Friday, November 23, 2018

Keep Working on Dreaming Together in Marriage

I really love Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I’ve gone ahead and purchased a few more copies to give to people at random times if I feel prompted to. If I could sum the book up in my own words in a couple sentences or less, it would come down to this: Treat your spouse like your best friend with manners and kindness, and respect each other’s dreams so you can achieve them together.

Every marriage goes through periods of gridlock and the digging in of heels. I like how Gottman described this phenomenon as a sign that each of us have dreams for our lives that the other person isn’t aware of or doesn’t know how to be respectful about, or maybe even feels threatened by. I also like how he illustrates our life dreams operating at different levels.

One of my favorite quotes from the entire book is, “Keep working on your unresolvable conflicts. Couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”

This statement is powerful to me because I used to think that making marriage work was all about lowing my expectations and settling for a mediocre bond or connection. It can be difficult to excavate and articulate what our deeper dreams are for fear of them not being well received or respected.

·      Will my spouse support me in my dreams?
·      Will I be able to support my spouse in his dreams?
·      Will it mean ‘giving up’ the core person of who I am and if so, will I like the new Me?
·      Will my spouse think my dreams are childish or impractical?

I took this photo at the Seattle temple
These and other questions underlie what most of us fear about going ‘all in’ with each other in a marriage. I remember in the beginning of my marriage thinking I had sacrificed so much of my individuality to be married and wondering if I could really trust this person? It felt painfully vulnerable at times realizing that a portion of my happiness was contingent on my spouse. I was used to being independent and my own boss. The change was difficult to wrap my head around. It took a lot of softening inside and a lot of prayers on my part to help me understand why it was hard to let go of my independence and truly trust. But I’m so glad I did. As I gradually learned how to trust and honor the process of building a marriage and shared dreams together versus doing it alone, life became all the more satisfying. I can’t imagine going through life alone and feel a deep heartache for those who do.

Gottman ends the book with an excerpt on Thanksgiving. I am a firm believer in the practice of intentionally looking for the good. My gratitude journal on my nightstand is filled with little things I am grateful for about my husband. I don’t often go back and read through it, but when I do, I am amazed by the goodness of the man I married. He can be stubbornly aggravating. So can I. But each night before I go to bed, I write down five things I’m grateful for, and there’s almost always one or two things that involve him.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to really study and get to know the Gottman principles.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Repair Attempts in Marriage When Things Get Heated

My husband and I have stumbled upon the ability to use ‘repair attempts’ in our marriage over the years. I say ‘stumbled upon,’ because in the beginning, we were very good at Harsh Startups. We’ve both had to learn how to soften our startups and listen to each other’s cues regarding when we are attempting to repair an emotionally charged conversation.

One technic that helps us both is to pull out of it and change the tone. We have learned that it is best to take a break if we are getting too charged. The breaks are anything from taking a walk to doing the dishes to hopping in the shower. We always say, “let’s keep this discussion going, but take a break for now. . . “ I feel so relieved and hopeful when we can resolve most of our issues in this way.

We have both learned how to soothe each other when one or the other of us gets upset. It takes practice. I am finding that as we’ve become better at it, so have our children. One of my teenage sons is experiencing a higher level of stress with his schedule than what he is used to and he emotionally floods quite easily lately. I’ve found myself using the same technics my husband and I have learned, with him. It helps with the overall tone in our house.

Specifically, another thing that my husband and I do is be quick to apologize. Even if we don’t necessarily feel ‘responsible’ for the disagreement. By saying “I’m sorry that this is causing you some stress,” or “I’m sorry this is so frustrating, I want to do what I can to make it easier for you,” those two phrases make a huge difference in the overall tone of how we talk about hard things. There have been multiple times over the course of our marriage where this approach has helped our discussion with finances. We experienced a huge setback during the 2009 housing crisis and had to start all over again with our savings and our financial goals. Those conversations during that time were difficult! It was during that time that we had to really come together and de-escalate any emotional flooding.

I love the statement in Gottman’s book, “Your future together can be bright even if your disagreements tend to be very negative. The secret is learning the right kind of damage control.”

Repair attempts are effective. They take practice. I believe in their ability to improve the quality of discussion about difficult topics.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Pride's Effect on Marriage

Sometimes I get bogged down with how easy it is to be prideful without even realizing it. Pride just comes so naturally to me. . .

One of my favorite quotes in the context of marriage and relationships on this subject is this, “Rather than be bothered by the things we want to change in our partners and our marriages, we can learn to accept humanness and flaws in our partners. We can laugh at the foibles that bedevil all of us. We can pray for mercy for ourselves and our partners. Because each of us desperately needs mercy, we can offer mercy to each other.”

