Get Engaged. Stay Engaged.

As I re-read yesterday’s post about marriage, divorce, and “peeling the onion,” I noticed that the three coping mechanisms I listed of wine, napping, and long walks all had a strong shared theme.

They each represent a method of disengagement.

They represent other things too, such as time for reflection and in the heat of argument they can be effective tools for putting some cooling off space between two people who are not communicating well.  But despite their constructive values, they do each represent a certain degree of withdrawal versus engagement.

When I saw that pattern, it got my attention.

It made me think about what we do at a purely animal-level and what we are capable of doing when we try harder.  My friend Rick Wilson has a spectacular blog focused on social justice.  A recent post (click here) featured a quote on this issue of the human higher calling  from one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry:

Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.

How often in our relationships do we react like rats and roaches?  In other words, do we blindly accept the biology of fight or flight, and do we use it to rationalize why we aren’t rising to a higher calling with those we love?  I know I have.  Not in a particularly articulate manner, mind you, but upon review I would say I’ve had more than my fair share of moments where I reacted more like a rat than like the best reflection of God that I could be.

I will still take a walk around the block, breathing deeply and sometimes muttering in frustration.  And I will still have a glass or two of wine and stare into the fireplace and imagine I’m actually at the Algonquin Roundtable instead of in an unresolved conflict at home.  I will still take a nap.  Why?  Well, sometimes just because I am really weary.  (Kevin Costner to Tim Robbins in Bull Durham:  “Women don’t get woolly, Meat.  They get weary.  Women get WEARY!”)

Which by the way is some of the best napping ever since Superman Husband installed a surprise replacement ceiling fan for Mothers’ Day that makes the sweetest white noise……….

But I try now to see these activities for what they are.  They are a break in the journey, a rest break if you will.  They are not places of eternal refuge.  They are places for very short time-outs to reconnect with the woman I want to be for myself and my family.

Whir whir whir whir…soft air.  Steady breathing.  Whir whir whir whir… is not a gathering storm.  It is not even the fan.  

It is the breath of God.

Image credit:  G2Art

One Layer at a Time

“I’m not dating anyone,” my friend wrote.  “Right now I’m traveling and doing things on my own.”

Mostly, I’m peeling the onion.”

In that one phrase, I’m peeling the onion, he catapulted me several years into the past, to the strange and dark days of life after divorce.  There wasn’t much to do but peel layers and cry.

The end of a marriage is both a uniquely intense, poignant event and a very long process.  It starts before anyone files papers, and it goes on for a long time after a judge decides the legal relationship is dissolved.  Building and sustaining a healthy, long-term relationship means being willing to work on yourself, not just before marriage but all of the time.

All of the time.

It’s maddening to hear,”Marriage is hard work.”  What does that even mean?  I’ve never found it helpful because it could mean anything and nothing.  It’s usually said by people who have been married long enough to know what it takes but who also don’t really want to talk about it.  If you actually tell someone what you mean when you say, “Marriage is hard work,” you will need to reveal every human weakness you’ve brought to the table, and not many people want to sign up for that.

It’s a shame, though, because it would help to know that successfully married people aren’t necessarily people who are better than you are as a human being.  They may just have a higher tolerance for vulnerability and humility than you do.  Which, come to think of it, may in fact mean they are better people.

Whittling it down to a specific definition, I’ve learned it means we are crazy to try to bring ourselves to a life with another person if we aren’t willing to work every day to better know, understand, and share ourselves.  This is a cycle of vulnerability and strength requiring endurance, humility, and complete devotion to purpose.

For me it has also required wine, naps, and the occasional long walk.

The first time I was married I was very young.  That is no excuse for failure, as there are lots of people who marry in their early twenties and have spectacular success as spouses for decades.  I was not one of those people, and I suspect that one of the many reasons is I thought I knew a lot of things that I simply didn’t actually know.  I remember acting with complete conviction on multiple occasions when in hindsight I was just repeating ideas because someone else had told me they were true.  I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but I say now with confidence that I can’t put someone else’s tires on my marriage vehicle.

They look wrong and the ride is wobbly.

My husband and I have been through some very difficult times, both before and after we were married to each other.  One of the things we know is that it’s never just about waiting for the other person to pull their act together — this is our act.

We pull it apart individually, and we pull it together as a team.

One layer at a time.