Monday, June 27, 2011
Making love not war
Rob’s fascination with his office mate Lucy and her boyfriend Rocco has unearthed the same old issues in his marriage to Celia. As a result they are standing at a crucial marital crossroads, having acknowledged the resentment each feels toward the other: Rob about Celia’s failure of will in terms of earning money and Celia about Rob’s inability to understand that teaching music is not just a job, but a call.
Celia stood in the kitchen facing Rob. Tears rolled down her cheeks but there were no sobs attached to them, as if they flowed of their own volition. The words they had just exchanged were horrible and painful. Celia sensed, though, that because they were words of truth and not of accusation, they had catapulted their marriage onto a new level, which was strange and uncomfortable but might also be positive—if they could survive the terror of this moment.
Tears are good, she thought, because they are cleansing and honest and it is hard to lie to yourself when you are crying. Celia hated the admiration Rob had for Lucy and Rocco but at this moment her tears convicted her. Whatever Lucy and Rocco had, it was good, too, and she and Rob could use some of it. So when she had asked Rob a moment ago “What would Lucy and Rocco do in this situation?” she was genuinely curious, but as the question formed on her lips she also sensed its soothing properties. She had addressed the issue with neither denial nor distraction.
She had no idea how Rob would answer.
Rob, who had been sitting at the table eating, at some point had stood up. He was pale, as if scared by the power of his own words spoken moments ago.
“I don’t know if this happens to Rocco and Lucy,” Rob said. Celia was disappointed, because the answer was a parry, not real engagement, but he must have sensed that because he continued, “They would make love, immediately.”
He smirked. Like Celia, he seemed to be surprised at the words coming out of his own mouth, and he seemed to like them.
Celia liked them, too. He was right. It was time to separate their issues from their genuine love of one another. They could avoid their resentment daily for the rest of their lives, but eventually it would kill their real love. Or, they could look resentment in the face, and make love anyway.
It was not a solution to their real problems. But it might be a new way of being together from which their problems might have a better shot at resolution.
What does Celia say next?
Monday, June 20, 2011
Handling resentment in marriage
Rob and Celia are missing each other as Celia’s anxieties about her job, Rob’s money worries, and their complicated work relationships dominate their efforts to reconnect.
“Celia, what is going on?” Rob said to his wife’s back, as she stood at the kitchen sink. He was irritated to no end that Celia was twisting his words and intentions in sharing the conversations he had with Lucy at work. “Please, sit down and have dinner with me.”
“I’m sorry it’s not lasagna,” Celia said. “And I would love to have what Lucy and Rocco have together, except that we don’t take care of each other. You resent me because I don’t make enough money and I resent you that you don’t understand what teaching music means to me”—
“I think ‘resent’ is a strong word,” Rob said, wanting to be conciliatory, but maybe she was right, maybe they had been in this loop for a long time, smoothing over the surface and appearing to resolve the issue, but it was like it just
kept roiling up from the bottom where they kept the things they were too scared to talk about, because what if they could not be resolved?
“You’re right,” Celia said. “Resent is a strong word.” She was being sarcastic, because her words dripped resentment, and suddenly Rob was aware that Celia’s job was not the problem, and money was not the problem. The problem was the vortex they were stuck in, wherein the issue would surface regularly but they would ignore it. The real issue was the fear of talking about the perceived issues, because as long as they refused to try to resolve this impasse they could hope – each one alone – that a solution might appear like manna in the desert without their having to acknowledge it.
Rob, who did not consider himself a courageous person, decided this had to stop now. He stood up, his heart pounding and his fingers tingling. “Actually, you are right, Celia. I do resent you. I resent that you’re not me, and that since you can’t earn a decent living doing what you love that you aren’t finding another way to do it. I wish I didn’t feel that way. But I do, and I’m sorry.”
Celia, her back still facing Rob, stopped and turned off the spigot. Typical for Rob, he regretted saying the words the moment they were out of his mouth. He wanted to take them back but he chose not to, remaining silent. He knew there was no putting this toothpaste back in its tube.
Celia turned around slowly. She was crying.
“So what would Lucy and Rocco do in this situation?” she said.
How does Rob answer?
Monday, June 13, 2011
Knowing when your marriage is on thin ice
Celia’s job ends soon and then she’s back to relying entirely on private piano lessons and the stipend she receives from the church for directing the choir for her income. Neither Rob nor Celia is happy with this and they are having trouble talking about it.
Celia felt terrible as she sat with Rob, watching him eat the casserole she had cooked for him. She did not have any appetite.
