The more I talk about this blog with strangers, the more people open up to me with stories about their own marriages. Like the woman who told me this:
“I got divorced when my youngest child was ten. But my divorce didn’t have anything to do with what was going on then–it had everything to do with all the stuff that had been building up for years. When the kids are young, there’s just no time to talk about everything that’s going on. But that doesn’t mean it goes away. It’s still there, and if you don’t address it, it eventually destroys your marriage.”
And the therapist who said:
“I think it’s important that you’re doing this now. I work with a lot of couples and a lot of women who come to see me 10, 15 years after the fact, when they realize that these issues are still there, and they’re finally ready to address them.”
Interesting, huh? We think we can sweep our grudges and resentments under the rug–at least for a little while–but then we get busy, or we decide to just leave this stuff for another day, and then somewhere along the way, we forget that they’re still there waiting for us. Waiting to trip up our relationship, if not destroy our marriages.
It’s kind of like trying to hold a beach ball under water. You can only do it so long–eventually, it’s going to pop right up out of the water, probably when you least expect it. Surprise!
1) If you’re feeling resentful, try renegotiating with your spouse. For example: sit down and tell your spouse that you need a night a week to yourself; ask for help cooking meals/cleaning/whatever; tell your spouse you need his/her support when it comes to disciplining the kids; ask him/her to hang out with your family instead of spending every weekend golfing/rollerblading/underwater basket weaving, etc.
Here’s an example of extreme renegotiating: I was recently talking with a woman who I knew had been going through some bumps in her marriage for quite some time. She’d tried a few different things, like marital therapy, etc., but nothing seemed to be working. Finally, she took her wedding ring off and gave it back to her husband. “I love you and I’m not leaving you, “she said, “but this ring doesn’t represent what it should–our marriage isn’t a true union right now.” She felt peaceful about her decision, she said, and she didn’t do it to threaten her spouse–she did it because she’d decided it was time for her to let her husband know she wasn’t going to keep picking up all of the slack when it came to maintaining their marriage.
Now, I’m not in any way advocating that you do this yourself. It’s pretty extreme, and this couple had already tried all sorts of other avenues to get back on track. But you know what? For this woman (who speaks her mind openly and freely almost all the time, as far as I can tell), it was right for her. And somehow, her action got through to her husband, because he began doing his own therapy to work on his own issues and figure out his role in their marriage.
2) Figure out what kind of payoff you’re getting from being resentful. Does it make you feel better? Really? Maybe you have that brief moment where you feel like you’ve been wronged, sistah! lemme tell you about it!, and then what? Do you feel better after you’ve stomped around the house and/or told your friends what a jerk your husband/wife is?
I’ve found that when I complain about something to others, it takes just enough of the steam out of equation so that I don’t actually have to do anything to fix it. But when I don’t tell someone else about it, it continues to eat at me and eventually spurs me to action.
What does staying stuck in that resentment really accomplish, anyway? Besides driving another wedge between you and your honey, that is.
Don’t believe me? Think about this Nelson Mandela quote for awhile and then tell me what you think:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
3) Put some time into your marriage. This one came to me from an acquaintance who practiced attachment parenting, and was an avid supporter of the whole practice. I ran into him one day as his divorce was being finalized, and he looked a little shell shocked over the fact that he was actually getting divorced. Here’s what he had to say:
“If there’s one tip I’d share, it’s that you have to make time for your adult relationship, too. We did everything for the kids–they slept with us, all of it–and there was never any time just for us. Go on a date. Your relationship has to be important, too. We thought there would be plenty of time for us when the kids were older, but by the time they got older, it was too late.”
So far, I’ve stayed away from the attachment parenting debate as much as possible, especially Time Magazine’s recent brew-ha-ha over its questionable cover (Are You Mom Enough?) and picture of a 3-year-old breastfeeding, but I can’t get his words (or his sad face) out of my mind. Don’t, for god’s sake, forget that your relationship needs to be watered, too.
4) Decide you’re going to stay married, no matter what. Literally. Say it out loud and figure out what you need to do to both agree to it. That way, when the next crisis hits, you can look at it as an opportunity to deepen your relationship, rather than going into that awful “Holy Shit, this is it–we’re finally getting divorced!” mode. Which, as we all know, really sucks.
5) Figure out what you need to do to forgive.
I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, and how exactly it is that we forgive. And I’ve come to the following conclusion: we just do. When we’re ready, really ready–pushed by bad news, a death in the family, whatever it is that tips you over that edge–one day, we finally decide to just do it.
This is what happened to us this past week, when we got the yucky news about our friend, which caused us to take a step back and reevaluate where we were and where we were going. Life is short. I don’t want to waste mine by being resentful.
And you know what? Here’s the craziest thing: once Ken and I decided to just let go of our resentments and forgive each other, it was simple. I’m not kidding you. Easy-peasy, as my kindergartener says. Looking back, I can’t believe how much time and energy we were wasting being resentful. Seriously.
That’s not to say that we won’t cross this bridge at some point again in the future–I’m sure we will. Life is full of challenges, especially when you’re married with young children, that’s just how it goes. So how about we help each other out here by building up an arsenal of tips to help us get through these yucky times?
I would love to hear from you on this one. What helped you?
How were you able to let go of your resentment?
What helped you forgive someone you were sure you’d never be able to forgive?