Well That Was Embarrassing

I know it’s not Thursday, but here’s a throwback for you about our very first fight. Enjoy. It’s about as stupid as you would expect from two 18 year olds.

So we were on a trip in Florida with Tim’s family the summer after graduation. After a few days at Disney World, the plan was to pile into a minivan and drive from Orlando to Georgia where Tim’s older brother would be getting married. Disney World was (of course) magical. We held hands, laughed, and were so carefree. I look back on it as one of our favorite trips because aside from our honeymoon, it was the only trip we had been on together before we had kids. We’ve been on other trips without our kids since then, but as a parent- you still carry the responsibility even if your kids aren’t with you.

Anyway-

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Fighting Like Siblings

When I hear people talk about how their parents dealt with conflict in marriage, there seems to be one of two extremes. Either, the parents “never fought” or they got into all out screaming matches. Neither of these is a healthy way to address conflict in a relationship.

I have never heard, “Well, my parents would respectfully disagree with each other and modeled conflict resolution well.” Being a parent, I understand not wanting your kids to see you and your partner in conflict. For some reason, we have this idea that it will scare our kids or make them think less of the marriage relationship. But, I have heard many stories from adults who never saw their parents fight. Suddenly, when they are in a relationship and a conflict happens, the person is shocked because they thought that there were no fights in a healthy relationship.

Note: having a yelling match is also not great modeling for your children, or healthy for your relationship with your partner.

As a parent, I encourage my kids to share with their siblings when their feelings are hurt and ask their sibling not to do the thing that hurt their feelings. But, I can’t remember the last time that Ashley and I had a similar conversation in front of our kids.

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Part of the problem is that we give instructions better than we follow them ourselves. We demand that our kids respect their siblings’ feelings even if they do not understand them. Myself, on the other hand, am quick to attempt to invalid Ashley’s emotions when I feel defensive. Ashley and I can also be accusatory when we share our feelings, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to our partner.

I realize more and more as I am writing this blog how helpful it is to think about how I instruct my kids to deal with conflict with one another and how that translates into how I should deal with conflict with my spouse, especially in front of the kids.

Ashley and I are imperfect human beings, so our conflicts are imperfect. But, to the extent we can model respect, grace, repentance, and forgiveness in conflict, the more likely our kids will have a healthy view of conflict in relationships. If I approach conflict with my spouse the way I instruct my kids to deal with conflict with one another, my relationship with Ashley will grow. The next time you have a conflict with your partner, take a step back and ask yourself, “How would I instruct my child to deal with this conflict?” You may not want to follow your own answer, but it may surprise you how helpful your response is.  

-Tim


Dam(n)

I consider myself a pretty good listener. I enjoy hearing people out, listening to them talk about their issues, and offering advice when asked. The one person it seems to be the hardest to listen to- is Tim. You see, for a long time in our marriage, he didn’t speak up whenever there was conflict. So now, when he does, I have to catch myself and really listen, instead of immediately going on the defensive and writing him off.

You know, for having feelings. Yeah, I know. I’m working on it. Here’s a little history...

When we were first married, and for quite awhile afterward, our pattern went like this…

