I know what you're thinking, "Oooooh, girl! Don't air your dirty laundry...especially not on the internet!!" I've never understood the whole, "(GASP!) Don't talk about your marriage problems!" thing. I don't want to sit around man-bashing and talking circles around myself (I'd like to think I left that in my early twenties along with not having to pull up my jeans every time I stand). And I certainly am not trying to "out" my husband for any of his faults therefore inviting everyone to my pity party. But, marriage is crazy hard. And, most times, men and women aren't on the same page. A simple discussion about weekend plans can feel like war. If we can't ever talk about it, then I'm confused as to how it ever gets resolved. Given a safe audience (as in not with your own mom or mother-in-law) and an impervious environment (as in not within earshot of that/those friend(s) who are chomping at the bit to blurt out, "I told you so!"), why can't we discuss our marriage and help one another find solutions? The reason? It has been my experience, until lately, that we never come to a resolution because no one knows the answers!
Yes, we know marriage is going to be challenging. We know becoming a parent is going to be demanding. And therefore, we assume Married with Children is going to be perplexing. But what if Peggy couldn't self-medicate by smoking indoors and the D'Arcys never blew in to reveal such a more highly-developed level of dysfunction that vindicates a cluster like the hot mess that is the Bundy's? And you're not allowed to even talk about your problems...with anyone! What then?! Enter: loneliness. At least for me anyway...and poor, poor Al.
So, here we are, exhausted from the days that are so busy (with what we never can remember when questioned) that lead us to pine for the good ole days when our only worries were which hour we would drag only our two selves to the gym prior to disagreeing on which establishment's take-out was suitable. And in the few, fleeting moments we have together before he collapses in front of a see-saw of news and sports and I hastily scamper off to catch up on the evenings highly-sophisticated programs of the Bravo network, I try to squeeze in a little deep conversation.
(giving him the "we need to talk" face, treading lightly with a tender voice)
I've been feeling...
(go slow, don't scare him off)
(that's it, that's it...slowwwwly)
(uh, ohhhh...retreat! retreat!)
...sometimes...today, just for a minute...or two.
(All the air is sucked out of the room.)
Him: (blank stare) Ok. (blink, blink)
Me: Do you ever feel lonely?
Him: (thinking...trying to recall a time...blink, blink...still thinking.......thinks some more) Nope.
Me: Says the man who was basically a bachelor until the age of 35. (shaking my head back and forth with an adoring smile, followed by a big sigh) Of course you don't.
---> Resume scheduled programming.
Bless his heart. What's a guy to say? And what's a girl to do? I said earlier, "here we are," but what I should have said is, "there we were." What happened, what changed, you ask? Well, we did what any regular, middle-class fireman and stay-at-home-mom duo would do and followed suit behind your average felons and suffering addicts and...found Jesus. Wait....wait! Don't tune me out so quickly! Hold on. It's not what you think. We aren't speaking in tongues, or judging all our neighbors (just the creepy one), or soliciting donations for a missionary trip, or denying Kevin Bacon's need to dance, and we don't own matching bikes, helmets, or skinny black ties.
......You still there? Well, a couple of you. I know, I know. Those of you who have known us for years are sneering and scoffing with such intensity you're gonna pull a muscle. Look. We moved to a new town. We thought it would be an opportune time to see what all the fuss was about at the big church in town. Though we both were raised in religious homes, we hadn't been attending church much at all since we entered adulthood. Still we knew we owed it to our children to at least introduce them to the church. What they take from it is their business. The first week we started visiting, we hesitantly got our kids dressed and in the car, dropped them off at the nursery, sorely shuffled into our seats, crossed our arms, and sort of listened. Unsure whether or not this was "what we do," we were a bit surprised that our attention was captured with this message from the "Fixing Your Marriage" series. Hmmm. A practical, relatable pastor and sermon exist in the world? Interesting.
The girls loved the experience in their classes, so we decided to give it a shot and came back every weekend during that series. While there, we heard about a new program the church was going to launch called Re|Engage. In the following weeks there was a buzz about town. (By the way, I'm so grateful we live in a place where a buzz about town can actually be felt.) We weren't sold on all the marriage workshops we heard many churches held on a regular basis and thought going to the weekend service was more than we'd ever done before...haven't we sacrificed enough? No. We're not going to church twice a week. We're not those people.
However, a few weeks later I heard one of the women from our Mom's Group talking about the program and that her and her husband were going to give their testimony that week. Some of the other women were going to attend in support of their friend. I figured it would be a great chance to possibly make some new friends and, perhaps, even learn a thing or two. It is a free program. And child care is free. Why not? So, I went. And I was hooked.
