Chris and I are coming out of rough patch that we’ve been battling for a couple months. Those are never any fun to be in, but they are even LESS fun to come out of because in order to get out of a rough patch, you have to speak to each other. Without fighting. And you have to agree. Without holding resentment. And, in my experience, being in a rough patch by definition means I don’t really want to get along with my husband, much less AGREE with him on anything. So, the working through it part is often much harder than the going through it part.
Being an adult sucks.
For a few months now, I have felt judgment from Chris. I felt like he was angry and irritated, but just wasn’t saying anything to me about it. Which made me do two things. First, it made me feel guilty all the time. I kept asking him if he was mad about something, but he never gave me a reason. I knew there was more going on, so I spent all of the month of March walking around with the weight of the world on my shoulders, all because I felt like my husband was mad at me for any and/or all of the following reasons:
a) I wasn’t doing enough around the house
b) I was going out on week nights too often, leaving him home with the kids too much
c) I wasn’t taking care of myself and so I looked like crap and gained a bunch of weight
d) I was nagging him
e) I was spending too much money
March was not a fun month for me.
By April, though, I began to get pissed off. I was tired of being silently punished, and so I began to silently punish back. Chris wasn’t talking to me? No problem. I wouldn’t talk to him. So, we didn’t. We took care of the household responsibilities, we took care of the kids, we took care of our family obligations, we took care of our jobs, but we decided we didn’t care enough to take care of our marriage. So, we sat in front of the television at night or we came to bed at different times or we planned fun activities with other people instead of with each other. And, quite frankly, we just didn’t care.
Thankfully, though, we had The Great Fight of 2013. We usually have one big, giant blow out fight about once a year. They aren’t usually this early in the year, but it was about time. The subject of this particular fight was money. How we made it, how we spent it, how we saved it, and how we budgeted it. Money, money, money.
But, here’s the thing. The fight wasn’t really about money. How do I know that? Because we ended up screaming at each other, only we were saying things like, “YOU’RE RIGHT, DAMMIT!” and “I COMPLETELY AGREE, YOU ASS!” We weren’t even arguing right. We were actually agreeing with each other more than we were disagreeing. We just needed an outlet for our frustration with each other. We needed a reason to just let it all out. And, yes, to yell.
The Great Fight of 2013 ended with Chris storming off to work, and me storming off to take it out on the dishes in the kitchen sink. While he was gone, I called my sister (isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you fight with your husband?), who validated how I felt like a good sister should, but then who prompted me to share some deeper things with Chris. Like, about how I felt like he was angry at me all the time, and how I was tired of feeling guilty and not even knowing what I felt guilty for. And she said I needed to give him a hug. I started laughing, but she stayed completely serious.
“You need to hug him for at least 30 seconds. And then you need to sit down and fix this. It will be awkward. It will feel forced and uncomfortable, but that’s what you need to do. Because you need to remember that you’re fighting because you love each other, and you’re working through it because you love each other even more.”
She’s a smart cookie.
So, I did what I do best and I wrote some things down. I made a list of the things that I thought were wrong with us. Some of them were things that I thought I had done wrong and some were things that I thought Chris had done wrong. Some were things that we needed to work out together. And I made a list of the three things I could sacrifice in order to make our marriage more of a priority again.
And then I put the list in my bedside table drawer, and haven’t looked at it since.
I thought about getting it out and sharing it with Chris. I’m sure that’s what a good marriage counselor would tell me to do. But the truth is that I’d rather TALK TO him than WRITE AT him. The writing just helped me get my talking thoughts together. And so when Chris came home from work that night, I gave him a 30 second hug like Ginny suggested (freaked him out and I think pissed him off…), but then we sat down and talked.
And that talk was harder than the fighting. Fighting is easy and weak because you can say whatever you want in the heat of battle. You aren’t prepared or planned, your ideas aren’t courteous or polite. You just push it all out there all ugly-like. And I do believe there is a place for that in a marriage. But if you’re going to fight it out, you’ve also got to be willing to take the next step, and that is talking it out.
Fighting it out involves lots of “you” statement. “You never do this…” or “You always do that…” But talking involves thought and planning. It involves lots of “I” statement, “I hear what you are saying, but…” and “I will try to do better.” Talking is about your actions and how you can change. And that’s really when a marriage moves ahead.
So, that’s what we did. And it was hard for Chris. When I first started talking, I explained how I felt and then asked him what he was so angry about. I must have asked 5,000 times in a variety of ways, and the response was always the same, “There isn’t anything. I’m not angry about anything.”
Which made me want to punch him in the face. Really. How the heck was I supposed to fix a problem if he wouldn’t tell me what the problem was????
But then I realized that I needed to LISTEN. I needed to hear what he was telling me. I was waiting for an ADMISSION from him, but that isn’t the same as listening. Listening is hearing what you haven’t planned to hear. And what I hadn’t planned to hear was that Chris wasn’t mad at me. I hadn’t planned to hear that the problem was not me. Chris was having a hard time with something else, and it was coming out as anger and frustration directed at me. I had created a problem in my head, become angry about that problem, reacted to that problem, only to discover that that wasn’t actually the problem at all.
We talked about how Chris can get better at dealing with this issue. We talked about how I need to stop making everything personal and about me. Mostly, though, we talked about how we could both work to make our home a place where we wanted to be. A place where God, our marriage, and our family were the top priorities. We set some new guidelines and rules (i.e. no house guests without warning, no purchases over $100 without planning, etc.) and we put our family in time out.
This weekend, we are in family time out. We aren’t allowed to leave, to travel, to make plans – nothing. We are in lock down until we get ourselves stable again. We can’t grow our marriage if we’re always on the go. Sometimes we need to stop and reset. So, that’s what we are doing this weekend. And in the next few months, we are wrangling in our obligations. I’m not committing to anything else, we’re not traveling anywhere, Chris isn’t hiding behind house projects to avoid having to hang out with me. We are here at home, and we are together.
AND WE’RE GOING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT IT, DAMMIT!
Marriages aren’t built in the land of unicorns and good lighting and perfect parenting. Good, solid marriages are built in the land of “YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!” and runny noses and never quite making it to church on time (or at all…). Because good, solid marriage are not about where they are built. You can build good, solid marriages in whatever surroundings you have. All you need is a willing spirit, a whole lot of patience, a determined attitude, and more love for your spouse than you think you have inside of you.
I mean, how hard is that?