When Your Marriage Is Not About You

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.

(le sigh)

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.


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28 Thoughts to “When Your Marriage Is Not About You”

  1. Very well said. It has been so sweet, an honor to watch your grow over the years. Thank you for always being so open and sharing.

  2. What a great post, Katie. I love reading about the highs and lows in your marriage (As a newlywed myself). Thanks for sharing!

  3. Katie, it is like you are in my head right now. Mike and I are going through a very similar situation right now and all day long I’ve been having imaginary fights with him in my head. I always win, of course. But dude, it’s hard. It’s really hard right now. I’m trying really hard to communicate more and more efficiently and trying not to let his moods affect me so much. Le sigh indeed. Well, hugs and good luck working it out. As always, thanks for making me feel like I’m not alone in my weirdness.

  4. Christine

    I am new to your blog, and so happy to have found it. Marriage and parenthood is so challenging–for me, the most challenging moments are when I just need to let things “be”–both good and bad. I just get scared, but it is so rewarding and strengthening to just let go. You can really only control yourself–the rest is not really yours to worry about, you know? hang in there.

  5. Well-said. Thank you and thanks to Chris for being okay with you sharing this. That is a tough place to be in, and it is always difficult to admit our mistakes and take responsibility for the role we play in any given situation in our relationship with our partner. I hope the storm blows over soon and that all of you enjoy a happy Christmas.

  6. Jen

    Katie, once again your honesty and vulnerability have touched me & inspired me to take a closer look at my own marriage. Thank you for always being so willing to get real. Your blog is a blessing to me as I navigate my second year of marriage.

  7. Cindy

    I definitely know how you feel. I am going through the same thing with my husband right now also. He has been so negative ever since we moved to a new state. Sometimes we just go through these phases in life. You sure are dealing with it like a true Christian lady:) Thanks for sharing.

  8. Jessica W.

    You know how sometimes you sit in church and wonder why anyone else bothered coming today since the sermon was obviously just for you? Yeah, that. Thank you. 🙂

  9. WAY TO GO KATIE! It’s so hard to sit back and analyze exactly what’s going on, ESPECIALLY in the whirlwind of the holidays. I’m glad you have such a great church family to help support you through this crazy rollercoaster called life, and please please please don’t feel like you’re the only one who likes to make up scenarios in her head about why her husband isn’t as talkative as she is. Sometimes our wonderful, patient, amazing men just have to process things differently, and it’s awesome that you guys are good at doing that. Because, as much as you give yourself a hard time – you ARE good at it. Thanks for again being an inspiration and for making your imaginary friends feel like we’re not the only ones! HUGS!! ;o)

  10. This is exactly why I love reading your blog. Your honesty.It’s so tough because we as women want to be the one who fixes anything wrong, and we often also think that if something is wrong, it is automatically because of our actions. It’s tough. But Chris will appreciate your actions and what you’re doing right now more than you’ll ever know, especially after he works his way through this.

  11. I really admire you for taking the time to look at yourself and evaluate your own actions. This is something I struggle with daily. You are a good example to other wives out there.

  12. I really enjoyed this post, Kate. We go through mini-versions of this scenario multiple times a week. John Michael has a high-stress, high-demand job and when he gets home he’s almost always in a bad mood and not talking. Usually he goes to the gym and then as soon as he gets home he’s fine. But I had to learn not to take it personally and to give him an hour alone to just decompress even though I’d been waiting all day to talk to him. I think a lot of people to relate to this post in different ways – thanks for the reminder about not being selfish with marriage!

  13. Meredith

    That was AWESOME! And you are amazing. I love this post. One I’ll definitely come back to.

  14. Talia

    Such an encouraging post…thanks.

  15. Lyndsey

    this is awesome! Thanks for writing!

  16. Excellent post. Great thought and “advice.” It has made me start to ponder my own responses and how I can deal or react differently, even if neither of us is in “crisis” mode. Thank, Katie.

  17. Thank you SO much for sharing! And those fights in your head, I’ve had them too. I’m glad I’m not the only one. But I’m also grateful that you brought some perspective to “it’s not about you”…I need to remember that. Thank you!

  18. Love this post. It is in times like this I strive to up lift and support my husband more then ever.

  19. Kat

    I am so impressed with your ability to self reflect. I, like you, like to always be very aware of my marriage and where we are. And I too, le sigh indeed, end up blaming others (*cough* Jon *cough*) when i can’t come up with something simple as an explanation. And I…well…you get the point. I relate to this post. A lot. Now I have to go self reflect why I blame my husband for us not being as cuddly lately while I am sitting behind my computer screen.

  20. Amen to all comments preceding my own! This is a great and very honest post. I tend to take everything personally and make it about me even when it might not be. This post helped open my eyes a little bit. Thanks for sharing!

  21. I can see so much of myself in your words. My husband and I are pretty much the same way. When a problem is plaguing him, he needs to “brain it out” himself before seeking my input, and I am more of the “let’s talk it out until one of us is asleep or deaf” approach. Somehow, we always come to terms with whatever each of us needs to convey, but the holidays can make things more complicated. Thank you for your honesty, so refreshing! I found your site by way of Alaina at View From Down Here. Great site!

  22. Gee, I’m not the only one?

  23. jenny-bird

    Sometimes all you need is an hour of peace to reflect. I know exactly what you mean about the conversation going on inside your head. It’s easy to get carried away by your own presumptions. Be calm and carry on!

  24. Sarah H.

    Great post!! This past few weeks have been hard for us too. Neither of us is getting a lot of down time due to trying to get everything done for Christmas. I LOVE the idea of singing more, as someone who sings ALL the time…I can say that it defiantly helps make me joyful!

  25. Really awesome post. So brave of you to share the good, the bad and the ugly.. God Bless You.
    I used to get a little devotional a day and when they are ones that I want keep, I save them in an ENCOURAGEMENT file … here’s the link to the devotional that I thought you’d like… http://powertochange.com/blogposts/2009/06/04/love-in-relationships-2/

  26. Aoife

    I think your post is very mature and wise. Often I have to hold my mouth shut and learn the art of wifely patience. My husband has been testing my patience for a long time now. I sometimes feel like he is punishing me, but then I remember that he cannot control every thing that happens to him. Btw, I really admire you and Chris and I just wanted to say that I know it must be hard to find the time to blog post over this busy season, so thank you for keeping us all updated!

  27. Beautifully written…and something I can relate to. Thanks for giving voice to the secret things that occur in a marriage.

  28. Claudia Boress

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now. My husband has been in such a rut and I have been taking things so personal that it’s causing lots of friction in our household. I didn’t realize my husband was going through something on his own because I feel as though his life and world revolve around me! I will take your advice to heart and know that it will help me. I feel it in my heart that what you said is true. Thank you for sharing.

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