Each week couples from all over the Metroplex (though bible-based, this is not just for members of our church but is open to anyone) gather in the gym to hear a couple give a one hour testimony summing up their family background and relationship history, revealing major and minor faults and infractions, and sharing how they persevered to come to a place of peace, appreciation, and grace. After the testimony everyone separates into groups based on age, stage of life, etc. to delve into the 16 week curriculum.
My first night, I had come to support a new acquaintance. My husband was at the station so I went alone. I couldn't believe the intimate information the couple was sharing and with so many people. Yet, I couldn't stop thinking, "Why hasn't anyone ever thought to do this before? We could've used this years ago!" The large group dispersed and we all filed into smaller rooms. Because I and others were newbies, we hadn't been assigned to a closed group yet and had to tread water in a melting pot of an open group. There were about seven other couples and two single men from all different walks of life. I immediately judged the single men by assuming they must have done something pretty awful to their respective wives to be sent here, alone.
As the couples began to reveal their current woes, I made a few surprising realizations. First, most of the older couples have been through enough major illnesses and devastating tragedies that you could see their pain and sadness engraved in the creases of their mouth or the raise of their brow. "See?," I told myself, "Look at them. That is the reason we need this- because someday something will happen in our lifetime and our marriage will be tested, it's inevitable. We need to be putting in the work now to make our relationship stronger so that when difficulties come, they won't break us!"
Secondly, remember the two single men? I was convinced they were being punished by their wives for whatever offense(s) they had committed and were being forced to attend. It didn't take long to realize that although they had actually wronged their wives in many ways, here they sat of their own conviction. Both had begged their wives, or should I say soon-to-be ex-wives, to come with them and both had been rejected. Now, I'm sure their two women have been putting up with the same antics for years and have hardened their hearts a bit to create a barrier, a shield to protect themselves. But having only met these men for the first time, I felt like I was sitting witness to the most romantic display of love I've ever seen. No proposal, expensive gift, nor exotic vacation can ever compare to this regular, blue-collar Joe with a baseball hat, worn jeans, and a southern drawl, who is broken, rejected, and on the edge of divorce. This night he told complete strangers, "I love her. I love her more than I love myself. I will always love her. And I am truly sorry for those stupid, selfish things I did. It kills me to know that I hurt her. But I don't care how hurt or mad she is. I don't care what she does or doesn't do. I will love her every day for the rest of my life. And I'll wait as long as it takes for her to change her mind." It gives me the chills.
And the other one, an ordinary, lanky guy in a white button-up shirt with a goofy grin confessed, "I know I have done her wrong. But she won't even let me tell her how sorry I really am. I want to share with her the changes I've been going through. But I have great news: she finally returned my phonecall! She didn't say much more than, 'Yes, I received your emails and your voicemails,' but it's a small victory and I am celebrating!"
I left that night feeling stunned, convicted, and almost rattled. We need this. We have to do this. So, we did. We're a little over halfway done with the 16 week curriculum. It. Has. Changed. Our. Lives. Forever. I really had myself convinced that since I've been a serial monogamist for the past 15 years of my life (with the exception of the only time in my life I've been single- two months back in 2004...yes, I said two months in the past fifteen years) that I had men completely figured out. I was on the right path, but I hadn't walked far enough- not even close to far enough.
I realize that scripture is equally an adequate conversation starter as ender. But since we started going to this marriage group, people who see us on a daily basis have noticed, commented on, and inquired about the tremendous change in us. The night of my husband's surprise 40th birthday party, one of my best friends heard my husband telling the table about Re|Engage and asking for his friends' help with his homework (we were instructed to ask someone close to us to give three instances of how we undermine our marriage- heavy stuff). She scrunched her eyebrows, rested her chin on her hand, gave him a suspicious look and asked, "How on earth did she get you to go to that?!" My answer: I didn't make him go- he wanted to go. And he stayed because it works!
I am aware (thanks to your sweet messages!) that many read these that haven't joined (above right) as one of my blog followers. Please don't feel like you're stalking me. I'm putting this all out there to be read! But, I would really appreciate your feedback. Starting a series like this is a big departure for me and I'm curious...is anyone interested in hearing about it?? If not, I'd be pleased to keep some of our dirty laundry in the laundry room. *wink* Let me know what you think- good or bad. And if I don't hear anything, I'll assume what you're really trying to say is, "No, thank you. Feel free to keep your bible-thumpin', self righteous advice to yourself." Ha.
This is the preface for a multi-part marriage series.
Click on the links below for more.
Part One [Re|Engage. Trite and True.]
Part Two [Re|Engage. The Inner Circle.]
Part Three [Forgiveness. It's what's for dinner.]
To hear an amazing testimony from our friends, Raeul and Susan Cox, click here.
To hear our mentor couple's testimony (and others), click here.
For more information about Re|Engage,
such as a church near you that offers it
or an avenue to bring it to your own church,