Let me start by saying our love story is my favorite. For twenty-five years I have loved and been devoted to Jeff. I never pretended to have a perfect marriage, but always thought we had a good one.
Until two years ago.
Things didn't escalate overnight. It was definitely a slow fade. Both of us have now accepted responsibility for and asked forgiveness for our role that increased the crazy cycle. But at a recent marriage weekend, I heard something that explained it all.
"Hurt people become self-centered."
Yep, I was hurt. I've struggled with severe physical pain for the past three years. I have felt the stinging hurt of loss for four years. He has struggled with hurt from being persecuted and fired from his last job three years ago. Both of us suffered hurt from the perceived loss of our dreams. Initially we weren't hurting each other. We were just in pain, at the same time, due to different circumstances. Instead of coming together, or even turning to God in the worst of it, we turned inward. We became self-centered.
This continued for so long that we started to judge the other person to not understand what we were going through. We saw the other's selfishness and lashed out. Or shut down. One Christmas day we sat in the car after the kids went inside and screamed at each other. Another time I unleashed on him outside a restaurant when we were going to meet our son. All too often we yelled and cried and said things we would never consider saying to someone we loved late into the night.
In our pain, we kept hurting each other.
This didn't go on 24/7. We'd have several good days, then one of us would explode. At first I blamed it on my perimenapause, then figured he must be going through a midlife crisis. Maybe both of those were true. But the bottom line was we were hurt and had become self-centered.
I went to counseling, we did counseling together, and then in one of my not-so-fine moments, I told him I wouldn't go to counseling again until he went alone. I had improved my relationship with God (I thought) and learned to recognize and control my emotions (for the most part), so I judged the problem was with him. I tried the love dare, I spoke words of affirmation to him. Some days were fabulous. But on our bad days, I knew if we continued on this path much longer, I wouldn't be able to handle it. It was during this time that I encouraged him to consider moving out-of-state to open his own coffee shop. I would visit him a few times a month but stay in California and work. I decided the only way to survive our marriage was if we lived apart because I judged Jeff would never be happy until his dream came true.
Our early years of having kids seemed to be the hardest, but the teenage years proved more mentally and emotionally taxing than the toddler years were physically taxing. Also, midlife has brought health issues for both of us and our parents. Our responsibilities seemed to double overnight. Now we organize our lives around our kids' schedules, my mom's schedule, and working full-time.
Here I was in the middle of a life I didn't recognize, with a new found empathy for friends who were married more than a decade and then got a divorce. Finally, I understood how such a thing could happen.
At first my husband told me he didn't appreciate me talking to my closest friends about our marriage issues. That was when I told him if I had to hide it away from everyone, including my best friends, I absolutely would not make it. I did learn a balance of praying and sharing. I also knew those I confided in would lift our marriage up in prayer and not think less of me or Jeff because we are just human.
During a recent trip to Texas, one of my friends mentioned that Retrouvaille saved her marriage. When she said "It's all about communicating better," hope rose inside me. For months Jeff and I had been saying communication was our problem. Not like who was getting what at the store or what weekend plans we had, but the on-going misinterpretation of one another's feeling and assuming the other's thoughts and intent.
That night when everyone else was asleep, I went to Retrouvaille's website. I took the quiz to see if the program was right for us. By the time I finished, I was crying at the realization of the amount of stress our marriage was under. One question after another I answered yes to. The ones I answered no to, I was thankful that we didn't deal with those issues as well.
Two weeks later Jeff and I sat hand in hand, tears in our eyes, surrounded by a dozen other broken couples. It was humbling to admit in our hearts that our marriage was not okay. But as the program began, both of us were filled with hope. The three couples who volunteered to run the program had all struggled with infidelity and some with addiction, however, they were now decades past their brokenness. If this program helped them, we were optimistic it would help us as well.
The weekend was not a retreat. It was an intense boot camp on communication. I told my kids ahead of time we would not be available all weekend so I was free to leave my phone off. I needed to focus on my husband, our marriage, and God. God was there and He showed us how we could start to rebuild. We communicated on paper not only about our stress and frustrations, but our feelings. As I read my husband's feelings, I discovered a new empathy for him. For years he'd been apologizing for not having the right words. What I really needed to know were his emotions. And I had the opportunity to share my feeling when it came to work/being the provider was that of burnt out. A ten on a scale of 1 to 10, like a house burnt to the ground with only ashes remaining. After Jeff read about it, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and apologized for all the stress I'm feeling.
We are three weeks out from the marriage weekend now. Our first post-session was last week and we have eleven more to go. Maybe that's a lot, but our family is worth it. We now seek to understand each other in every situation. There have been a lot of blessings, but the biggest of all have been the laughter in our home and the joy in my heart again. The man I fell in love with and married almost twenty-three years ago has that glimmer in his eyes again, one of joy mixed with tremendous love for me.
Would our marriage have survived without Retrouvaille? Maybe. Would it be thriving like it is? Probably not.
I don't know if you are in the heights of your marriage or the depths. If you are in the heights, file this away in your mind or your phone. With the divorce rate at 50%, if you personally don't need this information in the future, you will run across someone who will. If you are in the depths of your marriage, I'm sorry for what you've been through. I know the pain, frustration, and isolation. Retrouvaille may be able to help. It is a worldwide program so there is probably one near you. They also do the follow-up sessions online. Please also reach out to me for prayer. I don't need details, but prayer does change things. If you need someone to talk to, I'm here without judgment. I share all this in hopes of helping others. Please, pass this onto anyone who you think would benefit from it.
Our love story is still my favorite. This season has been an example of James 1: 2-5. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." We needed help, and God brought it. Just in time. The work He has done in us was worth it all.