would I trade one dogmatic culture for another that is probably even worse?” “What would happen if that old man didn’t approve of something you said or did?” “What if you had questions? Would your spouse stand by you?”

See, the red pill is a fearful thing, and you can’t force feed it to anybody. You wouldn’t want to – you didn’t want to. In most instances, changing perspectives happen on accident. Still, that last question encompasses a gigantic elephant-in-the-room in Mormon culture. Who am I outside the paradigm, and will my spouse, especially, still love me there? I consider myself incredibly lucky in this area. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve wrestled and fought and wrenched our hearts to sort this out, but we’re still here – together. It is never certain, even now.

I have a dear friend who I’ve known for several years. We met well before our lives were turned upside down, but became close because we found ourselves walking side-by-side on very similar paths. As my own marriage has weathered the storm in a way where things are looking up, hers has not. I have such a range of emotions about this. I’ve watched her do the absolute best that she knows how in brutal and unforgiving circumstances. My husband has been inoculated with perspective and nuance, and it’s saved us quite literally. He had already cut the figurative apron strings in many ways before we found ourselves swept up on this ride that has become our life. Her husband is still tightly tethered by a cord that is suffocating what used to be a very loving and fulfilling marriage. She has held on much, much longer than I think I could have in the same situation, and I admire her more than I can say no matter how her story plays out. This was weighing heavily on my mind the last time I went to church. I sat in that congregation and mentally looked around the room and thought, “They own these men and, by extension, they own these marriages.” I wanted to cry.

This is the double-edged sword of dogmatic religion. I know without a doubt that the structure, expectations and rules work incredibly well for many, many people I know. I have friends and family that are baffled by the shifts in our life. I envy them in many ways. I know that things look very black and white from that perspective because I lived there for a very long time. However, the truth is that it cuts incredibly deep when you find yourself unexpectedly picked up and plopped down behind the curtain. Real people are here. Real families. Real marriages. And, they are really hurting from the complete and utter lack of context that allows for them to remain safe and flourish in their families in such an unforgiving cultural narrative of conformity. What used to feel safe and comforting and sure to me now leans sinister and controlling and threatening. If you’re not with us, you’re against us feels much less friendly when you find yourself outside the circle.

I’m genuinely not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. If you’re happy where you are, I am so, so glad. Stay there! Do what works well for you and your family. However, please realize that not everything is a good fit for every person in the same way, and have charity when you see outliers. (I really am still very much the same person I was before my life became a public spectacle.) Above all, if you do ever find yourself in the situation that my own husband has, please, for the love of all that is holy, please look at the bigger picture. Love each other. Turn toward each other. Let the peripheral people, pressures and parts of your life go for a bit until you find yourself grounded again. Do not make permanent decisions that will affect you and your children out of fear or tradition or dogma. Ultimately, you and your loved ones will pay the price, and it makes no sense to leave that in the hands of people, priorities and organizations that can wash their hands of it and walk away. Put the sword down before you find yourself using it against the people that love you the most. Give yourself and your family that gift.

I Wouldn’t Trade This For a First Kiss

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I had a dream a few weeks ago that took my breath away and has made me thoughtful. It was one of those convoluted dreams where random things are jumping all over the place, for the most part. However, right before I woke up, I dreamed that some guy kissed me. (Don’t worry, it was a faceless, nobody man – nobody that I know or that actually exists.) I woke up with this lingering feeling of, I don’t know, being seen?

My husband and I dated for two years before we got married, and it was a passionate and intense courtship – even volatile at times. We’re still very much in love. He’s my best friend and a man of impeccable integrity. But, a romantic he is not. We’ve been married for going on 23 years. Things change over time, and it’s very natural and expected. Still, I have twinges occasionally where I long for what the past was. It’s an illogical feeling in a lot of ways because what was amazing about it came with a lot of uncertainty – things that I am so glad to see gone in our daily life. But, humans are sometimes ridiculous, aren’t we? We fail to see that the good comes with some bad, and the sometimes boring is infused with a softness, a quietness, a peace and a comfort that no amount of excitement can replace.

We went on a date this weekend. We haven’t been out for a bit. We don’t have a set schedule because, well, we’re having a rough year financially (ha!), and we tend to both hate that sort of structure anyway. He’ll just randomly text me with, “Where am I taking you tonight?” We didn’t do anything fancy, but I put on makeup and cute clothes and spent an evening away from our kids with the man I love. This morning, my husband got up and got in the bath. (He’s a bath guy; I’m all about showers, so we have both a big, soaker tub and a walk-in shower in our master bath.) Our water heater is on the fritz, and he hasn’t gotten around to replacing the element that’s out, so it runs at about half heat and is particularly bad first thing in the morning. After about 10 minutes, he called my name, and I walked in the bathroom.

As I opened the door, my husband looked very sheepish, and he was kind of laughing at himself. Raising my eyebrows, I asked him what was up. After a bit of hemming and hawing and berating himself for not fixing the water heater yet, he tentatively said that he thought he should just ask me to boil him some hot water so that he could get warm. He had no real expectations that I would get up and do this. I could have laughed as well at the thought and walked back to what I was doing. But, I didn’t. I graciously boiled him water and brought it in and dumped it in the tub. I didn’t have to. He knew it, and I knew it. With laughing eyes as he reveled in the luxury of the hot water, I commented that this little favor was better than buying him a gift, and he wholeheartedly agreed as he sunk into the water.

