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, March 14, 2011
If you care, I care
Celia is explaining to Rob why her Christian faith is so important to her.
Celia had spent many days pondering two things: first, why her faith was so important to her, and second, how it had become so. Rob’s resistance made her rethink and critique things she had assumed for many years, and she was glad for this. It was a good exercise and gave her things to talk about with Paul at work.
So she had just finished explaining her story to Rob, about praying “Now I lay me down to sleep” in bed with her grandmother when she was little and continuing to do so after her grandmother’s death, and seeking out the comfort of a church after her parents’ divorce to try to get more of what she had with her grandmother. For Celia, the faith had an emotional pull that was truth to her, though she knew Rob thought differently.
When Rob waited quietly for her to continue – with no loud exhales, no glancing at the remote, no comments about what’s in the fridge – she was encouraged that perhaps this approach would help her get through to Rob. The issue was becoming a problem in their marriage, Celia knew, because it was difficult not to share with Rob something that was becoming increasingly important to her, daily.
“So I get comfort,” she said. “I don’t feel alone because I know God is there.” At some point she was going to have to talk about Jesus, but she felt certain that would really throw Rob off because he had made many comments over the years about how freaked out he was by crucifixes. “And I have a family at church, even now though most of them are as old as my grandmother was. But they care, and they always have when Mom was too depressed.”
Celia suddenly felt like she had been talking too much. “So what do you think?” she asked Rob. She closed her eyes, wincing a bit in preparation for his response, whatever that would be.
Rob took a deep breath, and when Celia opened her eyes again he was watching her thoughtfully.
“I think,” he said slowly, “that this is very important to you. And if it is important to you, I ought to care about it more than I do.”
“So how can I show you that I care about it, without feeling like I’m just giving in to my nagging wife?” Rob squeezed her hand and smiled back, and when he did so Celia was encouraged that their old cycle might find a new groove.
What do Rob and Celia decide to do?
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Maintaining a healthy perspective during a crisis
Rob and Celia have arrived at the hospital in Cleveland after driving across state following the news that Rob’s father has had a heart attack.
Celia noticed that Rob became more pensive than he had been the closer they came to Cleveland. Rob directed her from the highway to the hospital, but from that point she was in charge even though they were just small things—deciding which lot to park in and noting where the cafeteria was as she navigated them to the cardiac care unit.
Rob was making a beeline to a nurses’ station and was far ahead of her when Celia saw Rob’s sisters flopped in chairs in a waiting room. Oh, well – Rob would find them soon enough. Celia assumed their mother was with their father.
Rob had two younger sisters. Sara, home for the summer after completing her sophomore year at Ithaca College, “tried to work as little as possible” at her waitressing job near the house. The youngest, Maria, was working at a daycare center and had decided to follow Rob to Columbus and attend Ohio State in the fall. Rob was excited about that; the chance to play big brother appealed to him.
Right now both girls were understandably subdued. Maria leaned her head on Sara’s shoulder, and Sara channel-surfed absentmindedly. When Celia greeted them they looked up in surprise.
“Is Rob here?” Sara said, while Maria said almost simultaneously “Mom didn’t say you were coming too.”
Celia tried not be hurt by their underwhelmed response and gave them grace because of the nature of the situation they were in. After all, their typically robust father was either still in surgery or had recently come out of it. At the very least, the remainder of their summer was not going to be about chilling with friends and taking trips to Cedar Point.
Just then Rob walked into the waiting room. Celia was about to ask what he had found out, because she had not yet learned anything from his sisters, when both girls leapt from their chairs and into Rob’s arms. Maria even started crying, then sobbing, as she babbled incoherently that “he was supposed to be out by now” and something about “won’t let Mom in” and Celia concluded that their father was in recovery following surgery.
“Mom just went in now,” Rob said. “Why don’t we go down to the cafeteria and get something to eat – by the time we’re done you can go in to see him one at a time.” With that Rob turned and led his sisters out of the waiting room and down the hall. The girls seemed immeasurably relieved that their brother was here to tell them what to do, and they continued to cling to him as they walked out.
Celia noticed that their purses and bags were still on the floor near their chairs. She sat down herself and tried to decide what to do next.
What does Celia do?
Friday, May 28, 2010
pardon the Interruption (Harold’s comment)
What would it be like to walk around everywhere with a suitcase packed full of stuff? When you do your household chores you lug it along with you. When you run your errands you lift it on your shoulders before heading out. When you go back and forth to work you pull it along. Even when you get into the shower, you slide it in the stall right next to you.
This sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?
Do you realize this is exactly what we do with our marital worries? We carry them around with us despite the heavy burden that they impose on our lives. We think they are different than the stuffed suitcase only because we can’t literally see them. But, the truth is that they are even more weighty than the luggage.
Some of us even wear these worries around like badges of honor—oblivious to the fact that we are acting in disobedience to God’s word as we do so. God instructs us to cast our care and worries upon Him. Yet, we continue our daily routine mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted by the concerns of a marriage that has failed to live up to the one we had imagined.
Rob and Celia are both carrying around their own loaded suitcases. Rob’s suitcase is donned with dollar signs—worries that they will not achieve the financial security that he hopes for. Celia’s luggage is about job security—bothered by whether she can find a satisfying position that pays decently.
