Wednesday, February 24, 2010
A sobering picture of marriage (Harold’s response)
Rob and Celia are showing us just how fast the honeymoon can wear off. The romanticism fades quickly when the challenges of working a marriage set in. The challenges can sometimes be sobering.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to talk to a room of brides-to-be. My appeal was simple. Invest at least as much in your marriage as you invest in your wedding. Too often divorce papers are being filed before a couple even finishes paying off the wedding debt.
Fortunately for Rob and Celia they did invest in their relationship even before the wedding. And, I’m confident that this will reap dividends in this current “crisis”. They both need to listen from an empathic stance. Like so many conflicts in our own marriages, they both have strong and weak aspects to their respective arguments.
All it takes is for one of them to be unselfish here and things are likely to correct themselves.
Monday, February 22, 2010
A sobering picture of marriage
It is after midnight. Rob and Celia are having a tough time trying to balance Rob’s family needs with Celia’s, and neither is able to fully grasp the other’s position. Rob has had way too much to drink, in Celia’s opinion, and Celia is being way too dramatic in Rob’s. Celia is walking the track at her old junior high school, trying to stop crying enough to continue the drive home. Rob is watching her from the bench.
As Celia rounded the far corner of the track and headed toward him, Rob chewed on his own cud. So this is marriage, he thought. Maybe the crazy in Celia’s family had been a red flag to which he should have paid closer attention. But it hadn’t been that crazy before, he realized. Her mom is crazier now because she couldn’t handle Rob and Celia being married, which meant that Celia could no longer react to her mother in the same way.
But here Mom had manipulated the situation so that Celia had little choice but to react, though it had been a grand manipulation and Celia’s response could perhaps be understood as proportionate, not merely dramatic. Celia wasn’t a drama queen. She had been genuinely worried a few hours ago, and now that she realized she had been manipulated, she was angry at her mother. As was Rob.
But she’s mad at me, too, Rob remembered; right, because she thinks I had too much to drink. He checked in with himself. His last margarita had been almost two hours ago. Admittedly, he had been three sheets to the wind when they left the restaurant bar with his cousins, but the nap in the car, the adrenalin of the confrontation with her mother, and now the cold damp air were helping. OK, he thought. I probably did not need the fourth margarita. Or the shot of Cuervo with the beer chaser. Rob winced as he realized he had likely spent a ton more money than he had planned in addition to drinking too much. He could not recollect paying the bill and feared that in a fit of sentimental spirit he had treated everyone. Oh, well, his cousins were cool and he could email them and ask them to pay their parts. They could send checks, and if they sent them this week he could have the money before his next credit card payment was due—
Rob realized he needed to worry about that later as Celia approached. She appeared intent on continuing to walk, so Rob stood up and walked with her. He found that he had to focus hard to match her stride, so he was probably still drunk as Celia had assumed.
Celia did not seem to be crying any longer, but she did not say anything, either. He thought he would say something, but he did not know where to start, because he had trouble remembering why he loved Celia. Somebody, somewhere, at some time had given him this advice about marriage: The day you can’t remember why you married this person is the day the real marriage starts.
Yikes, he thought. Cold hard reality hit his veins and accelerated his sobering process.
What happens next?
Friday, February 19, 2010
Bridging Emotional Separation in Marriage - Harold’s response
Sometimes we want our spouses to feel the way that we feel. If we are upset about something, we want them to be upset about it too. If we are excited or joyous about something, we want our spouse to share our enthusiasm. This is natural. Most of us want to feel like our spouse empathizes with us. And, empathy in marriage is usually a good thing.
The problem, however, is that sometimes we hold our spouse’s guilty because they draw boundaries—refusing to sulk or be irrationally exuberant just because we do. We can’t expect our spouse’s to be holden to what is oftentimes our individual pathology.
In this current episode, I think this is what is going on with Celia. She is bothered that Rob refused to wallow in worry with her about her mother. In fact, he had the audacity to actually enjoy himself with his cousins (even drinking a little too much) instead of fretting over the condition of Celia’s mom.
There is certainly a place for sharing the concerns of our spouses. But, there is also a place for drawing reasonable boundaries. Rob drew his boundaries. And, now he has to deal with the consequences with his wife. Hopefully, they can use this episode to learn how to create a bridge to emotional engagement rather than being driven by hurt and anger.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Bridging Emotional Separation in Marriage - Joanne’s response
Celia drove down to Canton to check on her mother and her mother infuriated her, but interestingly it is not Mom with whom Celia is angry right now. Either she had low expectations for Mom or she said her piece sufficiently to discharge her anger at her before she left the house. Celia is angry at Rob for drinking too much and therefore being no help to her. Whether Rob considers this valid or not remains to be seen, but marriage has a way of making a person expect certain things from their partner that they don’t expect anymore from others. Sometimes this is part of what Harold has called the “imaginary marriage,” the unconscious expectations we have about our partner’s perfect intuition and availability to meet our every need. Celia’s regrets about marrying Rob show that her expectations and reality don’t add up, but I hope she gets Rob’s perspective before she blames either of them for making a bad choice in getting married. This is the first time since their wedding that Celia’s needs and Rob’s needs have genuinely clashed, and it might take a good argument to get them back on track. I believe they can do it.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Bridging emotional separation in marriage
Celia and Rob were heading north from Canton, from her mother’s house, to Cleveland, where they were staying at Rob’s parents for the weekend. Before they had left, Rob, standing next to the car window, had told Celia that he had never been as drunk as she thought, to which Celia started the car and put it in reverse to pull out; Rob quickly ran around and jumped into the passenger seat. “I’m sorry you are having such a rotten night,” he said to her then.