I like the scripture from the Book of Mormon found in Mosiah 3:19 quoted by President Benson, which tells us to yield “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,” put off the prideful “natural man,” become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord,” and become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble.”

I’ve learned that my pride often blinds me from seeing my faults and bolsters my ego when I’m feeling like it needs some protecting. I’ve also noticed that my pride is quick to notice and point out other people’s faults, while keeping me blinded from my own. I know this in theory, but to objectively see it happening within myself is a different story. As I’ve grown in maturity over the years, my ability to see myself objectively has also grown. I attribute this growth to prayer and meditation practice. I’ve had to learn to pray in such a way that will help me identify the unsavory within myself and to help me do better. This is hard. I mean, really hard! It takes a lot of effort and I’m often tired after this kind of praying.

The past few years in my relationship with my husband have taught me how much easier it is to let go of pride and earnestly try to accept his influence. I used to resist his corrections to my incorrect speech. The following examples are things we’ve had animated discussion about:

-       Pike Place Market (in Seattle), not Pike’s Place Market.
-       Zion National Park, not Zion’s National Park.
-       I ‘couldn’t’ care less, not I ‘could’ care less.

to name a few. . . (smiley face emoji.)

Another example of accepting his influence is with our finances. My husband drives his cars for years and years before he’ll even consider getting a different one. He hates having car payments and buys used vehicles we can either buy outright, or within the first year. He saves us so much money! He values a vehicle’s usefulness more than its image. I admire this about him, but I don’t share his same sense of practicality. He realized that I value a clean car with a solid warranty and surprised me with a new car a couple of years ago, while he still drives his old one. In our early years of marriage, there was a lot of back and forth discussion about finances, but we’ve since learned to accept each other’s influence and try to compromise better on these sorts of things. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from Ethan regarding how to live frugally, how to save, and how to make use of useful things instead of upgrading for the sake of wanting better stuff. We used our old flip phones long after they fell out of fashion. I just barely purchased an iPhone this year, 2018, since our old phones finally gave up the ghost.  (I still miss the flip phone days.) We saved a lot of money with being frugal with our phone habits too. I feel a small sense of pride (in a good way) about this.

Putting my pride aside versus kicking against the pricks makes a big difference in the tone of our marriage. It isn’t easy to do. There have been times when it has almost been the death of me to admit I’m wrong, or to say I’m sorry.

But I always feel better when I do.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Staying Emotionally Connected

This idea of staying emotionally connected in our marriage has been something my husband and I have had to talk about over and over throughout different stages over the years. It hasn’t been very easy for us to do since I learned at a young age that it is easier to take care of myself, and my husband has Asperger’s.

Neither of us were aware of the Asperger’s until about five years ago, after we’d been steadily going along our own business for twenty years, before learning about it. Once I learned about it, so many things made sense. I honestly feel like the Lord led us to the discovery, without which, I don’t know if we would still be married. I had slowly shut myself down little by little and lost hope of ever being understood or feeling emotionally close to each other. Asperger’s is hard.

Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi . . .
I’ve seen couples who blend interests and who work intentionally at turning toward each other when their interests aren’t the same. I’ve always admired these couples. For my husband and I, for a long time, there was a bit of a stubbornness going on with holding on to our independent identities. I was willing to like Star Wars and science fiction and to keep mountain biking even though I’d took a hard fall and couldn’t keep up, and he was willing to go to jazz clubs with me, even though they were loud and obnoxious to him, but other than that, we did our own things, read our own books, watched our own kinds of movies, and did things with our own friends. I think the hardest part of all of that was the fact that, even though we were sharing our lives together with our children and home, we weren’t each other’s best friends.

Things became unsustainable in this way while we were in Seattle. I had lost my friend group, my extended family, and my musician group of friends, and felt more alone and isolated than ever. My husband threw himself into his work at Amazon and was never home. We had grown apart emotionally. I turned to the Lord in my prayers and asked him to help me figure out why we were so unhappy. I was prompted to find a therapist, and for Ethan to go to a therapist as well. That’s when we discovered the Asperger’s and were able to actively find ways to work with it.

Christ strengthens marriages if we invite Him in. I’ve asked many times for eyes to see my husband the way the Lord sees him, to give me a window into his mind and heart. This has made a huge difference. Especially when we’re talking things over, and I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. I’ve also asked the Lord to show Ethan my heart and to soften some of the Asperger traits. I’ve seen a difference and it has affected our marriage in positive ways. Another tool that has helped me in marriage is my gratitude journal. Each night before bed, I write down five things I’m thankful for throughout the day that I’ve noticed. A lot of these things have to do with Ethan and all he does for me and our family. I know it all seems so obvious, really; be each other’s best friends, and cultivate gratitude. For me, these little things have made a big difference.