Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Happy Couple? Trying!

Look at this happy-looking couple. This photo was taken last month on the morning of our 16th wedding anniversary. I posted it on Facebook and I hoped people saw it and thought, "Gosh! Teri's hair looks cute!" and "Wow! Aren't they the poster couple for fabulous marriages? I want to be more like them!" But I try not to lie all the time, so I'll confess that while yes, my hair does turn out cute sometimes, I don't qualify to be a part of a fabulous-marriage poster couple. At least not over the past couple of years.

Since April of 2012, we've had some circumstances in our lives that have caused a lot of stress and anxiety and we have dealt with them by arguing, fighting, yelling, using the silent treatment, threatening, despairing, going on anti-depressants, having another drink, overeating, complaining to friends, manipulating, and putting on brave faces to cover the murderous rage. I think we owe it to our stubbornness and senses of humor that I sit here tonight writing this post to offer some encouragement for other not-quite-fabulous couples along with a list of what has been helping.

If your marriage is less than perfect, here is my encouragement for you:

You're not alone, I swear. Someone is going through the exact same thing you are. Maybe worse. Maybe involving drugs or jail time or a worse upbringing than yours. But it's a true statement: you're not alone. If people weren't so afraid to share their struggles, they would be a lot better off and so would we all. Maybe you can work toward that by being more honest yourself. You'd be surprised at the things people will share once you've been honest about your own crap. And then everybody feels better.

It's worth it. It is worth a tremendous amount of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, any amount of money, and as many tears as it takes to attain a good marriage. It is better to be in a good marriage than a bad marriage. And it's better to be in a good marriage than to be divorced. No one in the world can argue with these two statements. So it's worth it to do what it takes to get into a good marriage. Don't sit around miserable hoping things will eventually change on their own. They won't. You'll just continue in your bad marriage and eventually one of you will leave or you will grow old together but separate and WHY DO THAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE TO? I have a friend going through a divorce right now. Of all the reasons I've heard for divorce, most of them stink, but not hers. And even with a good reason for the divorce, the whole process is heart-wrenching and awful and if she could have worked out the problems and stayed married, she would have.

What I've learned After These Rough Two+ Years:

1) Go to God. Keep going to church. If you are Catholic, keep receiving the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. Keep praying. I often find myself in bed at night feeling bleak. I don't like how the day went, I don't like how we fought, I don't like what my kids witnessed. When I stop the guilt feelings and cry out in prayer for my husband, my kids, and myself - I swear to you that God helps me. There is no fairy dust, no miraculous apology right then, no visible change at all - but my heart finds peace and the dust seems to settle and hope sneaks back into my heart. It is such a relief.

2) Get professional help. Find a counselor. Read a self-help book together. Buy a CD series that attacks the issues you're dealing with. It's like when my kids were little and I was new to mothering and one of them would get sick. I was a frantic, anxious mess. I was convinced my child was going to die or be permanently damaged. And then I'd call the doctor. Somehow, having that third party involved - the pediatrician - was such a relief. Kevin and I are having weekly counseling sessions right now. It gives us hope to have someone else involved. We have employed a professional! -- this has to get better now, right? Well, it has potential. Next to God, our counselor is the best thing we've got going on right now.

3) Apologize. I suck at this, but I can still offer it as advice without being a hypocrite because I am practicing. And as much as I hate being wrong and admitting it, I have to say that it does a tremendous amount of good. Grow up and get humble and be willing to admit when you're wrong - even when you can't stand it! Sometimes my apologies cause me more tears than the problems we're having. They hurt my pride and my security. But I can see the good they do for Kevin and for our marriage. When I'm honest, I see the good they do for me, too, because they make me more mature and more humble.

4) Don't walk out. When I am angry, I want to do only two things: throw stuff and leave. Boy do I want to leave. I get why people storm off, but it makes things worse. If you need to cool down, go to another room, not another address. I have spent a fair amount of imaginative energy concocting what my escape apartment looks like. Sadly, it isn't very luxurious. The furniture is sparse and my kids are always coming over for visits and they're crying. Even my fantasy about getting away from my marriage problems pretty accurately depicts how rotten it would be.

5) Remember you're no party, either. Thomas A Kempis says it so well it has stuck with me since I read it two years ago in The Imitation of Christ: "Learn how to be patient in enduring the faults of others, remembering that you yourself have many which others have to put up with." This has helped me vastly in my marriage, and in all my other relationships as well. Yes, I have to put up with Kevin's various imperfections, but he puts up with mine!

Two post-scripts: One, if you're reading this and you're already divorced, my advice to you is to learn from past mistakes. Approach new relationships with a ridiculous amount of caution. Involve as many trusted friends in your relationship as possible. Don't get into a relationship with someone who doesn't share your faith. And don't have sex before you get married. I bet I could find some study out there proving that if you follow these guidelines, your marriage has at least a 174-percent better chance of survival.

Second post-script: If your spouse is not on board with improving your marriage - all of my advice still applies. You can still go to God on your own, get professional help with YOUR issues, apologize like crazy whenever you have the chance, stay home even when you feel like storming out and slamming the door behind you, and remember that you're not perfect.

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