Being married is a lot of work. Especially as time passes, life happens, and communication wanes. Kids add beaucoup stress to a marriage (although possibly not as much as wanting kids does). And sudden disability? This experience has got to be the worst marriage killer we’ve yet experienced. We went from a couple with a rhythm, roughly equally divided tasks, and understanding of our routines to total chaos. Professor X’s pain levels varied hour to hour so tasks I thought would be done were not and expectations of time with the kids were crushed. During the summer I felt like I had become a single mom, although Professor X was at home all day. Although both of us were on “summer vacation”, I took on 90%+ of both kid and home responsibilities. My resentment built up, and as it did, so did his.
We both realized that things were bad and needed help. So in late August we had a long heart to heart–revealing our feelings, hurts, hopes, and fears. It was the beginning of our healing time. We also decided to pursue counseling, which I hoped would give us a plan for continuing our communication and help us through this troubled time of chronic pain and unknown diagnoses.
We like our counselor. She’s brought up some good points about our pasts that could be contributing to the hurt in our relationship. She has had some suggestions for ways to help Professor X. But she hasn’t helped us develop a plan. Organized as I am, I want a list: “here’s what you need to do to help your relationship”.
Around the beginning of September, a friend mentioned that her parents had been actively involved in Marriage Encounters, a faith based weekend to help marriages. There are 12 different Christian denominations that participate, but I wasn’t picky the sponsor denomination. I sought out the next available near-by Marriage Encounters weekend. It was certainly a God-thing that my non-Christian friend directed me to this organization, that there was a weekend only a month away, and that it was only a few miles from our home. We knew almost nothing about this organization or what the weekend would be like. But I trusted my friend and I assumed giving one weekend to just concentrate on our marriage couldn’t hurt.
Finding babysitting was not so easy. We’d never left our children before (not that we haven’t wanted time away, but we have no family around to watch the kids). The families from church that we asked were all busy with their own obligations. Time was running out and still we had no sitter. Although my mom couldn’t fly in to help, she said she would pay for my sister to do so, if my sister was willing. My sister (who shall here-by be re-named ” Wonder Auntie “) was honored and excited at the possibility. She readily took us up on our “offer” and did not back out even when she was given a job offer and coming to watch our kids would affect her first week on the job.
We knew that God had lined up the weekend after Wonder Auntie’s plan were in place.
Thankfully, one of the volunteer presenters told us “not to judge” the weekend until the conclusion. This organization was designed for the baby boomer generation, and has held onto many of those “old school” traits. From cheesy felt banners, “yea God!” chants, Johnny Appleseed blessings, out of date vocabulary, an organizational anthem (??!!), and silly clip-art, I felt like I was in a time-warp. I have a tendency to immediately turn “off” when I see these things, but I was making a concerted effort to stay attentive. It also gave Professor X and I more things to laugh about later.
What is this weekend really about? It is an intense series of lessons on a new (to us) communication technique. This communication technique (called “dialogue”) involved writing “love letters” to each other about how we are feeling on a variety of issues. After 10 minutes of writing, we spend time together to listen attentively and really try to understand how the other person is feeling. It is not a time to problem solve, resolve conflict, or bring up past wrongs. It is a time to listen to the heart of your spouse. Through many, many examples, and just as many practice sessions, we began to feel comfortable with this technique.
The key and real challenge now is to take this communication tool and use it daily. As I told Professor X, “If I am willing to devote time to blogs, exercise, and the kids activities, it would be just wrong of me not to spend time completely devoted to you.” Marriage takes work. And time. And intimacy.
What surprised me about this weekend? It was not a retreat. It was not relaxing. More like cramming a 4 credit class into 2.5 days, we were exhausted. We were “working” until 11pm each night and received wake-up calls at 6:30. When we tried to come out of our rooms early for some coffee, we were told to “go back to your room and wait for your phone call”. Whoa. My swimsuit for the hot tub? Unused. My work out clothes? Never left the bag. Already suffering a sore throat before the weekend even started, I had to take 2 days off of work to deal with my full-fledged cold after the weekend.
Welcome to Marriage Bootcamp. Prepare for some arse-woopin’.
The cost of the weekend seemed steep, but the organization lets each couple make a confidential payment of the amount that they can afford. They encourage couples that are able to make a tax deductible over-payment to help future couples afford this relationship changing weekend. Unlike other events, no one is turned away from Marriage Encounters because of finances.
Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes. I really believe that if Professor X and I can continue with this communication tool, our marriage will be improved 100%. Professor X shared aloud that, “It’s like all the good parts of our marriage are floating to the top!” And our improved marriage will in turn help our relationship with God and with our kids.
When you see a couple that has been married 49 years stare into each others’ and sing “I’m everything I am because you love me“, you can’t help but get choked up. That is the marriage I want to have.