Saturday, January 2, 2010

Our marriage will last because he leaves me...and I'm okay with that!

The running of our family depends upon separation, and without a willingness to be vulnerable and trusting, our marriage would never last through this phase of our lives. I look at those magical couples who are with each other more than they are apart (most often the kidless-dog-owning-ones), and I am partially awe-struck and generally impressed, but I think the major emotion I feel is one of sadness. For a while I was sad that it wasn’t us. Although I hadn’t spent any childhood energy on fantasizing about my husband or our relationship, I think somewhere in the depths of my heart I had hoped that once I was married I would be “with” that person forever. My current sadness for those have-to-be-together-all-the-time-couples is that statistically many of them may never see the other side of married life, and have a chance to enjoy the confidence that comes with knowing you are loved and honored even when you are not in the physical presence of your spouse. I see heart-linked couples and they sometimes seem more concerned about continually reminding each other that they are connected than they are about simply enjoying each other’s company.

Now granted, I know that not every husband is completely honest about what he might be doing when he is not with his wife, nor does every wife make only faithful decisions when faced with temptation. I count myself among the lucky that I am in a relationship based on open and genuinely honest communication. I have come to trust my husband with every fiber of my being, and he generally does exactly what he says he is going to do. I, too, try to be true to my word, and we’ve even talked openly about what it would mean if one of the two of us wanted to cheat on our marriage. We both agree that if there was a desire to be adulterous, there would be nothing that the other spouse could do to keep it from happening. It is so hard to imagine him stepping out on us, that I don’t even think I can fake what it would feel like. My ability to identify with the “cheating wife” is also such a foreign concept that it is easier for me to just talk about why trust works for us.

My husband and I have been married nearly twelve years, and he has worn his wedding ring one day. For our wedding and reception, his band was on the ring finger of his left hand, but starting on the first full day of our marriage, and every day since, he has kept his ring on a gold chain around his neck. He has been to bars, he has been around single women, he has gone to raucous parties and that entire time he has gone with a naked hand. My seven-year-old daughter asked him one day how anyone knows he is married if he doesn’t wear his ring on his hand. His answer was simple, “It doesn’t matter if anyone else knows I am married, it matters that your mom and I know we are married.” It’s true, and I am starting to understand the depth of that statement more and more.

I do a lot of things alone with our kids, and on and off through the last couple of years, I have allowed negative emotions to creep into my thinking about what that must look like to the casual observer. I know that my oldest overheard a family talking about us at church and one of the kids whispered, “I think they don’t have a dad.” My kids know they have a dad…they have a great dad, and I know I have a husband…what does it really matter what anyone else thinks? Our lives are goofy, and for two months of the year we have a long distance, commuting relationship. My husband lives 900 miles away while I hold down the fort with the kids. For one month we are high-fiving each other as we both head out of state to work on the weekends and a parade of family and hired help keep the schedules running and the house afloat. For four months we work together from home during the week and then evenings on the weekend I am home alone or running kids from here to there. For maybe one month total through the year we are the “typical” married couple with our own work to do and we come together for the weekend as a family. Normal is most definitely the exception in our house, and I feel blessed that I am finally starting to embrace that.

What does it mean to be “with” someone without actually being “with” someone? That’s what forced separation has taught me. It means that you know someone out there makes decisions that include you. It means that you make decisions with that person in mind too, and there is a movement toward a common goal that happens every day no matter where we are. Some people never get to this point in their relationships, and for that, I am sad for them. I no longer prescribe to the ideology that everyone deserves that family picture that looks polished and beautiful but that is based on the gloss more than the goodness. What everyone deserves is someone who loves them unconditionally and who sacrifices for their goals and dreams. What everyone deserves is a chance to confidently go through life knowing that they’ll never be hurt on purpose. What everyone deserves is a chance to be missed and the joy that comes with reuniting. When a marriage is based in truth and grounded in love there is not one way that the family photo looks from day to day, and even if I have to photoshop my husband in, I know he is my husband, and I am his wife.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marry Mr. Right NOT Mr. Everything

For some reason, in this country, it is promoted, albeit subtly, that women should aspire to date and then ultimately marry the powerful among us. Well, who is that exactly? Starting in high school, the cool kids are often the kids who are the most successful on the playing field or whose parents have the most money and thus the most toys. I probably need to back starts even earlier than that. Probably as early as 4th grade, it is cheered when the athletic boys begin to emerge and, amazingly enough, the 4th grade girls start to notice. Those kids who were fortunate enough to be born into affluent families are also starting to be more attractive than the kids whose families may struggle for material things, and the epic battle has begun.

