I think the holidays are hard on marriages, generally speaking. Whether it’s arguments over Santa’s budget, traveling to see family, or just trying to make time for the two of you, this time of year seems to suck the life out of most marriages that I know. Mine is no exception.
For the past month, Chris and I have just not been in synch. We’re just off. I try really hard to take a look at my own actions when we go through phases like this. Usually, being more aware of changes I can make in myself prompts changes in both of us. Plus, I am my own person and I only have control over my own actions, so why not start with myself? What has been especially frustrating over the past month or so is that no matter how hard I looked at myself, I honestly could not find what my problem was. Sure, there are always things I could do better – speak more kindly, be more thoughtful, say thank you more. But those little adjustments weren’t really the problem. For once, I wasn’t the one who could change anything. This problem was outside of me.
Naturally, instead of then trying to put myself in Chris’s shoes to better understand whatever he was going through, I did the opposite and just got mad. I was mad that he wasn’t really affectionate lately. Mad that he didn’t want to talk a whole lot. Mad that he was disconnected and distant. I started interpreting silences as judgment from him. I do that a lot when Chris and I are in a rut or something. I make up conversations and accusations in my head.
Makes me feel like crap.
Makes the situation worse.
And yet, it’s what I do.
In church this Sunday (where I tend to have all kinds of divine revelations about things like my marriage, my parenting, and my much needed, long overdue haircut), my minister gave a sermon about how important singing is throughout the holidays. It was such a simple, joyful sermon, about the importance of lifting your voice to God in praise and thanksgiving this time of year. He talked about how sometimes singing puts words to situations that have no words to express them. He talked about how song is especially important when people are going through a hard time during the holidays. That making a joyful noise in the middle of a really hard time is a form of not just praise, but of emotional release. And he asked us to think about those people who may have a hard time this Christmas season finding their own voice.
Immediately, I thought of Chris.
Chris has been going through a really hard time lately in areas and ways that it isn’t my place to share. Very rarely does Chris keep things to himself. We pretty much talk through everything together, even if it’s not long, dramatic, emotional conversations, we still usually talk it out about whatever is going on in our lives. But, for his own reasons, Chris has chosen to keep what he is going through to himself lately. I respect that and I understand that. In this particular situation, he’s dealing with things the best way he can and that means working through it in his head before he is ready to talk about it with me. And I’m okay with that. That’s what I’m here for; whenever he’s ready, I’ll be right here.
But because he hasn’t been talking it over with me, I have been a bit selfish and, to be quite honest, I haven’t been thinking too much about his situation. It didn’t relate to me, it didn’t concern me, and so I put it in the back of my mind. But this past month has taught me that when they say that marriage means bearing each other’s burdens, they aren’t just talking about the burdens that we share. Sometimes, marriage is about bearing someone else’s burdens that have nothing to do with you. Not making that burden about you. Not taking it as your own. Simply bearing the burden by silently standing next to them, even when you aren’t involved. Even when you aren’t asked to help.
I’ve failed miserably at all of that in the past month. The problems between Chris and I right now – short tempers, no time for each other, nothing to say to each other – aren’t about us. They aren’t about me. They are about what my husband is going through and about taking on his struggles as my own, without making it about me.
For some reason, I thought all of this out during church on Sunday and so I spent the rest of Sunday and most of Monday thinking about what to do now. How exactly does one bear a burden without making it about them?
For one thing, I can stop taking things so personally. Just because Chris is in a quiet or snippy mood doesn’t mean that it’s got anything to do with me. Sometimes a person is just dealing with something and they become quiet or snippy. The End. I can stop making those times into episodes which revolve around me. Another thing I can do is be the one to let things go. Normally, Chris is the one in our relationship who lets arguments go. He walks away or he disengages first and that, in turn, brings my defenses down and defuses the situation. But during the past month, as the stress of the situation he has been dealing with weighs on him, he has become very confrontational. And Chris is just not a confrontational person. Being the headstrong person that I am, my first instinct is to fight back. But if he doesn’t walk away and I don’t walk away, the result is that we’re fighting all the time. Part of bearing someone’s burden without making it about me is that I might need to be the one who lets things go. It doesn’t have to be about me being right. Sometimes, for the sake of the person that I love, it’s just not about me at all and the best thing I can do is sit back and let the storm blow.
It’s really hard to be in the position where the place that my marriage is in has nothing, in fact, to do with me at all. It makes me feel out of control and I hate that feeling. But part of bearing the burden in a marriage is learning to work through things that have nothing to do with you, working through things that are outside of your control, and standing beside your partner as they weather a storm that doesn’t impact you at all. And I know that when that storm passes for Chris, it will somehow have made us both stronger, even when it has nothing at all to do with me.