Love, Marriage, and Battleaxes

I haven’t posted anything for close to a week, because I knew what I was supposed to post about and I didn’t want to. In my “And we’re blogging” post I mentioned that I wanted to step on toes and broaden horizons and do things with this blog. I didn’t want it to be something filled with fluff and nothingness. I didn’t realize I would sometimes be stepping on my own toes. God laid it on my heart to write this and I nearly threw up. I thought to myself and conversed with God, “I nearly blew my marriage up. Who am I to write this? Why would you even ask me to? What are people going to think?” And all I kept hearing back was, “I gave you these lessons for a reason.” So, even though I still want to vomit, I’m sharing them. Not because I think I’m an expert. Not because I think I know more about it than anyone else. So I ask you, like I do on every post, to keep an open mind, and to remember that personal attacks on myself or anyone who chooses to respond to this will be immediately deleted.

I am no expert on marriage. I’m nine years, six months, and twenty-six days into this wild ride. It has been the topsy-turviest, whip-lashiest, cork screwiest, up and downiest ride I’ve ever been on, but I don’t want off. I’m going to tell you a story that has a very fast beginning, a saddish middle, and a really happy right now, and I’m going to share the lessons I learned along the way.

Scott and I started dating in May of 2002. I had just turned 17 and he was 20. Note the lack of pre-frontal lobe formation. Although he was a little closer, boys do tend to mature slower than girls, so I’d say we were closer to even. Our relationship was fast from the beginning. I remember from my second date walking in my room and telling my sister, Mallarie, “I’m going to marry him.” She looked at me like, ‘whatever’ and we had a little conversation about it, but it was different than other boys and the teenage wanting to marry them. I just knew that I would end up marrying Scott…totally different feeling. In October I found out I was 6 weeks pregnant with Drake. I mentioned we were fast. That equates to about 4 non-pregnant months of our total lives together that hadn’t been in one fashion or another child related. And at 17 and 20 we were like, “Oh! A baby!” and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and butterflies danced around us and everything was happy and wonderful.

Fast forward nine months: I was so huge that my chin had a chin had a chin. My belly button had popped out…twice. I had stretch marks on my calves….because you know…everyone gets them there. I was buying my clothes at the local tent and awning store, and Scott was still telling me I was beautiful. Now when you’re reading that you’re thinking, Scott’s such a great guy. As the woman, when you’ve been there and when you’ve felt like that (for me anyway, because with Drake I was not a cute pregnant woman…I was a cow), Scott telling me I was beautiful added insult to injury.

Fast forward a couple weeks: I had Drake via c-section…because that’s not stressful. I had the baby blues for about two weeks, so it wasn’t months on end, thank God. But it was a rough two weeks. I didn’t hold Drake for a straight 24 hours. I locked myself in the bathroom crying….I only let Scott in. I pumped and had other people feed Drake. I felt like a milk maid with enough milk to feed a small army. I was barely 18, had had major surgery to extract a child from my womb after 2 days of labor, milk was pouring from my bosoms, and there was now a crying infant needing me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sunshine and rainbows my butt.

Now I only tell you this to show you the immediate disadvantage Scott and I started at. Not only were we young, but we started off with children. Do you remember the nursery rhyme we used to chant in school? Scott and Meghan sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Meghan pushing a baby carriage. There’s a reason we said that rhyme in that order. We definitely put the cart before the horse, as the saying goes. We had no US time. No time to get to know each other and figure out our quirks, and what was really going to annoy us about each other, and gently correct those things. 🙂 We have always said that’s okay. We’ll raise our kids now and have our US time later, but Lord have mercy…there’s been times I haven’t thought both of us would survive till later…

We got married six weeks after Drake was born (because I refused to be fat on my wedding day). We planned our wedding in that 6 week time span. The premarital counseling that couples are supposed to get…we went down and had all of our “sessions” in one night…maybe even in one hour. Drake was with us. Between feedings, diaper changings, and him being fussy the only thing I remember from it was being told I wasn’t allowed to hold out on Scott. That it wasn’t fair. At the time, I thought premarital counseling was a waste of my time. We were getting married, whether they liked it or not. I just had to go there so they’d give us the go ahead. My philosophy on that has changed. I think every marriage should come with 12 complimentary counseling sessions to be used in the first year of marriage. There’s a reason they say that’s the hardest year. You see, premarital counseling is great and I absolutely think it should be done, but I think there are a lot of couples like me who come in just checking off their sessions so they can pass go, collect their $200, and get hitched.

So we’re married and off we went raising our son. Acting like adults….playing house. But we’d never done any of that before. We’d never been parents and neither of us really knew HOW to do it. And here’s another problem. Neither of us compared notes beforehand on how we would do child rearing….probably mostly because we didn’t have notes to compare….but other than the baby would be raised in church, we didn’t really know where the other one stood. This is a recipe for disaster.

