A generation ago couples married, raised kids, stayed together.
I was in a happy marriage once. Young and dumb, but really in love. One look at her and I was excited all over. We planned, dreamed and worked hard to make our life together as amazing as possible. Us against the world. Our first son showed up within a year. A major economic recession hit. Finances were extremely limited. I had eight different jobs in one year. Mary Beth took in sewing. Food stamps came in handy a few times.Our birth families prepared us best they could. Prior to marriage we were fully versed in how to deal with conflict by their example. They taught us to fight, lie and avoid. On occasion we’d get creative by acknowledging an issue but only float it above our heads like a cartoon dialog bubble.
Did we communicate? Sure, like co-employees at work. “Can you pick up a gallon of milk on the way home?” or “Don’t forget to be home on time tomorrow, Jason has a soccer game.” Discussions other than shoptalk? Not so much.
What happened to 'til death do us part?'
Of course we tried to discuss and solve problems but the issue we’d start on would careen into others; blame accelerated and within a nano-second we’d be at each other’s throats. I guess our only comfort was our attempts to console each other after a huge, knock-down battle; so we did have more kids. Making up can be a wonderful experience. Short-lived, but wonderful.
We grew apart. Became like roommates. Hanging in there for the kids. Thinking a lot about being trapped. Wondering how something so amazing could get so difficult. Trudging through our lives.
Counseling failed – failed miserably.
Planning for the end, the word divorce crept into our arguments. It seemed like a matter of time. I began to justify how it would be better for the kids, better for Mary Beth, better for me. Bleak.
We could have inspired all the sad songs that propel Adele’s career. Is it any wonder why her sad songs have such a large audience?
But here is where our story takes a turn to the unexpected…
we not only survived as a couple, we found that lovin’ feelin’ again.
Like every couple we were attracted by an opposite, only to find out that being opposite meant we were very different from each other.
And not quite as perfect as the other hoped. Like two computers with different operating systems: ”Sorry that file isn’t recognized.” We were two people separated by a common language.
Opposites attract but not every opposite trait is compatible. Bridging the gulf was not an option if we were going to make it. We needed to learn how to identify, honor and respect our differences. YBH? (Yea, but how?)
Somehow we wound up at the registration table for a Love for Life workshop. I truly can’t remember even discussing whether or not we should go. A grace of God thing. But there we were, learning about each other. Seeing and talking to other couples was helped us realize that we were normal.
Here is a short list of what I think rejuvenated our relationship:
- Having a “silent referee” in the room.
Knowing the rules and being able to fight fair.
- Finding out how to “further” each other.
Intimacy resulted from understanding, even if we didn’t agree. Honestly, this was incredibly difficult to learn.
- What “styles” were appropriate in different situations.
The style I’d use to keep Mary Beth from stepping into traffic shouldn’t be the same style to ask her to pass the butter.
- Solutions to our problems came from “brainstorming” (not just storming)
We learned to have fun coming up with ideas. Sometimes being open to crazy led to ideas we’d never have considered.
- We cared about each other but were too unskilled to “collaborate. “
Collaborate? We were lucky to get through breakfast without throwing it at each other.
Progress was slow, but satisfying.
One by one we knocked issues off the list on the refrigerator. Now, here we are 20-years later facilitating workshops for other couples who want to feel the love again. A grace of God thing to be sure.
So why wait to be sitting in a parking lot in the rain listening to an Adele song wishing things could have gone another way?
There really is a way to live that lovin’ feelin’ again. Mary Beth and I, and many other formerly sad couples are living proof. It’s not easy because, “Til death do us part” is not the cultural trend. But it really is possible for the story and soundtrack of your life to find a stronger rhythm and a sweeter melody – together.