My first thought this morning…
Ever wake up and wonder what went wrong with your marriage? I’ve done that. But this particular morning I was thinking about my marriage and just how lucky and fortunate I am. I might hate everything else, but not my marriage. I always spin the coin to look at the other side of things too and, in doing so, realized how many close calls there were and how fragile it is even now. Makes me nervous.
Sometimes I wake up and am surprised to see my wife still there. It’s always a nice surprise. It’s not because I’m a philandering philanthropist (oh man that was clever!), or a big mean jerk, it’s just that marriage is so freakin fragile.
One bad day and you can tend to think it’s all over, while the next day can be amazing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve invested heavily in our marriage, even before I knew Erin. I believe in our marriage down to my toes, even if they’re kinda dirty and hairy sometimes. But bad days are bad days.
How many people are walking on a knife’s edge in their marriages?
From secrets to addictions to shame to personalities to kids to finances to, well, life just being harder and more complicated than we thought it was going to be when we were younger.
There’s this thing that I’ve found on the good side of the coin and that is Resilience. As fragile and complicated as it is, we’re in it to win it! Sorry, I just had to rhyme that.
I used to think that winning in marriage only really had to do with my own strength or will or capacity to give, or even experience pain. I was fine with that because I was strong. My strength of personality has normally landed me on top, or at least on my feet, when I had experienced trouble before the whole marriage thing, or in my career.
“What an arrogant jerk!?” I’m not really, it’s arrogant to think more highly of myself than I really am. Humility is just an accurate view of yourself. Not higher and certainly not lower. False humility is gross. What I’m really saying is that what I thought would win the game for me didn’t. To be perfectly honest, it probably lent itself to the amazing breakdown when it finally happened.
So she asks me “What happens in your marriage if you don’t win?”
She waits me out… (that’s what they’re trained to do). I start mumbling along the lines of not understanding the question. Like seriously I don’t really understand the question. Failure in the thing that mattered most to me was not an option. No point in thinking about things that aren’t options. Come up with contingency plans for everyone else’s shortcomings and… yes…failures, but no plans for my own!
I start thinking about that question for like a whole month. Every single experience in my marriage was run through that filter of trying to win. If I win, Erin wins. My marriage wins. My family wins. Now, though, I’ve got a problem that can’t be solved by winning and I don’t understand it. I’m honest enough to realize its implications… that if I’m off on this, I could be off on a lot. A whole lot.
You probably realize that my problems aren’t your problems, that they’re sort of unique to me? Or maybe you’re kind of like me, I don’t know. But we all share that terrifying experience after a breakdown when our eyes are opened momentarily to that brutal question: “What else am I wrong about?”
You can medicate that pain, or ignore it and go for “marriage by default” (divorce), or get aggressive (also possibly divorce).
Or you can sit there with an awkward, and somewhat rueful expression on your face for a whole month and readjust before it’s too late.
My natural strength kept me playing a game I was really losing at for far too long. The issue wasn’t me being right and Erin being wrong (or vice versa if you’re a female reading this:), it was that I was trying to solve the hardest problem I’d ever faced in-house.
That’s where I went wrong. I tried to solve my marriage inside my marriage.
When you’re playing by the wrong rules you lose. When you’re playing a game on the wrong field, you lose. Every time. That’s what I didn’t know about my marriage. The specific resilience that saved my marriage did not come from inside of me, no matter how resilient I was personally. Or from Erin, who is as loyal as they come.
It came from two things:
I was married in the sight of God and He had an interest in keeping us together, but I knew that part before. Here’s the part I didn’t know…
I couldn’t solve my marriage in-house.
I now owe my marriage to the wonderful community of life-long friends that we actually do life together with.
…And my irritating therapist…