Everybody's doing it, but that doesn’t mean it's easy.
It's all so familiar. I feel like a college freshman again — long lines to get my ID card; a visit with the school nurse; discussions with my roommate about how to decorate and when to go to bed; independent studies; and, of course, syllabus shock. But I'm not an undergraduate. This time my title is "Mrs."
Now that I'm through my first "semester" at this prestigious institution, I've taken time to reflect on what I've learned so far.
Everyone tells you that communication is key. But before I was actually married, whether nodding at my pastor in premarital counseling, or trying to escape a pesky relative, I agreed, but didn't really think too much about it. After all, Chris and I have had those four-hour late night conversations, we could talk to each other easily, we laughed together, and we both agreed on welfare reform and other political issues. That should cover it, I thought. But once we'd been married about six weeks, I was in trouble. It all came to a head one night when we disagreed over whether or not we should be watching TV. We both felt frustrated. After a less-than-intimate time of cold silence, one of us finally said, "What's really the deal here?" We felt like we'd lost our emotional bond. What happened?
A good friend of ours looked back on his extensive two years of marital experience and gave me some insight. He explained that people don't always hear the words we say — they read into them and perceive their own message. This confused me a little; since I'm a very straightforward person and always mean exactly what I say, I assume others do, too. No, he said, you have to understand the whole message, with tone, body language, timing, and circumstances.
This sounded faintly familiar. Sure enough, in our Getting Ready for Marriage workbook (by Jerry D. Hardin and Dianne C. Sloan) we had read that most communication is from non-verbal cues, like lack of eye contact, shrugs, or facial expressions.
After that, I started paying more attention to how I said things, rather than what I said. Suddenly, I began to see things from Chris' point of view, and started to make little, seemingly insignificant changes. I listened to my own tone of voice. I worked to lean forward and maintain better eye contact whenever he was talking, and ask him follow up questions. And I learned to pay attention to his nonverbal cues in case I needed to explain further or re-phrase something. I also asked him when he would like me to talk to him, and incorporated those as well. Sometimes, we just ignored each other's tone or terrible timing. And we often took long walks when we had a bigger or unpleasant issue to discuss. That way, our home remained a place of love and refuge, and we stayed much more calm and objective if there were other people around.
It turned out that a fight that had started over how much television to watch was actually about whether each of our emotional needs was being met. While it wasn't a fun experience, it was a necessary one. We learned that disagreements are not always to be taken at face value, and that some times are better than others to hash things out. We were reminded that it is extremely important to communicate that we love each other. But most important, we learned that real communication is more than mere words.
Student Life 102
In the middle of relearning how to talk to each other (or so it felt) we had another class of a more practical nature. We moved to our new apartment the day after we returned from our honeymoon. Since we only had one day to move, and since it turned out that it was only the two of us most of the day, our first priority was just to get everything into the apartment. The week that followed, however, was another story. I wanted my large Renaissance posters prominently displayed. He was concerned about optimal viewing angles for the 27" television. I had a box of various gifts for "emergencies;" he had an assortment of nonworking electronics "in case I need a part for something." And to top it all off, we had approximately 27 lamps for our 800 square feet.
Eight days before, I had promised to live with this man for the rest of my life. Now I felt like saying, "Why don't we just keep our own places and have sleepovers?" Somehow, we managed to get it all in, although I'm afraid we each have rather high hopes for our "next place."
Once we had all of our stuff more or less arranged, we had to decide how to take care of our new home. Who would clean the bathroom sink? How often would we do dishes? What kind of peanut butter would we buy — chunky or creamy? Who would cook? Would we really consider potato chips an essential part of every supper? Some things were easy — since all the plants were mine, I would water them — but we had more than a few days of dishes or trash piling up before we completed this assignment. In principle, we agreed that whoever had the time or energy would do whatever housework needed to be done. In practice, I did the dishes, he took out the trash, and the rest of it didn't get done as often as it should. And we still buy two kinds of peanut butter.
Back to the Basics 103
Just when you think you're ready to get married, that you've got this Christianity thing down, or that you're even a decent person, you find you're starting over. What does it look like to be kind to a grumpy mate who snaps at you, or to forgive when she accidentally unplugs the video game you were winning, or to be joyful when you receive bills that you can't pay? How do you respect your husband when you disagree, or when he criticizes your housekeeping? That's when you go back to the basics: Bible reading, prayer, accountability, and wise counsel. I suspect that when we have children, we'll be starting all over then, too.
Some classes were fun, like "Beginning your Family Traditions." But midterms were tough, especially in "Handling Crises Together," and "Setting Patterns for the Rest of your Life." Instead of waiting a few days or weeks to get my grades back, however, it may take years before I know how I did. That's where the Grace of God comes into play. I might not have seen much grace on actual college exams that I didn't study for, but in the School of Life, "God is able to make all grace abound to you" (2 Corinthians 9:8). My challenge over this next semester, then, is to learn to give that grace more freely to my husband.
I wonder if this is what my college professors meant by "life-long learning"?
Copyright 2003 Anita Morrill. All rights reserved.