Against her will, Celia began to cry as she backed out of her mother’s driveway and drove out to the main road. Rob’s grandmother’s party, which had ended only eight hours prior, seemed like years ago. At least behind the wheel of the car she felt in control of something. Her mother, her husband, her marriage and her life seemed to be spiraling away from her in different directions at the same time. She could concentrate on the road, and one maneuver at a time she could manage her life. She sniffed, and sniffed again, reaching into her jacket pocket one hand at a time in search of a tissue.
Rob opened the glove compartment – it was his car—and pulled out a clean napkin, which he handed to her. Celia wiped her nose, but what she really needed was two hands to blow it. She pulled into the empty parking lot of what had been her junior high school a decade before, put the car in park, and blew her nose good and hard. This was a fruitless activity, though, because she was still crying and producing snot at an astonishing rate.
Frustrated, Celia opened the car door and got out, slamming it behind her. She was vaguely aware that Rob was in the car with her, but she felt so lonely anyway that she was compelled to be alone; it was more consonant with her mood. She began walking, fast, toward the school’s track. The gate of its chain-link fence was loosely chained as it has always been, and she squeezed underneath it as she always had. This field had been her destination of choice when her parents’ fights escalated when she was a kid.
She heard the car door slam and assumed Rob was getting out. Celia was furious with him – not for trying to balance his family’s celebration with Celia, or for wanting to go out with his cousins after the party. These desires were fair. She had held up her part of the deal just fine, she thought; she had done her best to set aside her concern for her mother so Rob could have a good time. But she was angry that Rob had had so much to drink that he was no real help now. She was as alone walking this track as a married woman as she had been as a kid.
I should have followed Plan A after college, she thought as she walked faster, which had been to apply for jobs in other cities or join the Peace Corps or something, anything, to get out of Ohio. I am stuck with Plan B the rest of my life, she thought. She had little recollection of why marrying Rob had seemed like a good idea a year ago, but it was the choice she had made.
Celia rounded the far end of the track and was now headed back toward the gate. She could see Rob, dimly illuminated in the track’s one security light, sitting on the home team bench. He was watching her walk toward him. Hopefully the cold air is sobering him up, Celia thought, as she blew her nose on the last remaining corner of the napkin.
What happens next?
Friday, February 12, 2010
Love is…finding your empathic self (Harold’s response)
My wife, Dalia and I teach an intense marital communication class periodically. One of the most vital components of the class is an exercise where we have couples identify the marital issues that they most struggle with. The issues typically orient around finances, parenting, sex, intimacy, spending time together, household duties, and food. As couples talk about these issues, you can almost see the fire. These are heated issues that are the source of much consternation. After hearing them out, Dalia and I ask them to reach deep within and see if they can identify the good in their spouses perspective. Almost inevitably they struggle to do so. As we record these good responses on the board, we do so with a yellow marker that they can't even really see. Here is the message, we clearly focus on the negative aspects. We know them well. But, it is very difficult for us to see the positive or remember the good in our spouse's perspectives--especially when when we are in a crisis.
In our current episode, Rob and Celia (and of course Celia's mom) need to remember the good in one another. It is there. We just have to look hard sometimes. And, when we do, we give an awesome display of love. That is empathy.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Love is…finding your empathic self
Celia has just walked out on her
mother and Rob, left alone in the house with his mother-in-law, has just called
her on her behavior.
you came down here in the middle of the night to talk to me like that?” Mrs. Gillespie said to Rob. “I don’t need this.” She turned and walked back
exhaled. Typically Celia’s mother
liked him and Celia had made use of the fact that Rob, who was not set off by
Mrs. Gillespie’s reactivity the way Celia was, could calm her and reason with
her about things. Rob knew his
last comment had not exactly been soothing. But it had been honest.
front door was still open though the screen door was shut. Celia’s mom was lazy – she did not
remove the screen door in the winter like his father had always done. Who needs an extra door when there are
no bugs, Dad would always say. But
it occurred to Rob that this was part of the package of being a divorced
mother. There would always be more
work to do than time or energy to do it, and worse, there was no one to ask for
help. Why would she take off
a door in November that only had to be put back on in April? As a wave of sympathy washed over him
for his mother-in-law, he saw the next layer – that Celia had lived with a
tired, depressed, overworked single mother for a decade. In their own ways Celia and her sister
Catherine had tried to help their mother, but Rob could see now that there was
never enough help for someone so needy.