Both of them need desperately to unpack their bags. But, as Joanne suggested they may need the help of their therapist Carolyn to do so.
The question to you is “are you carrying around your luggage?”
Friday, March 12, 2010
Sexual intimacy as a bridge to emotional attachment (Joanne’s response)
I struggle with the "just-have-sex-and-the-feelings-will-follow" approach to marital repair, which some espouse. However, healthy couples can have sex -- and I mean good connecting sex, not in-denial, going-through-the-motions sex -- despite there being unresolved issues between them. First, acknowledge the difficulty and that it exists; second, agree that it will be addressed; and third, choose to be close sexually anyway, from which the will to resolve the issue may flow. We shall see if Rob and Celia have that kind of resilience in their young relationship.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Sexual intimacy as a bridge to emotional attachment (Harold’s response)
Though a gender stereotype, the old adage is true. For men, physical intimacy is the bridge to emotional intimacy. For women, emotional intimacy is the bridge to physical intimacy. Sex is a powerful motivator—one that is wired into the deepest recesses of our brains. In other words, God wired us that way.
Rob wants to feel close again to Celia. And, he wants sex to be that bridge. We have yet to see Celia’s response. But, I give credit to Rob for the efforts he has made to re-connect after the conflict over Celia’s needy mother. Celia, like many wives, will have to decide if she is willing to share her body with her husband to foster a reconnection beyond just the sexual act itself.
We all have to be thoughtful about how we use our sexual power with our spouse. Irreparably harm can ensure when approached cavalierly. On the other hand, the strongest bonds can be forged when approached in a spirit of authentic sharing.
Monday, March 08, 2010
Sexual intimacy as a bridge to emotional attachment
Rob has started the ball rolling in the right direction by apologizing to Celia. “Today has been quite the family adventure,” he continued, as they sat in the cold car and prepared to drive home. “I guess that is one way to look at it,” she had said.
Now that Rob and Celia were married, Rob’s parents had put a full-size bed in Rob’s old room for them when they visited. Rob reclined flat on his back in it, trying not to fall asleep before Celia returned from the bathroom, but he was in the last stage of recovering from his drinking binge – still a little woozy – and in the early stage of his hangover at the same time. All he wanted to do was sleep it off.
He could hear the water running in the bathroom across the hall. They had not talked on the way home much, except to comment on road conditions and when Rob asked to stop at a gas station mini-mart, at which he bought a gallon of water and drank three quarters of it in one shot.
At some point, Celia is going to have to apologize to me for her part of this, he thought. Is that why he was trying to stay awake, to hear her apologize before he went to sleep? No, he was afraid that she had not yet accepted his apology, he realized, and he did not want to appear rude and complicate things by falling asleep on her, in his parents’ house.
Then the room was getting light and Celia was asleep beside him. He had fallen asleep despite himself and it was now morning. The house was still quiet, so it did not appear that his parents and younger sisters, one of whom was home from college, were awake yet either. Maybe he wasn’t the only one who had partied ‘til the wee hours following Grandma’s birthday party. His parents were usually early risers.
He rolled toward Celia and put his arm around her. She stirred and rolled on her side away from him, and resumed what sounded like very deep sleep. He moved closer, tightening his arm around her and spooning himself behind her. Celia was one who is cold all the time, especially her hands and feet, except in the morning before she got out of bed.
Maybe we’ll have make-up sex this morning, he thought. When he and Celia had taken a premarital class at her church the teacher had talked about make-up sex and thought it had a place in good relationships. But maybe Celia needed to apologize before that.
Then Rob realized he no longer cared. Last night seemed like a long, long time ago, and he was happy to be in his family’s home with everyone, including Celia, there. He would love nothing better than make-up sex with Celia right now. He found the bottom of her nightshirt and moved his hand underneath until it rested against her warm skin.
Celia stirred again and rolled onto her back, toward Rob.
What happens next?
Friday, March 05, 2010
Recovering from marital lows (Harold’s response)
Rob said the magical two words, "I'm sorry." In my experience as a relationship educator at least 90% of marital conflict could be resolved quickly if these two words were offered genuinely. It is the "holy grail" for recovering from marriage challenges. And, I think that it will be the bridge that brings he and Celia back together emotionally.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Recovering from marital lows (Joanne’s comment)
In the previous chapter, Rob could not remember why he had even wanted to marry Celia. Yet here he is, though still drunk, trying his best. He has apologized. He has not allowed Celia's funk to discourage his efforts. Celia recognizes what he is doing but so far she has not offered any encouragement. I am wincing: there is a narrow window here but Celia needs to step through it, soon, lest Rob stop trying.
Monday, March 01, 2010
A sobering picture of marriage (Joanne’s response)
When we agree to “for better or worse” we do not get to choose the form that “worse” will take. At wedding vow time, we imagine ourselves standing back-to-back against the world when transition and tragedy strike. Most people I know do not realize until well into marriage that “worse” tends to take the form of relationship problems—that the very person you married becomes part of the “worse.” This is indeed sobering,and Rob is right when he realizes that real marriage begins now. I have been known to ask couples in premarital counseling what they think they will do when they realize they do not even like the person they are supposed to love. The couples who cannot even imagine that are the couples I worry about. The ones who can entertain the idea and understand that there will be some serious work to do at that point are the couples I believe will make it to the finish line.
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