Monday, December 03, 2012
Celia had not wanted to go to Thanksgiving, but she had ultimately been glad Rob pushed her to do so.
William was asleep – at six months he slept most of the night now, Thank God – and Celia’s mother was settled in the living room for the evening with the Hallmark Channel. It was barely nine o’clock but Rob headed for bed, too, aware that he was acting like an old man at age twenty-seven, but he did not really mind. He was a man of responsibility now, which he liked, and of course he needed rest.
He had just crawled in bed in warm pajamas – winter was here and the old house could be drafty – and pulled out his Sports Illustrated, when Celia walked in the bedroom in her old bathrobe, with a goofy grin on her face. Instead of getting in her side of the bed, Celia walked around to Rob’s and stood there.
“What?” Rob said, amused and slightly confused.
Celia opened her robe with a dramatic flourish and let it drop to the floor. She was wearing a tight red camisole, which Rob knew had been among the wedding shower gifts she had received that she had not liked because it was “slutty.” Around her neck she wore a long cord with jingle bells at the end and a card that said “Invitation” in big block handwriting.
Rob laughed and tossed the magazine aside. Celia jumped on the bed and straddled him, leaning over so that the invitation and her cleavage landed at eye level. Rob turned over the invitation.
“You are cordially invited,” he read aloud, “to an overnight at the Harrison House bed and breakfast, with Celia, your Christmas jingle bell.”
“So is this my Christmas present?” Rob said.
“No. It’s a thank you for being a wonderful husband. Mom will take care of William overnight.”
What does Rob say next?
Monday, September 10, 2012
Rob and Celia have finally had sex again following William’s birth.
“Thank you for being so patient with me,” Celia said.
“You are worth the wait,” Rob whispered to Celia. This must have been the right thing to say, because she responded with a hug and kiss, and with a sigh settled next to him to sleep. Rob turned and looked at the clock’s glowing digital image. William would probably be awake again in three hours; it was good that Celia was sleeping. She had been handling the nighttime feedings almost entirely alone and had not complained about that, but now that she was heading back to work – her maternity leave had coincided nicely with the school district’s summer break – Rob wondered if the balance they had achieved so far could be sustained.
When he heard William stir, he was shocked that he had fallen asleep himself and that it was now almost three in the morning. Though he had not done so since Celia had recovered from giving birth, Rob got up and pulled on his boxers, which were lying by the side of the bed. Celia did not move.
He walked into the nursery. Celia had said it was important during the night feedings to be quiet and calm, to avoid waking William more than necessary, thus teaching him to sleep at night and be awake during the day. So he did not turn on the light and allowed the small nightlight to guide him.
He picked William up and held him, murmuring softly about how strange it must be that it was he and not Mama who came. “I’ll just change you and take you to Mama,” Rob said. William seemed to like the change.
Two minutes later, Rob sat gently on the side of the bed where Celia was still sleeping. He awakened her by pulling back the covers and laying William next to her. Celia, still naked, rolled on her side to let William nurse.
“I thought you might appreciate the help,” Rob said as he got back in bed, feeling protective of his family.
How does Celia respond?
Monday, September 03, 2012
When Rob pushed – no, asserted – to have sex for the first time since William’s birth, Celia knew it was important for them. She knew Rob wanted sex with her, not just sex. She did not feel objectified. She agreed for the sake of their relationship despite her profound new-mother exhaustion, though William was almost three months old.
For Celia, on a strictly physical level, their effort had started out as humiliating combination of a too-dry vagina and too-wet breasts. It had been further complicated by the knowledge that their innocent son was sleeping one room away and that her mother was watching television downstairs.
But Rob understood. He had researched post-partum sex (he said in a whispery alluring voice as he undressed her) and knew what to expect, buying a tube of K-Y jelly just in case. He had told her mother that they were tired and going to bed early.
She was astonished at her body. How weird, to have repurposed it from a sexual package into a life-creating one, and repurpose it again from a vehicle of giving birth and nursing new life back into a sexual one… but not just sexual, she realized. Celia now had a sense of giving life to her entire family of three with her body.
Rob seemed to glory in the very aspects of her body and sex that she found embarrassing at first: swollen breasts, more flesh than usual while she still worked on taking off baby weight, the need for new and different foreplay before she was ready.
“Thank you for being so patient with me,” she whispered afterwards.
How did Rob respond?
Monday, August 27, 2012
Celia is resisting sex, pleading exhaustion, though it is the first time Rob has initiated it since their son William’s birth.
“I know you’re tired,” Rob said, laying on the floor of William’s room while Celia nursed their son before bed. “But I miss you.”
“You miss me?” Celia said. “Or you miss sex?”
“Both. I miss sex with you,” Rob said. “We’re married, Celia. So they’re the same thing.”
Celia flipped William from her breast to her shoulder and began to pat his back, burping him like a pro. She sighed.
“OK.” She turned her head to the side so she could look Rob in the eye in his prone pose.
“But I thought you’re too tired,” he said, rubbing the back of her calf with his hand.
“I am too tired,” Celia responded. “But I’m too tired to get up with William at midnight and 4 in the morning, too, and I find a way to do that.
“I don’t want you to do it because you think you have to.”
How does Celia respond?