1.) Ash acts
2.) Tim doesn’t react
3.) Ash runs amok.
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You may laugh, but simply put- that’s exactly how our life was.  As Tim mentioned in his last post, he really wasn’t present emotionally during the first years of our marriage. Which, as a fairly emotional person at the time, was a cruel shock for me. I had this boyfriend who doted on me, said all the sweet things, wrote me letters on a daily basis telling me how much he adored me…and then once we were married, that all but disappeared. He felt cold, distant and unmoved by anything I did. I would ask him to tell me how he felt, I craved words of affirmation, of adoration, but it seemed like he didn’t have much to give anymore. It was like he had built this dam to keep any and all emotions at bay. The only “upside” to that in my mind was, he basically let me have and do whatever I wanted without complaining or resisting. Yet all the while, Tim had feelings about these things that he wasn’t sharing. And his resentment was growing under the surface. Eventually, something would tip the scales and he would shut down completely. Then all of it would come tumbling out in a frustrated mess that left me shocked and angry. I remember saying things to him like, “Oh NOW you have feelings you want to share? Now you want to talk about how you feel?” I was so upset by the fact that the only emotions I seemed to be able to elicit from him were anger and sadness. When he would confront me about how he had been upset about something but hadn’t told me in the moment, I would snap at him, “If you didn’t want me to do ____ or didn’t want us to _____ YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING THEN! NOT WAITED A YEAR AND THEN THROW IT BACK IN MY FACE!” What I didn’t say was, “I’m feeling insecure about my life generally and you disapproving of this feels like you disapprove of me, and I don’t know how to handle that.” and “I want your input and to know your thoughts, but I’m afraid that if we have conflict- you’ll decide I wasn’t worth it and walk away.”

He would, at that point, turn off all emotional expression and simply walk away. The message I got was, “I don’t care enough to fight about this with you, come find me when you’re ready to apologize.” and “I’m taking the power in this situation by ending the conversation when I want to, without taking any responsibility for my part.” I completely missed his message which was more like, “I don’t really have the tools to communicate this effectively, and I’m worried that if I show emotion, you’ll judge me. But I’m also afraid to say ‘No’ to you, because I don’t want you to leave me.” That was at the very core. If you follow anger or frustration down to it’s core- you’ll always find fear, sadness or both.

We continued on this cycle up until Tim started counseling about 2 years ago. I felt triumphant when his counselor began encouraging him to express his emotions. HA! Hadn’t I been telling him this for years? His homework was to start telling me how he was feeling. I imagined him sitting me down and ravishing me with poetic-like statements about his endless love and admiration for me, how he couldn’t live without me, how I and only I- his perfect dove would forever be the apple of his eye.
God laughed.

And what I got instead was verbal diarrhea. It suddenly seemed like I couldn’t even move without Tim telling me it upset him, or pulling up something from our past and telling me how he really felt about it. This was not what I had hoped it would be. It was like the dam that Tim had constructed to keep back his negative emotions had been blasted to smithereens, and I was left drowning in the torrent. I remember thinking, “What have I done?” In that moment, I wished the old Tim back. The seemingly placid, easy going one who didn’t call me on my crap or express frustration and anger. I wanted so desperately to put the lid back on that Pandora’s box. It was so messy. So imperfect. After weeks of conversations every week about all the things he was working through, it all came to a head when after a counseling session, I asked what they had talked about. It was me, they had talked about how Tim felt about my mental health issues. My stomach dropped as Tim expressed how it had been for him, dealing with my issues for so many years. “So you resent me because I have depression?” I asked, my voice quivering. “Yes, sometimes.” he admitted in a low voice. I had absolutely no idea what to do with that, so I just cried. I held in sobs until my stomach hurt, and refused to let him hold me. His love language is physical touch, and in that moment, I wanted him to hurt. I was so raw, and so was he. We were tired. And in that moment, I had to make a critical decision.

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Was I going to choose to be on the same team about this? Was I going to be supportive of this new version of my husband who told me the truth even when it really hurt? Or was I going to build a wall to shut him out because I didn’t want to get hurt? I wish I could say that it had only taken a moment, or even a few hours for me to get to that place, but it took a few days of uncomfortable silence. I had been pushing and pushing for him to be open with me about his feelings about me for years. Now he was doing just that, and not all of it was pretty. How could it be? I wasn’t perfect. I had to take the honesty whether it made my heart fly- or sink. I remember thinking- “Marriage sucks right now.” I think I was right. It’s not always fun. But I can tell you, as Tim has learned to unlock this side of himself and feel more safe around me, the honesty has been so sweet, even if sometimes there are flies in the honey.

-ASH