The most glaring issue in our marriage has always been conflict resolution, which is a fancy way of saying how our fights end. Kiss and make up? Or brokenness and the silent treatment? We are two strong personalities and experience more than our fair share of disagreements. For years, it did not end well. And y’all, that’s putting it lightly. Picture a foot-shaped hole in a bedroom door leaned against our trashcan on trash day. That’s giving it to you real. Please don’t misunderstand me, my husband and I make the choice every day to love one another. He is my rock and I am his as well. But it gets icy in our home. Cold shoulders, closed doors, passing each other in the hallway without a word, phones that don’t ring when they could- it happens.
Some days we argue over big things and some days we disagree over little things. But the little things, to me, are almost always symptoms of big things. I am sensitive and passionate and a woman- everything is connected to everything else. Men have this useful ability to compartmentalize everything. I picture Phil sitting in an empty room with a row of boxes along the back wall and he decides to go to work. “Right now, I’m going to think about work,” he thinks to himself, “So let me open my ‘work’ box, sort through it, fix some things, explore some things, and now I am done. I will close my work box now.” Then he drives home and opens his ‘Daddy’ box until he closes it too when they go to bed.
I am not offering this illustration to discredit him as simple-minded or devoid of emotion because he is not either of those. I only show you this picture to explain how different we are because I only have one box. And everything in my life goes in that box. Everything is connected to everything else because my emotions are deeply entwined with every aspect of my life. I care about everything. I think that’s why it’s easier for men to be friends and to be honest about things. They aren’t worried about hurting each other’s feelings. Phil wouldn’t bat an eye if his friends went to watch a football game and didn’t invite him. When my friends all get together without inviting me, I feel things.
I envy him. I used to be much better at disconnecting my feelings from work, which I had to do if I was going to survive in the fashion industry. But once I became a mom my boundaries turned to mush. I have rediscovered thick skin at work, but I won’t change every aspect of myself to mirror my husband. God made us different so we could supplement wherever the other is lacking, so we can hold each other up and compliment where one might fall short. Phil is great at things I’m not, and vice versa. But we used to think that put us on separate teams. If we weren’t alike anymore, after the honeymoon wore off, then this couldn’t work. Now that we are on the same team, we leverage our different skills and cover way more ground in this world than if we were on our own, or if we were with someone just like us.
Here’s where I want to get real with you again. My “writing thing” (as we call it since we’re still trying to figure out where it’s going) has been a major source of contention in our house. It has been the subject of many tough conversations. Why? What’s wrong with my writing aspirations? Well, they take time and attention away from my other job, my main job, and my answered prayer of being a stay-at-home mom. Let me preface by saying that Phil has always fully supported my need to write. However, when I first pursued writing, I dove in the deep end and invested more than I could afford. My girls were one and three years old. It wasn’t the best time to start a business from home for someone as scattered and unstructured as me, especially with two toddler tornadoes in the office with me each day. But I wasn’t going to admit that to Phil. No, sir. I didn’t want to be vulnerable around him because I was still trying to prove myself to him. I was afraid if he saw me fail, he wouldn’t love me anymore and eventually leave me like so many have before. (Dramatic, I know. But true.)
In theory, we were both right. Writing did awaken me and it did have the potential to make me a better mom and wife. But at the time, it was not something I could afford to pursue as I would prefer. When he came home from work and the girls and I were still in our pjs, the kitchen was a disaster, the laundry was still in the basket, and I was clicking away on my laptop, he felt disrespected. He goes to war for our family every day at work. Temptation is everywhere- on the way to work, on calls, on lunch breaks, on his phone, at the bank, jogging by on the sidewalk when he’s stuck in traffic on the way home, in his inbox, in the mailbox, on the tv, and in his mind. Yet he comes home to me after every shift, ready to pour what’s left of his energy into our family. And what was I doing? Worrying about me.
On the other hand, when he came home and said, “What have you been doing all day?” after I had been struggling all day to type three paragraphs while my little ladies dumped bin after bin all over the floor and karate chopped each other every ten minutes, I felt unloved and unappreciated. “I am capable of more than dirty diapers and snotty noses,” I always thought to myself. “He just doesn’t think I’m smart enough.” But at the time, being present with my kids was my gift to them and God’s gift to me. Phil thought I was squandering it by wanting something else instead. It is of course ok for me to want to write in addition to, but not instead. And I didn’t see my writing as instead but as more of a survival tool. The time I spent writing was a sure way to spur division in our house the past few years, which is one of the reasons I wasn’t fully invested.
I expected Phil to accept me as I was and to say “thank you” even when I was obviously failing our family. (Don’t get me wrong, a messy house is not a condemnation. It just wasn’t working for us. Our minds were fuzzy.) And Phil expected to come home to the “happy” family he worked so hard each day to secure. Truthfully, we were both wrong. We both placed unfair and unrealistic expectations onto our marriage. We doomed ourselves but each blamed the other person.
Now after we both digested Love and Respect and immersed ourselves in a marriage ministry, ReEngage, we found success in our marriage by finding Christ. (We were both previously married so this a first for us.) Of course it took nothing less than a miracle of God to transform our hearts into ones who could cultivate a living marriage. Marriage is a living, breathing force. I have to fight for the health and protection of ours everyday.
What that means for us is when things gets icy, when either or both of us are offended, it is up to us both to melt the ice. If he is 98% wrong and I am 2% wrong, I am still responsible for my 2%. Often times when we’re in the middle of a disagreement, all it takes is one small move to take our marriage in a whole new direction.
When we argue (not if we argue, because we will), and if we let our anger control our words and actions by saying hurtful things or untrue things, someone has to apologize, and quick. Now that we know it is a race to apologize, a race to see who is going to admit they were wrong first, forgiveness comes quick and bitterness doesn’t have time to set its roots. We still aren’t great at avoiding conflict, but we are getting really good at saying, “I’m sorry. I’m an idiot.”
The following Scriptures are what I aspire to as Phil’s wife:
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10
“A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown.” Proverbs 12:4
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3