In the moments where I feel that twinge of longing for a relationship that is young and new and exciting and actively romantic, I could miss these moments. I could make the mistake of thinking that I have a lack because life ebbs and flows. We’re not young anymore. We have kids that are growing up and riding the edge of moving on with their lives. Our history runs incredibly deep. He has hurt me like no one else I’ve known and loved me to depths that I could never have imagined were possible when I was a young and naive 18-year-old bride. It is true that we don’t always see each other. He can walk in the room, and my brain doesn’t always register that my stomach should flutter. I know it’s the same for him. The reality is that my brain, my heart, just sees him as a part of me after almost a quarter-century of knowing him. There are times where I look deep in his eyes, and it all comes flooding back, but most moments are a quiet knowing that he’s my person, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

Right now, he is putting on a tie and getting ready to go to church, and I am writing my blog and not getting ready at all. He knows this, and we don’t really talk about it. It’s not like it’s festering under the surface; it just is. This could be a major issue for us. But, see, I can smile and boil this man water for no other reason that I don’t want him to be cold. So, he can give me space and time and love in our unusual circumstances. Kisses that take your breath away are a moment, and they can be surrounded by a million things that aren’t healthy or beautiful or useful. I suppose this might sound sad to couples who are in younger relationships. It is not. (We still kiss.) It is quietly, peacefully and comfortingly beautiful, and I wouldn’t trade it for a hundred breathtaking first kisses. I’ve lived enough to know how very lucky I am.

 

22 Years is a Lot to Lose

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I would not encourage my own kids to marry as young as we did, necessarily, but it’s been a pretty good thing. It’s also been a pretty hard thing. It depends on the day. (We were 16 and 21 when we started dating and 18 and 23 when we married. Oy.) The truth is that, no matter at what age you join your life with someone, it is both everything you imagine and nothing that you could have anticipated. Sometimes, I think that my husband and I have a unique relationship to the extent of the extreme ups and downs that we navigate. There are days that I walk around gushing unicorns and rainbows about how wonderful my marriage is, and days where my closest friends have seen me fall-apart-ugly-crying about how I don’t know if we can make it through the mess. Often, that all happens in the same week, and both extremes are the truth.

Like my #metoo post, this subject is hard to dive into because there’s so much there and it runs so deep for me. My husband is freaking amazing, such a good person and has absolutely stood by me in some of my hardest moments this year. He’s also incredibly stubborn and a black-and-white thinker, so the changes that 2018 has brought have been really, really hard for us to navigate. I think we all come into marriage with unspoken contracts about how our life together will look. Maybe there are actually some lucky couples that hit 25 or 50 years and everything in that basic structure has been just as they expected. I would imagine that it happens. That, however, has not been our experience. At all. Over the past decade and most intensely over the last few years, our entire world has been picked up, shaken vigorously and dumped out at our feet in a mixed-up mess. While we’re in the process of picking up the pieces, we’re both doing it differently and in ways that aren’t necessarily part of our original agreement. My relationship with religion right now is tumultuous at best. No matter how much you love your spouse (and do we ever!), this is a frightening and uncertain process.

I think most couples who have struggled (all of us, probably) have to weigh the risks and benefits to a relationship. This is especially true when dynamics have shifted in dramatic and integral ways. We’ve concluded that, for our marriage, what we’ve built in 22 years would be an awful lot to lose. (My husband regularly talks to one of his brothers who’s gone through a very ugly divorce. It’s like an inoculation every time. I should really send my brother-in-law a gift in thanks for how good it is for our marriage to have that perspective.) What began as two separate (if naive) entities on a warm day in the spring of 1996 has become a huge grove with intertwined roots that weave in and out of every part of our world and that of our seven children. It would be difficult and infinitely more painful and damaging for us to try to take that apart, and we don’t want to. We love each other fiercely. We’re best friends. We laugh a LOT. We’re well matched. We’ve also both changed so much, and that is hard stuff.

This is not a treatise on divorce, so please don’t internalize any unintended shame if you have made the choice to end your own marriage. I respect that decision and understand that not every relationship can be saved and not every couple can move forward in a healthy way. On our bad days, I’m not always certain that we will. Most days, I agree with my therapist that we’ll be just fine and that our foundation is incredibly strong and healthy. (He’s also good in bed, but I promised I would try to not overshare. Sorry, not sorry. Ha!)

I’m sure I will have a lot more posts about my marriage that are funny and witty and come easily for me, but the truth is that my life (and probably yours) is messier than a one-liner or quip. My relationship with my husband is really hard right now. It’s also unbelievably beautiful and worth it. While he doesn’t really do social media and may never read this blog, above all I want him to know how impressive I find him as a person. It’s been a struggle, but there is no one in this world that I would rather wrestle with (literally and figuratively!) and fight for than you. I know things have changed a lot. I know sometimes you look at our life and get discouraged that it’s not at all what you expected. Despite the laundry list of things that are different than what we signed up for, one thing remains the same – I still choose you. I trust you. I have your back. I’m not going anywhere. 22 years would just be too much to lose.

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