Celia walking out as she did, and Rob speaking to Mrs. Gillespie as he had,
might be the best responses they could have enacted. Rob did not necessarily think this would change
Celia’s mom, but hopefully it could change the way Celia dealt with her.
walked out the front door, checking that it was locked but closing it hard
enough that Celia’s mother would hear it and know they had left, in case she
was waiting in her room to be coaxed back into their good graces.
was in the driver’s seat of Rob’s car.
Rob walked over to that side of the car and gestured to Celia to open
the window, which she did. She
looked upset, staring out of the windshield.
don’t you let me drive?” Rob asked.
I figure you’re still drunk,” Celia said.
She continued to look straight ahead.
had been drunk when they had gotten in the car, at which point Celia was
ostensibly driving them back to Rob’s parents’ house where they were spending
the weekend. Rob remembered he was
mad at Celia, too, for kidnapping him and driving down here instead, although
he had – admittedly – fallen asleep – well, maybe it was more like passed out –
as soon as his butt hit the seat.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
A picture of emotional immaturity—Harold’s response
I love Joanne's response to this episode. She captures my sentiment in describing how marriage is designed to erase the line between "your family" and "my family". Your family is my family. Therefore, your family struggles and joys are mine as well. This is sometimes a difficult process when in-laws feel more like out-laws. But, it is part of the shaping process that is family.
I do also appreciate how Rob comes to the defense of his wife--although he obviously is going to have his own issues with Celia once they get back in the car. But, in this moment he is her defender. He stands up to her mother to voice what Celia isn't voicing. He is giving language to Celia's emotional tumult. He wants his mother-in-law to look at herself in the mirror in a way that Celia has not yet been able to articulate. I think this is a major aspect of all marriages. We must be willing to defend and protect our spouses--even when we have some conflicts between us. In so doing, we increase the emotional capital of the marriage.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
A picture of emotional immaturity—Joanne’s response
Poor Rob. Having spent the day immersed in his "normal" family, what a drag to be dragged by Celia into her dysfunctional one. Oh wait -- it's his family now, too. Hmm, this must be one of those for-better-or-worse moments we all have, those days that require us to commit -- again -- to our marriages. We cannot predict the forms "worse" will take and we do not get to choose which "worse" we'll keep and which we will jettison. (This gets much more complex if the "worse" involves abuse or addiction, in which case protecting the vulnerable and holding the perpetrator accountable are faithful responses.) Rob does not have to love this situation, but he does have to show love to Celia in how he handles it. There is still a good fight for them to have about how Celia may or may not have handled this, but now is not the time for that.
Monday, February 01, 2010
A picture of emotional immaturity
Celia’s mother has not been
answering calls from either Rob or Celia while they were attending Rob’s
grandmother’s party. Rob assumed
that she was blowing them off, angry that they did not visit for the holidays. Celia hoped that was true, but feared
something worse. Following dinner
with Rob’s cousins, during which Rob had had more to drink than Celia might
have liked, Rob fell asleep in the passenger seat.
was a little drunk and his neck was stiff. As he began to awaken from his doze, he remembered he was in
his car and Celia was driving. The
car came to a stop and Celia maneuvered it to park. Eyes still closed, he heard Celia put it in park, turn off
the ignition and take the keys, open the car door, get out and close it, and
walk away. Rob opened his eyes and
sat up to find that they were parked in the driveway of Celia’s mom’s house,
NOT at his parents’ house in Cleveland where they were staying for the
dare Celia pull this on him? As
Celia unlocked the door of her mother’s house and walked in, Rob sat up and
jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind him. He was about to yell her name when he realized it was almost
midnight. The neighborhood was
walked inside the front door, only to hear shrieking upstairs, as (he presumed)
Celia scared her mother silly, arriving unannounced as she did and waking her
up. He heard Celia say angrily,
“Why didn’t you return my calls today?
I was worried sick about you!”
Rob’s anger at Celia was blunted somewhat as he heard the fear in her
voice; he realized what a difficult day this had been for her. Still, it had not merited driving down
could hear Mom whine some defensive response and Celia bicker in return. Rob was about to go upstairs himself
when he heard Celia coming back down, walking fast and stomping hard. She walked right past Rob and out the
front door, slamming it behind her.
Mom came downstairs right behind Celia.
not sure if Celia had even seen him, found himself literally caught between Celia
and her mother; who turned on the light, saw Rob, and came over to hug
didn’t need to come check on me.
I’m fine,” she said. He
heard the car door slam from outside as Celia got in.
Rob was angry with Celia’s mother.
“How would we know you were fine?” he said, forgetting that driving down
here had not been his choice. “How
dare you worry us like that, just because you were pissed that we went to my
recoiled as if Rob had slapped her.
Clearly, she was not used to being called on her emotional
does Rob do next?
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