Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Restoration Project...Part 4

#4 The Counseling Continuation 

Erik and I did not seek premarital counseling. If we had, we may have delayed our marriage for a few years working through all of the baggage we were bringing with us, but alas, instead we were married after just a month of being engaged. Erik told me about a couple the other day that is planning to not only get premarital counseling, but also seek therapy all throughout their marriage. I think that is so smart! Much like maintaining a car instead of waiting until it breaks down and leaves you stranded while picturing terrifying scenarios involving hook hands and horror movies (just me?), attending therapy in the good times instead of waiting for a crisis is one of the best tools (in my opinion) for starting and keeping a happy marriage.

Even as we speak, Erik and I are back in the middle of counseling. We have done marriage counseling in the rocky times, individual grief counseling during our fertility trials, and now we are back to do a little maintenance as getting this right is even more important now that we have a precious baby girl. We want to make sure that our baggage stays where it belongs, that we handle disagreements with the utmost maturity, and that we learn how to manage keeping our marriage on track while being new parents. If you were to count up the time and money we have spent on therapy, it would be astronomical. So we don't. We just know that it's been worth every dime.

I have heard so many excuses from couples on the brink of divorce and it usually starts with money. As far as I'm concerned, if you can afford to eat out, go to the movies, or pay for your child's activities, you can afford to go to counseling. Or rather, you can't afford not to. Your child may miss their year of baseball, but I'm sure they would miss their mommy or daddy much more were your marriage to end! And it's probably cheaper than a divorce too!! Many counselors charge on a sliding scale based on your income, most take insurance, and there are some that are working on their licensure that are quite cheap, relatively speaking.

The other mistake that we've seen couples make is quitting counseling too soon. It is going to bring up tough, painful issues. You WILL want to stop going. Just remember, it often gets worse before it gets better. There would be nights we would leave counseling and not speak all of the next day. There would be nights we would leave and vow never to go back. But now, I value the dialogue it opens up, the forum it gives us to voice our feelings, and the communication it inspires once we leave. I like knowing that if and when life throws us another curveball, there is someone who knows our entire relationship history, who values the sanctity of marriage, and who will help us work through anything.
It has not been a quick fix, no. We will always be a work in progress, and we will continue to use her as needed, regardless of stigmas and without apology.

We have given the name of our counselor to more couples than I can count. If you would like her name and number (and she is amazing, trust me), just send me a message and I will happily pass it along. We don't get anything for referring people to her...otherwise we'd have a free lifelong pass. And believe me when I say that we wouldn't be ashamed to use it!

"The development of a really good marriage is not a natural process.
It is an achievement."~David and Vera Mace

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Restoration Project...Part 3

#3 Social Media Seduction

Ah, Facebook. Isn't it the best?! You can search for people you haven't even thought about since elementary school and then chat with them on a whim! You can spy on old flames, rejoicing that you picked the right spouse after all. You can reconnect with far away family, create invites to events in seconds, and tell the world about your dinner plans all in one place. Sounds harmless enough. And it can be. It can also be the most dangerous thing in the world to your marriage. 

It only takes a quick search on the internet to see how often Facebook is now being cited in divorce cases. The numbers are staggering as far as I'm concerned. Now, I understand that numbers can be skewed. Do I think 1 in every 5 people on Facebook is really having an affair? Of course not. Do I think that a rocky marriage is going to fall apart because both parties have an account? No. But I think that if a couple is not extremely, incredibly careful, they can easily become another statistic. 

Case in point: A person is having a hard time in their marriage. They reach out to a friend of the opposite sex, quite possibly someone they haven't seen in years. The "friend" listens. They compliment. They lavish praise and build up self-esteem. Suddenly a little hill in the marriage seems like an insurmountable mountain. The "friendship" takes on the shade of the greenest grass. Before they know it, they're in a full blown emotional affair, nothing to scoff at. Maybe it goes a step more, maybe it doesn't. But their marriage is worse for the wear, if not destroyed. Even if their partner never finds out, and they probably will, the affair will change that person. The guilt will consume them, turn them into someone they hate. And then they will take that anger, that self-loathing, and turn it around on their partner. And poof, their marriage completely self-destructs like the impossible mission it should never have been. 