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sex after the baby
Rob is attempting to initiate sex for the first time since William’s birth.
Celia enjoyed their evening routine after William’s bath, when Rob would join her in the nursery. They would talk quietly or just sit in silence, listening to crickets and the white noise of their neighborhood. Even though the house had central air conditioning, she preferred the ambience of the open window even if it meant becoming sodden in the humidity.
So when Rob whispered, “Let’s make love after William goes to sleep,” Celia’s first, private reaction was to be angry that he had disrupted their serene, G-rated moment, though she knew this was not fair; she knew that his longing derived from the love that burgeoned when William rested between them. He wanted to make love to her because he loved her and their son.
Rob had been patient about sex; William was almost ten weeks old and the doctor had said to abstain for only six. He was just as tired as she was between work, managing their sizeable yard and the constant maintenance on their new old house. But clearly fatigue had not put a damper on Rob’s ardor.
“I’m exhausted, Rob,” Celia said. “I can’t think about anything but going to bed to sleep when William does.”
How does Rob respond?
Monday, July 04, 2011
What is the fastest way to a man’s heart
Rob and Celia have figured out that if their marriage is going to remain resilient over time, they are going to have to separate their issues from their love. So while they are still in turmoil over Celia’s earning ability as a music teacher, they are trying to remain connected using whatever means they have at their disposal.
Celia’s job at the afterschool program at her church had ended last week. Rob was curious how she would respond to the extra time on her hands, hoping she would be intentional about finding work, any kind of work, while she waited to hear if any full-time teaching jobs opened up for fall.
Meanwhile, she seemed to have decided that the best way to Rob’s heart was through his stomach. Rob was not sure if this had something to do with learning that his office mate Lucy cooked for her boyfriend Rocco every night, but she had been surfing the internet for recipes and testing them on him. He tried to enjoy this – and he did, up to a point. Rob realized he could never lighten up when his ducks weren’t in a row, and until he knew that until they could meet their expenses, pay Celia’s school loan, save for a house, save for retirement, and fund the occasional small trip somewhere besides their parents’ homes, there was a part of him that couldn’t fully enjoy anything. Most
months they got by on the basics, but a couple of months recently they had used the credit card to float groceries and other essentials.
This meant that Rob had not fully relaxed since their wedding, and he began to wonder how long he could manage the chronic low-level anxiety he lived with. Since their marital breakdown in the kitchen, when Rob had voiced his resentment about Celia and money and they had ended up in bed as a result, Celia had been initiating sex with more frequency. Between the sex and the meals, part of Rob thought he would enjoy making a lot of money and funding a trophy wife; and Celia might like that too if she could make her music a “ministry,” as she had been saying lately, whatever that meant.
Celia had greeted him upon his return home from work in lingerie, so tonight’s dinner appetizer had been a sweet tryst. Now she kissed him, climbed out of bed and into a short little robe, and headed out to make dinner, which she declared would be grilled pork chops with peach salsa and corn on the cob. Meanwhile, Rob tormented himself over what she had or had not done today about a job, but being satiated with sex and the anticipation of good food, it seemed ungrateful to bring it up.
Rob got out of bed, pulled on boxers and a shirt, and joined Celia in the kitchen, where she poured him lemonade and garnished it with a sprig of mint and a straw.
“Guess what I did today,” she said she handed it to him.
“What?” he said, taking a long sip.
What does Celia say?
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?
Friday, March 18, 2011
If you care, I care (Harold’s response)
God designed marriage as a journey of spiritual formation. As each spouse is able to open up and trust someone who is often quite different from him or her they both are refined into Jesus' likeness. Too often, however, our spiritual maturity is stymied by our selfishness. In a sense, we stand in the way of what God is trying to do in us. We have to prioritize what God prioritizes. We have to care about what God cares about. But, this isn't only a truth between us and God. It is only a portrait of what God expects the marital relationship to look like. We are to care about what our spouse cares about.
This isn't easy because usually whatever motivations or forces are driving our spouse's perspective probably looks different in our lens. How can we care about that which we really don't care about? That is the ultimate question. It is an issue of sacrifice. We have to keep our proverbial finger on our spouse's pulse. Because we care about them (and what God is doing in them), we have to prioritize his/her viewpoint over our own.
By taking this sacrificial stance, we cultivate empathy in our relationship. And, empathy breeds trust. And, ultimately trust breeds intimacy. In other words, when we make the sacrifice to care about what our spouse cares about, we take a significant step towards a more intimate marriage (and spiritual maturity). And, that makes it all worthwhile. But, it starts with sacrifice.
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?
Friday, January 07, 2011
Starting the New Year Right (Harold’s comment)
Joanne's reference to the article is a timely one to consider at the start of a new year. The author uses the term "self-expansion" to identify the manner in which spouses need to be stretched by their spouses. While this article does not spiritualize the process in any way, I immediately think about the manner in which God uses the differences between spouses to push each other closer to the design that God has for us. Rather than "self-expansion" I might use the term "God-expansion" as I think about the ways that God positions couples to achieve His purposes.
Rob and Celia have certainly expanded each other over the past year. They have pushed beyond their comfort zone. They have learned to prioritize one another's needs. They have learned to use the appropriate language to get the desired response. And, they have grown to be better people. And, that is what marriage is about!
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