On top of that, as the mother, I decide that this darling little infant could not take care of himself and I must be fully devoted to him. It’s easy to do. Motherly instincts kick in. Your husband’s a big boy. He can take care of himself. You don’t realize how quickly you can neglect that relationship. You can become roommates if you’re not careful. The relationship hierarchy is supposed to be God, spouse, children. Your children come last for a reason. They’re going to all leave us one day, and if we focus so much on them that we neglect our spouse, we can find ourselves alone. Also, we’re supposed to be the role models for our children. They will seek relationships going forward based on the relationships that we model. So I screwed up the relationship hierarchy badly. If I heard it once, I heard it 1,000 times Scott asking for attention. At the time I chalked it up to him being selfish. Now I realize I was the one who was wrong. In 2005, Claire was born, so I compounded this problem, since I only recently removed my head from my hiney.

So our marriage carried on. We had this gifted area of arguing. We would argue but never communicate, so there was never any conflict resolution. Does that make sense? I mean, we’d have these 30 minute, blood pressure raising discussions, and at the end of it nothing was ever settled. Each argument was the proverbial penny under the rug, and after years of this we eventually had enough pennies we could have gone to Vegas and won big. The individual penny…nothing. I couldn’t even tell you the argument. We could have argued over who fed the dog, or unloaded the laundry. Maybe he thought I was acting like his mom, and maybe I said I wouldn’t have to if he acted like an adult. Maybe that happened…I don’t know. It’s possible that penny was under the rug….the point is they were all insignificant individually, but when you don’t deal with them, when you let them pile up, they become an issue together. And arguing isn’t communicating if there isn’t any conflict resolution.

The bigger our “penny pile” got, the more disconnected I felt. Do something for me. Take your hands. Clasp them together interlocking your fingers. Now, keeping your hands clasped together, straighten your fingers out. Now move your fingers out until your first knuckles meet. You should be able to see a little bit of light between your fingers and your hands. This is how soon a woman can feel the gap between herself and her spouse. Now separate your fingers until your second knuckles are meeting. There is a substantial gap now. This is when men feel the gap. It’s not because one gender cares more or cares less, but women are more emotional beings. We literally feel it when there is an emotional disconnect. And we start doing things to correct it at that point. Men will start doing things to correct it when they feel it too, but the problem is, by the time they feel it, it can be too late. (I did not come up with this on my own. It was an example the counselor showed us.)

So I felt the emotional disconnect and I would bring it up and address it, but Scott didn’t feel it yet. Just because of the gender difference. I didn’t realize that at the time, so he thought I was making a big deal out of nothing. I want some conflict resolution on some of our issues. I was bringing things up repeatedly that I felt like needed addressed and they weren’t getting resolved and it was the same thing over and over and over. And then I quit trying. I was tired. I felt stuck. There was no resolution.

I told Scott I wanted out. I never thought I’d ask for the D word. And he never saw it coming, which surprised me. He said no, absolutely not. He was going to fight with every fiber of his being to keep our marriage because when he said until death do us part he meant it. So when I started naming off, “Well why haven’t you fixed this and changed that and done this yet?” And I’m naming off all the pennies under the rug…all the insignificant nothings individually that have become a huge something together. I mean look what they’ve done! Look where they’ve brought us! They’re ripping apart our family! He told me he wanted to go to counseling. No way Jose! There’s no reason to go. It’s not going to change anything. I don’t want to go. Blah blah blah. I went to counseling and it was the best decision I have ever made.

Let’s just talk about counseling for a moment here. Counseling has such negative connotations surrounding it in our culture. If someone tells you “Did you hear so&so is going to counseling?” your immediate response will be “What’s wrong with them?” Right? I mean, that’s what we immediately think. Here’s the truth. I go once a year to get my girl parts checked to make sure everything’s healthy. I go twice a year to the dentist to get my teeth checked. But we only go for our mental health on an AS NEEDED BASIS?! HELLO!!! There is nothing wrong with going to a counselor to talk, to sort out where you are, where you want to be. We need to quit being too PROUD to go. Scott and I went to a marriage retreat in February called “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage.” It was an overnight thing, so we had to find somewhere for the kids to stay the night. They wanted to know where we were going and at first we didn’t tell them, because we didn’t want them to think anything was wrong. Then I thought, ‘You know what, this is ridiculous.’ So this is what I told them, “Mommy and Daddy are going to a marriage retreat. Our marriage is fine, but we’re going to learn how to make it better. Just like you go to practice for basketball or baseball, that’s what this is for married people.” And they both said, “Oh, ok. Well, have fun!” And we did!