I'm going to cut right to the chase on this one. I knew that this particular blog would be the hardest to write in the series (but also too important to me not to) because people don't want to admit that they are susceptible to this particular sin or even already engaged in it. I'll make this simple: If you have a password on your phone to unlock it and your spouse doesn't know what it is, if you are deleting phone calls or texts, if you are deleting conversations off of Facebook, or if you are getting rid of emails, then you are on a slippery slope towards the ruination of your marriage, if you aren't there already. You can build walls to hide from the guilt, you can blame your spouse to justify what you're doing, you can even get a divorce to continue living the lie, but sooner or later, reality will find you. And that wall you've so carefully constructed, well, it will crush the people behind it. The people that love you, rely on you, and believe in you. And they will never look at you in quite the same way. And honestly, when that wall comes crashing down, you won't see yourself the same way either. I know. I've seen it. I've watched it over and over. I've been there for friends in their anger, their justifications, their wake up calls. And none of them, NONE OF THEM, ever thought that they would be another social media casualty. 

If you are going through a rough patch, ask yourself if the temptation is worth it. For us, in the midst of our problems, Facebook was causing lots of jealousy and compounding the insecurity of a rocky relationship. "Why are you friends with them? How do you know them? Why are they commenting on everything you write?" Our counselor looked at us incredulously one session and asked us WHY we were holding on to something so trivial if it was causing us to fight?! Light bulb moment! We made a decision then and there to join our accounts and we have never looked back. We have all of each other's email passwords and we leave our phones lying around when we are at home instead of carrying them with us from room to room like lifelines. That may seem extreme or even ridiculous to other people, but since we've done it, we don't fight much anymore and the tension has disappeared in this area. I'm not telling you what is or isn't right for your marriage, but if it's causing problems, perhaps it's time to think about priorities. And if it's not, make sure to take steps to keep it that way. Your marriage is worth it!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Restoration Project...Part 2

#2 Friends of the Marriage

I have amazing friends. I have friends that I teach with, friends that I've had since college, friends that have loved and supported me through so many things. So it's no surprise that when I felt that things were getting really rough for Erik and I, I sought the counsel of friends that I knew would support my point of view. Friends want the best for you. They don't like to see you hurting, and they don't necessarily like your spouse when you present your one-sided case.

It felt good to be validated and listened to. When they told me that I deserved to be happy, I held on to those words to justify the fact that I considered divorce to be the best option. After all, having to work so hard at something doesn't exactly bring happiness in the short-term. I don't blame my friends, because they did exactly what they were supposed to do with the knowledge they had. They are the best. But they are MY friends. What we needed were some OUR friends.

Erik convinced me to join a LifeGroup through our church during that time. This particular group was one for struggling marriages. I remember feeling that first night as people poured out their stories as though we had known each other for years, with no fear of judgement and no holding back, that we had found something special. There were many rough days that I texted the girls or called them crying, needing the kind of support that I never even knew I wanted. They would listen sympathetically, send me Bible verses, and most importantly, keep me on the right track without being judgmental. Erik would text the guys on his bad days and they would check in with him often. He would have dinner or coffee with them when his schedule allowed and they would talk him through his struggles. It was in those months that we realized that our marriage was worth saving, and we began to really try to put things back together.

There is one couple in particular that I really believe got us through our darkest days. Although we don't see them enough due to distance, we love them dearly and hold them in the highest esteem. We will never be able to express our gratitude to them for pushing us to work towards saving our marriage.

This is going to sound harsh, but when I see a person who is admittedly struggling in their marriage posting pictures of themselves with their newly divorced friends out at clubs or bars nightly, I can pretty much guarantee that their marriage will not make it. There's something about seeing a friend looking like they are living it up and enjoying their "freedom" (while probably masking a lot of pain), that makes a person who is living in the trenches long for a little bit of that same "freedom". Unfortunately, I have seen this play out quite a bit these past few months. If you truly want your marriage to work, you MUST invest in some additional friends that consider your marriage to be a priority, that will speak life into you BOTH, and will call either of you out on anything that conflicts with your goal. It may not be easy to open up, and it may be even harder to listen, but I believe at least one of these friendships is essential for the quickest healing. Even if the friendship only lasts for that rocky season, I can promise that its effects will last a lifetime.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Restoration Project...Part 1

#1 It's All About Me!

That sounds good doesn't it?! I am the first one to admit that in the midst of our problems, I felt like my dissatisfaction in our marriage was due to things Erik was or wasn't doing FOR ME. I wanted him to be more romantic, more complimentary, more spontaneous. I got annoyed that I had to ask him to do things instead of him being the mind reader I thought he should be after several years of being together. He should KNOW me by now! I felt that if he would just start focusing more on ME, things would be idyllic. 

