I don’t care how long you’ve been married, the road can seem to be filled with potholes sometimes. Take it from one who knows – it’s not how great you get along in good times, but how you weather the rough seas both separately and together that will make or break you as a couple.
Many of these issues stem from communication, or a lack thereof. And it’s nothing new. I mean, look at Led Zeppelin, they found it relevant enough to sing about it on their debut album in 1969:
It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane!
My husband and I are headed into our 29th year of marriage next month. We have some experience with this shit.
We were kids when we got married, especially by today’s standards. Both of us just 25. Old enough to have done some traveling, spend time thinking only about ourselves and our friends, etc. We didn’t have our first fight until we had babies, 4 years into the marriage, and that was 6 years into the relationship. Oh wait, there was that one time during our first year of marriage when he went out with some coworkers after work and I had no idea where he was (those were the days before cell phones kids, they actually existed and we actually survived). He stumbled in hours late, reeking of beer and laughing at me as I screamed like a lunatic. NOTE: don’t yell at a drunk person. They are incapable of having an argument. At least that’s true of the one I married. YMMV.
The next morning, he hung his 7,000 lb head and apologized for being an insensitive lout, and I was the one laughing as I handed him a pain reliever with a smug smile. And that was that.
Fast forward to 1992, when shit got real.
Two became four. In c-section language, that took exactly 2 minutes.
Our children arrived in a pair. He was so freaked out we were expecting twins he decided to enroll in school 2 months before they arrived so he could be out of the house both 5 days and 3 nights a week for the next 2 years. Yaayyyyyyyyyyyyy. I returned to work full time when the kids were 4 months old. We were the fun couple everyone was fighting to have at their dinner parties that year. NOT. Sleep deprivation is a very real, very sucky thing. It can make you nuts. And by nuts, I mean waking up from a dead sleep stripping the sheets off your waterbed absolutely CONVINCED there was an infant in there somewhere. And then have your significant other jump out of bed to join said activity as if a hot poker were inserted somewhere unmentionable until he realized you were completely, stone-cold, bat-shit crazy, and walks calmly into the nursery and calls in, “they are cuddled together, sound asleep. YOU CRAZY BITCH”. Ok, he didn’t actually say CRAZY BITCH but I know he thought it. He told me years later. By telepathy.
So we pretty much fought about everything for the next 7 or 8 years. Got really good at it. What we didn’t get good at was resolving any freaking thing. What was that? Maybe we should try C O M M U N I C A T I N G. Okay. but how?
Therapy is for crazy people. Right?
At least that’s what I had thought. I certainly didn’t need therapy. The rest of the world did!
But things weren’t so hot at home, and if we are honest, who can’t use a little improvement? What’s the worst thing that will happen? We don’t like it? We don’t go back. So we decided to try out couples counseling. Yes, we. I am fortunate in that it has never been one sided here. We both know we aren’t perfect and it’s obvious we have trouble talking to one another about things that may either hurt ourselves or hurt the other. It was preventing us from moving forward in our relationship. Relationships continue to evolve over time. Who knew? We need to keep up or we can lose one another.
Well, it ought to be easy ought to be simple enough, yeah
Man meets woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above
If you want to ride on down, down in through this tunnel of love
– Tunnel of Love (Bruce Springsteen, 1987)
Our counselor has played a pivotal role in our lives. When we first met with him, he asked probing questions to uncover our issues. Issues! We have issues! Add that to the resumes! He then drafted a blueprint of what he’d like to go through with us, both together and one at a time, and approximately how long he felt that might take. This showed us his goal was to help us resolve things, not to have us come back on a regular basis just so he could collect copays. We learned ways to speak to one another that are joked about on just about every comedy on TV – YET THEY WORK. Remember that scene from Pretty Woman? Talking about his father, Richard Gere states: “I was very angry with him. It cost me $10,000 in therapy to say that sentence.” Well, we learned some of the most important ways to speak to one another that everyone should know. Don’t use the phrases, “You always”, or “You never”. Don’t EVER use them. It puts the other person on the defensive and sets you up for an argument right away because the other person usually can poke a hole straight through the sentence pretty easily. You’re welcome. That will be $100.
OK. So it’s foolproof?
We’ve been back over the years for “tune ups”. Sometimes both of us, sometimes me alone. (Apparently I need more tuning). What this HAS taught us, though, is how to intervene with each other when things blow up. Not to let them fester. Like this week. This week SUCKED.
I said something and he replied and my heart broke in a thousand tiny pieces and I thought I was gonna die. Yeah, that’s the Cliff Notes version, but that’s all you need to know. It doesn’t matter WHAT was said. What matters is I said one thing, he said another, and they meant completely different things to one another.
What he said is NOT what I heard.
My mind was booked on a flight outta here because of a misunderstanding I never gave him a chance to rebut. It took days to figure that out. So instead of saying “when you say X, I feel Y”, or some other such counseling jargon, I hit him with, “You said X, and what my mind HEARD was Y. Is that what you meant???”. And of course the answer was “YOU CRAZY BITCH, of course not”. (he may or may not have started with the capitalized portion of that sentence, but we all know he thought it ). What you said…what I heard. I have a feeling this is going to be something we refer to around here again, because men and women just plain think different (DUH).
Looks like we may make it to that anniversary next month 😉