All she could think about was Paul, the seminary intern who ran the afterschool program she taught music in. She admired him and had learned so much from him about how work and ministry are related. When she had burst into tears of frustration at her job situation today, he had offered a simple, comforting hug that should have felt benign. But they been alone in the old parsonage Paul had adapted for the afterschool program, and Celia wished for the hug to linger longer than it had, because Paul inspired her and understood that she had a call to teach music. Rob did not.
And yet, here she was at dinner with Rob, her husband, jealous at the conversations he had today with his colleague Lucy about her relationship with her boyfriend Rocco. How ridiculous could she be? Rob had never before shown interest in the rudiments of lasagna-making, but apparently when Lucy talked about it, it was fascinating.
“Lucy and Rocco have this really cool relationship where they take care of each other,” Rob was saying. “So she cooks things he likes and he washes and fixes her car, and they watch sports together…”
“You know I don’t like sports,” Celia said.
Rob sighed. “I know that. I was talking about Lucy.”
Yes, that’s the problem, Celia wanted to say, but she didn’t.
“So why don’t Lucy and Rocco get married?” Celia said, picking up her fork and beginning to eat.
“They seem to have a pretty good deal the way it’s set up right now,” Rob said.
And so would I, Celia thought, if we weren’t married. I could find someone who understands and values what I am trying to do with kids and music, and doesn’t worry about money all the time.
“I like the way they are together,” Rob said. “I wish we had something like that.”
“Well, I’m sorry we don’t,” Celia said, standing up and taking her plate to the sink. She dumped the whole uneaten meal into the sink and began to wash it down the garbage disposal.
What happens next?
Friday, June 10, 2011
What’s cooking in your cross-gender relationships (Harold’s response)
Life is about adjustments. Things don’t always go as planned. And, our success lies in our ability to respond to the unexpected. Sometimes, however, we get fixated on the negative aspects of what happens to us. It becomes difficult to see anything else. Even for Christians, it becomes challenging to “cast our cares upon the Lord” as we’re instructed to do. Adjustments, particularly when they happen in bunches, often blinds us to the good things that are happening around us. Our brain narrows in on the negative.
In our latest episode, Celia is again experiencing the stress of losing her job—struggling to be hopeful. Like the rest of us. It is easy for her and for Rob to focus on this stress.
But, our faith suggests that we must change our narrative. We must continue to remind ourselves that God is indeed in control. He cares for us. He will not put more on us than we can bear.
Rob and Celia have a lot to be glad about. They will weather this storm.
Monday, June 06, 2011
What’s cooking in your cross-gender relationships?
Rob is frustrated with Celia and her limited employment prospects as a music teacher, and the stress is beginning to get to him.
Celia had made tuna casserole, salad, and bread for dinner. Her schedule as a piano teacher was more erratic during summer, but since many kids had their lessons during the day, Celia was home more often in the evenings than during the school year. As a bachelor Rob had not minded living alone and coming home to an empty apartment, but since he was married it seemed fair to expect his wife to be there on occasion.
“This looks great,” he said, as Celia lifted a gooey-cheesy slab onto his plate.
That a meal was his fair due this felt vaguely Neanderthal even as he thought it, but he had been having some interesting conversations with Lucy at work lately. Lucy believed (and stated rather straightforwardly) that part of her “job” with her boyfriend Rocco was to “service him regularly” by preparing meals, giving massages, keeping his beer brand in her refrigerator, and being sexually adventurous. That some of these conversations were awkward for Rob did not detract from their fascination. He was not sure how Lucy accomplished all this while living with her parents, but for all of her big hair, throaty voice and thigh-high boots, she was really a practical person. If something made the people in her life happy, she did it, because if they were happy so was she.
“And they do nice things for me too,” she said. Turning back to her workstation she laughed quietly at a private thought, presumably about some return on her investment Rocco had provided.
Visions of Rocco and Lucy and their extramarital servicing of one another did not help Rob in his struggles with Celia. It was not fair to directly compare the two women he spent time with daily, but Celia, with her ethnically neutral recipe file and insubstantial earning power, seemed slight. It did not help that she seemed nervous as she sat across from him and served herself.
Rob tried to summon some empathy for his wife, who was shattered that she could not find full-time work in her field as a music teacher.
“I’m glad you like it,” Celia said about the food. “I would love a job with regular hours, so we could do this every day.”
“Lucy cooks for Rocco every night,” Rob said. “He loves this really garlicky lasagne so she chops up all this garlic and onion and sautés it in olive oil with a little sea salt and mixes it in with the ricotta”—
Celia was looking at Rob with a mix of surprise and dismay.
“Lucy really likes to cook, so she talks about it all the time,” he said, explaining his newfound interest in the rudiments of cooking.
“What else does Lucy talk about?” Celia asked. He could tell she did not like the idea.
What does Rob say?
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