Here’s an AHA moment I had about myself. I am an ammunition gatherer. Well, I was an ammunition gatherer. I have reformed. 🙂 While we were at a counseling session one night he said, “Remember we ask to understand, no to gain ammunition.” And I said, “What did you say?” He repeated himself, and I had to literally sit and process what he said for a minute and let it sink in because I was an ammunition gatherer, and had been my whole life. Literally, while someone was speaking, I would listen to what they said, only so I could think of what I would say in response. And this is what I did in our arguments. I would listen to what he said, and I would come back with the quickest, nastiest thing I could think of. I’m pretty quick and nasty….There’s a reason he calls me his little rattlesnake. This concept totally upended my world. I had to slow my roll, and I look at our conflicts in a whole new way now. It’s amazing what this little change has made. Instead of thinking of what I’m going to say, I’m actually LISTENING to what he’s saying. I don’t have to respond with, “ARE YOU CALLING ME?!?!?!” or, “OH NO YOU DIDN’T?!?!” because no he didn’t call me and no he really didn’t. Anger makes you interpret things in outlandish ways…sometimes differently than what you would have interpreted them under normal circumstances.

A couple of other things I held on to from counseling. Marriage isn’t the joining of two people who seek to make each other miserable. Scott and I were two good intentioned people on our wedding day. We didn’t walk to the altar and include in our vows the promise to make each other miserable all the days of our lives. It’s important to remember that on the rough days. Remember why you’re there.

People evolve. We change and grow, and it’s important that we grow together. Scott has said different times to me, “You’re so different than when we got together,” to which I respond, “I’m not 17.” To me that’s something to be glad about! My brain is fully formed! Yay! Don’t hold so tightly to the person you met that you miss the person you have right now.

It’s hard to get time to ourselves. I used to feel guilty about it. I work until at least 5, sometimes later depending on appointments. By the time you get supper, baths, and family time, you feel like you didn’t get to spend any time with the kids when it is time to send them to bed. But we’ve designated an 8p bedtime. Do we always make it by 8? No. But we try. That gives us an hour or so before we settle down. Sometimes we spend it together and sometimes we don’t, but at least we have the option.

Ok so back to my story, he’s began dragging me to counseling, and let’s just say this was the beginning of what I deem the dark ages: a two year period of my life I never want to repeat. I was not me. I quit talking to God all together. I hit the proverbial rock bottom, which I suppose is good because at that point you can only go up. I cried frequently. I started smoking because I was so blessed stressed out. My job was changing in the midst of it all. I didn’t even like me.

But the counseling sessions went from me hating them to me enjoying them. I looked forward to that night of the week because afterwards Scott and I would always go out to dinner so it was our date night. Some of the counseling sessions only I went back. Some of them we split 50/50. We’d go for 6 months, try it on our own for 6 months, and then we ended up going back for about 6 months. And now we’re here.

And this is our happy….I won’t say ending since our story is nowhere near over…but it’s our happy today. About six months ago I fell madly in love with my husband. I know that sounds ridiculously cheesy, and if you really know me, you know I am not that way. Cheesy makes me gag, but this is the truth. I have a strong admiration for him knowing that he fought so hard to keep our family together when I was so ready to quit. It makes me realize how worth it I am to him, that he really did value me all along (remember I felt the separation long before him). Using some of our communication tools, we understand each other so much better now and it’s so much easier. We rarely argue any more. We are all about conflict resolution and you would be hard pressed to find a penny under our rug.

There are things he says to me, that he probably doesn’t even remember saying, but I won’t forget. For example, we were in Louisville this past November and we were getting ready to go to dinner that night and I made some witty comment and he laughed and said, “I love your attitude,” and I was completely floored. I said, “You love my attitude? You’ve never told me that before.” He said, “Yeah, because it’s funny, but it’s not mean funny anymore.” I think of that conversation a lot, I’m glad he’s noticed a change in me.

I realized I have the power to wake up every day and decide to try in my marriage or not. It takes as much effort to be lazy as it does to not be lazy. That sounds contradictory, but hear me out. I know that leaving my candy wrapper on the bar instead of walking 3 steps to the trash can is going to irritate Scott. If I choose to do that because I’m too lazy to walk to the trash can, I will have a confrontation later as a result. A confrontation takes effort. Why not exert the effort pleasing your spouse as opposed to causing confrontation? This is still one I’m mastering because it’s a long 3 steps to the trash can, but each day is a new day and I’m going to try every day.

We both value what we have now and we realize how easy it would be to slip back to where we were, so we frequently check each other out. We see how we’re doing and make sure that we’re okay because we know this is worth fighting for.

So things I hope you learn from our journey:

  1. Don’t let your pennies pile up. Do some conflict resolution.
  2. Don’t be too proud to go to some counseling or a mediator.
  3. Don’t forget the marital hierarchy.
  4. Liston to understand. Not to gain ammunition.
  5. You have the power to wake up every day and decide to try your marriage or not. Don’t be lazy.
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