Seventeen years ago, Tom and I chose to blend our five children into one family. It was with lots of love and patience that we did this, because at times it was a rocky road. I remember speaking to my mother about disagreements Tom and I had on raising our children. Mom said she didn’t think it had anything to do with the differences of biological offspring versus stepchildren. She recalled similar disagreements with my father on child-rearing.
Money and children are two of the biggest hotspots for disagreements in a marriage. Of course, there are plenty of other stressors that sideswipe your once happy relationship. Poor communication skills often send your marriage into crisis mode. Given time, some issues could lead you down the road toward divorce. Before you consider that, you should ask yourselves if either of you are interested in saving what remains of your relationship. Or would you prefer to take the investment you’ve made and throw it all away in favor of beginning again with somebody new? If saving what remains is your choice, read on.
The complications and stressors in a marriage are comparable to soup through a strainer. If you have ever strained liquid through a screen in hopes that all the free floating particles be strained out of the liquid, then you’ll understand this analogy. The liquid being clarified is the love that you feel for one another. The solids represent the stress. All the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Arguments about money, about how to raise the children, about work, about love, about life. All of your disagreements are represented by the stuff that’s floating in this brew.
What you need is the nourishing broth. That’s what really heals. But all the other stuff gets in the way. And when you strain it, the screen clogs up to the point where no love gets through. It can’t make its way through all of the stuff that’s blocking it. The way through is to remove some of the blockage and stir that stuff up.
That’s the painful part of it. You have to question whether or not the relationship is worth stirring all that stuff up. You both have to be committed to communicating with each other, and try to convey your feelings without taking it personally. This is incredibly difficult. You are talking about things which have far-reaching meaning. Intimacy issues. Parents. Children. Finances. Self-worth. Blame. Control. Right and Wrong.
You both have to be willing to be nice to one another. To consider each other’s feelings. To learn how to communicate with out creating a sar-chasm. To listen with out taking it personally. Because that is what happens. There is an infinitely vast space between you created by the bitter words that you’ve both spoken. Sometimes that bitterness is sneaky. You may think that what you are saying is reasonable, but you could be pushing buttons in your partner that you didn’t even know were there.
In order to save your relationship, and create a more stable foundation, you must both be willing to change the way you communicate. Refuse to treat your partner as a whipping boy. Refuse to respond as a victim. And stop blaming yourselves and each other. It can no longer be about who is right or who is wrong. You must not point fingers at one another. You must open your hearts and your minds. You can be right, or you can be happy. It’s a choice.
You must be willing to take a look in the mirror and see the parts of yourself that you could improve. See yourself clearly. And forgive yourself. Let it be in the past. Once you have forgiven yourself for all of the things that you believe you may have done wrong, then forgive each other for all of the hurts, perceived or otherwise. Tabula Rasa. It’s time to wipe the slate clean, and take care of one another again.
Be willing to discuss all the issues, not just the surface issues. If there are money problems, including disagreements about spending or saving habits, be willing to discuss them without blame. If there are differences in raising your children, do not point fingers or castigate your partner for doing something “wrong.” You have lovely, strong, wonderful children. Believe it or not, they love you no matter what kind of mistakes you make, and both parenting styles have value. Allow each other to be human. Your children will see the good examples that you set when you are willing to concede that you make mistakes. They will also see that you support each other no matter what. That’s important.
If there are intimacy issues, then be willing to talk about those as well. Sex is one of the hardest things to discuss. But it is a necessary part of marriage. Intimacy is important. Sharing each others bodies is the same as sharing each others souls. Don’t be shy about sharing yourselves and your innermost fears and desires in this area as well. If you tend to hold back in this area, then be willing to explore. And if you would like more from your partner, either sexually or emotionally, then be clear about that as well.
Once you start to crack the communication door, the floodgates may open. Be gentle with each other. Be receptive. Be honest. Treat each other with respect and tenderness. Take care of your partner as if he or she were a two-year-old. We don’t blame a child for irrational responses to a situation. He is still learning, right? So are you and your partner. But don’t condescend. Support one another as if you were best friends.
Your marriage is worth saving because when you married you had this vast sea of love between you, and you swam in it joyfully back then. Remind each other of how you felt when you were courting. Find time to spend together outside of your parenting time. Plan to go out together at least one night a week. This is not an easy thing, because life gets in the way. We make up excuses why it can’t be done. Not enough money. Too tired. The kids need us. No babysitter. All of these things are easily solved. There are ways to go out without spending money, even if it’s just for a long stroll through town, holding hands and talking. You can trade off with another couple for babysitting. Drink more coffee to wake up. And the kids need you more together, rather than living in the same house apart. Whether you realize it or not, you both need the same thing. Love and respect. Gentle reminders when you backslide in to old habits. A blank slate each day. Each minute, if necessary.
Remember the love, because that’s what it all boils down to. That’s why we are here in this world.