There is nothing new about the jockeying for position to win the prettiest girl or the most powerful boy, but what needs to be new is an awareness of how that battle is playing out. We have two girls and one boy in our house, and I am fiercely protective of their hearts. I, of course, hope that they can achieve some modicum of success and that we'll be blessed with a number of grandchildren, but of even greater importance to me, is how well they will guard their hearts and how relationships will be valued more than material possessions or power. The allure is undoubtedly impressive, and it will never ultimately be my choice, but the track record of powerful men is not a good one, and I hope my kids at least pay attention to that.

When I arrived on my college campus, as a freshman, I was warned about two things to avoid: that strange-smelling hall in one of the dorms and the hockey players. There was no in-depth discussion as to why those two things should be avoided, but I felt confident that the advice was well-intentioned. Looking back on it now, I think the strange-smelling hall was a no-brainer, but the hockey player warning took some observation to understand. The primary sport at our school was hockey, and the young men who played on that team had the most "power". There were throngs of girls who followed the players everywhere and several could be seen waiting for them outside the locker room, or the dorm rooms or parties. The players acted as though they had earned this attention, and had little regard for the emotional drama that often followed their trysts.

It is no wonder that it took my husband five requests before I would accompany him on a date. He was a hockey player, but he was unlike the "typical hockey player", and when my friends were able to convince me of that, I accepted his invitation. He was not, and still is not, the typical hockey player. He had achieved a level of success, but he also suffered some humility that likely changed his status of "power". I lucked out, but some of the girls who dated and even married several of the other sports stars from their schools were not as lucky. There have been a number of hearts broken and families shattered, and I truly fear the damage is not completely done.

There are some men, who very possibly through no fault of their own, should never be allowed to marry. Those men are often highly successful athletes, movie or music superstars, or high profile politicians. Their relationship woes are sometimes more newsworthy than the achievements of these men, and the list is long and unfortunately, growing. On a quick hunt on the internet I was able to compile a short, but impressive list of those "powerful" men who are still incredibly powerful, but who have spent more energy on career and fame than on their marital relationships.

Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, John Elway, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton have either all strayed from their marital vows or divorced. What this does to the fabric of marriage is irreversible. Young boys aspire to be like these famous men, and the more prevalent infidelity is the more acceptable it will become and the importance of guarding a relationship takes a backseat to power and prestige. There are all sorts of levels of power, and many of the traits found in these superstars can be found in much less important men, but who have a level of power in their own right.

Red flags for women looking to marry the men they adore:
If he thinks of himself as a deserving superstar.
If he has not had a "humbling" experience.
If life has come easily for him and success followed.
If he believes others should work for him and he has
put in all the work he'll ever need.
If he is the "best" looking guy in his group of friends.
If he has ever cheated when he was supposedly dating someone.
If he enjoys the party scene much more than intimate conversation.
If he is from a broken home and keeps a distance from family.

Traits of Mr. Right...even if he doesn't have everything:
If he feels a strong connection to his family...especially his
If he is a hard-worker who takes pride in his work.
If he has some humility and can admit his weaknesses.
If he helps to promote the worth of the girls he dates.
If he is average-looking and cares about his overall health.
If he is willing to sacrifice for others around him.
If he will engage in deep conversations about "real" topics.
If he has lifelong friends who still keep in touch with him.

I could never make an argument that the famous Mr. Wrongs were without any Mr. Right traits, because in all likelihood they had some of the characteristics that would convince someone to marry him. My point is simply that to marry for power or popularity is possibly an incredibly slippery slope. If he has adoring fans, and is often in the spotlight, the quiet night at home with a wife and a small child or two, will never fully satisfy his needs.

This list has been compiled as the longterm goals I have for the children in my house. I cannot fully form the intentions of their hearts, but I can point out the pitfalls and minefields that, I guess thankfully, are in the daily news and an unfortunate thread of modern life.