Unfortunately, I now realize that the "All About Me" mantra is more of a gut-check. It IS all about me. It's about my attitude, the way I speak to my partner, the way I respond to them. Example: Erik calls, upset about his day. He's had a rough one and he's exhausted. He walks in and looks around...the house is a disaster and I just know he's questioning what I did all day. So, without him saying a word, I immediately feel defensive and jump on him about something HE needs to do/forgot to do for ME. He feels attacked, I get my feelings hurt, and we both retreat to our respective technological distractions for the evening. This was a weekly occurrence (among many variations) for us at one point. Here is what it looks like now (mostly): Erik calls, upset about his day. He's had a rough one and he's exhausted. He walks in and looks around...the house is a disaster and I tell myself that he is NOT criticizing me in his head. I ask him what I can do for HIM to make his evening a little better. I cook go pick up a nice dinner, and we talk and hang out for the rest of the evening. 

Obviously, this is just a snippet of the way your attitude during simple, daily interactions can affect your life. For some, throwing things and leaving may come after what started as a defensive remark. For us, some yelling followed by a deadly silence was the standard. These are dangerous patterns and a horrible example for future generations. Remember, YOU are in control of and responsible for YOU. I think that you would be shocked at how much a change in your thoughts can improve your marriage. This is embarrassing to admit, but when Erik and I would fight about something, I would immediately start thinking horrible things in my head. Call him names I would never say out loud. Convince myself that he didn't love me. My negative thoughts were out of control. I realize now that the tone of my internal dialogue was and is the most powerful indicator of how our day will play out. Once I started REALLY focusing on my thoughts, holding them captive, and changing them, I became utterly amazed at how it affected my words, trickled down into my actions, and altered our relationship. For me, it was honestly as simple, and as difficult, as that. 

I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Zig Ziglar. I have shared it before, but it's THAT good:
“I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person, but I do know that many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s possible that you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right kind of person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whether you married the right or wrong person is primarily up to you.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Marriage Malfunction

Another ridiculous amount of time without blogging! It's amazing how days, even weeks, can slip away from you when you're a new mommy!! Truth be told, that's not the only reason I've been dragging my feet. Really, I've had this blog written in my head for quite some time. It's about a complicated, dangerous subject and I know it will bother some people. But, as you know, I've never been one to shy away from difficult topics, and I won't start now. Here goes...

We live in a disposable society. A newer-is-better society. A must-have-it-whether-I-can-afford-it-or-not society. Let's face it, most of us don't really want to work as hard as we do. I think we would all love to win the lottery, travel the world, and never worry about money again. I think most of us would also admit that we have been lured in at one point or another by something nice and new ( new car). Whether it's the latest iPhone, the newest entertainment system, or the trendiest clothes, sometimes throwing away the old to welcome in the new, despite the cost, isn't quite the sacrifice that maybe it should be. Why should it be any different with something like marriage?

Marriage is WORK. It's HARD work. That's no revelation. But sometimes, when you're in the middle of the fights and the bills and the kids throwing up, and something easier or newer comes along (whether that's a divorce or someone else), well, the choice to leave seems easy too. Within the past few months, I have been witness to numerous spouses choosing the easy way out. Watching people give up on such a sacred, meaningful union saddens me beyond expression. And when kids are involved, it completely breaks my heart. I have spent my share of nights these past few months praying for these marriages, and occasionally even shedding some tears for them. I have seen dads walking out for other women, moms choosing their addiction over their families, and even just run-of-the-mill (sadly) fighting driving marriages to destruction.

It doesn't seem like that long ago when Erik and I were on the brink of divorce. I've referenced it a few times, but never really relayed the gravity of our situation. Our marriage was virtually over. There was so much bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and alienation that it felt impossible to come back to a place of satisfaction in our marriage. In 9 years, we have gone through 5 miscarriages together and all of the insecurities, blame, shame, and devastation that accompanies that. The day that we married, we joined all kinds of baggage from the past, including our fighting styles, and they were very, very different. We both tend to be more "glass-half-empty" sort of people, and that has made for some very depressing conversations over the years. The kind that can suck the light (and life) out of any relationship. We have dealt with jealousy, hurt, and pain that cannot ever be written in words. And still, with all that we have faced, we made a choice. We FOUGHT. We looked at those easier choices, pondered them, even daydreamed about them on occasion. But still, we chose to stay and FIGHT. We fought for our marriage, for our future child, and for our commitment to each other and to God. And here we are, 9 1/2 years later, still together.

I'm no expert, but I do have the benefit of plenty of marriage counseling wisdom, my prolific reading on the subject, and our experiences! In my next few blogs, I will list some things that helped us find the satisfaction that we never thought possible after all the ruin. If just one marriage can be even the slightest bit better after learning from our mistakes, then this outpouring will be worth it.