Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Marriage Learning Curve, Lesson 1: Choose Your Battles

I remember asking my newlywed friend how life was as a newly married lady. She said it was fantastic. However, I noticed a spark, perhaps you can even call it a twinge in her eyes that seemed to say, "Yes it is great, but I'm not really telling you everything. Even if I did, you most likely won't understand." 

Most of my newlywed friends have offered simple advice as they have discovered being newly married. As I was single at the time, I would take their advice with a grain of salt. I recall some friends telling me that the first year is always the hardest. I would think, "Oh p-aaa-lease, what can be harder than waking up alone? At least you are married and have someone, right!? If only I would have payed more attention to the advice of my newly married friends. But perhaps it something I need to learn and the only way to do it is to live it.

There is a chapter in the book Little Women entitled "Domestic Experiences." In this chapter, the newly married little woman Meg, experiences one of her first little rows with her new husband. In the story, the couple has their first disagreement and both go their separate ways to fume and ponder the situation. When they came back together, the book recalls "Neither spoke - both looked quite 'calm and firm' [as they previously determined to be] and both felt desperately uncomfortable."

The story continues.

" 'Oh dear,' thought Meg, ' married life is very trying and does need infinite patience, as well as love, as mother says.' The word 'mother' suggested other maternal counsels given long ago, and received with unbelieving protests.

'John is a good man, but he has his faults, and you must learn to see and bear with them, remembering your own. He is very decided, but never will be obstinate, if you reason kindly, not oppose impatiently. He is very accurate, and particular about the truth-a good trait, though you call him "fussy." Never deceive him by look or word, Meg, and he will give you the confidence you deserve, the support you need. He has a temper, not like ours, - one flash, and then all over - but the white, still anger that is seldom stirred, but once kindled is hard to quench. Be careful, very careful, not to wake this anger against yourself, for peace and happiness depend on keeping his respect. Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret.' "

In the end, she resolved to be the first to ask forgiveness, but in the moment she could only give but a sweet kiss. Needless to say, this passage struck a chord with me. I have always been a stubborn one. I thought I had practiced the art of saying 'I'm sorry,' first, and found myself often being the first one every time. And it is not just about saying it first, but truly meaning it. 

While "I'm sorry's" should not be avoided, there are some things that can. Allow me to elaborate.

One night I was startled awake by my new hubby shaking the bed. I immediately turned to him and asked "honey, am I snoring, sorry." He glared at me, turned his back to me and proceeded to try to sleep. I was immediately aggravated by this behavior. It was so easy for me to come up with all of these reasons to not like him at that moment.

1. I had to get up super early the following morning, and his blatant disregard for my apology was worse than the time my friend stole my longest and most held-onto French fry at Arby's
2. If he couldn't sleep, I would have gladly moved to the couch, something I wasn't keen on doing, but would if he wanted me to
3. I couldn't get back to sleep. 

So, as you can see, it was really easy for me to blame him. I was angry and showed my frustration by getting out of bed, stomping around, knocking things over, etc., so that he couldn't sleep either (my stubborn streak: if I'm going down, I am taking everybody with me). After I disappeared to drink some hot herbal tea to help lull me back to sleep, he came to check on me and asked what was the matter. I told him I was mad at him for waking me up so un-cooly and ignoring my apology about snoring. 

What he said next was shocking to me. "Honey, I didn't shake the bed on purpose because you were snoring. In fact, I don't remember having shaken it and all, or you saying anything to me." To which my embarrassed and remorseful response was, " I thought you did it on purpose....sorry." I was mortified. I can't even express how much in the larger scheme of things, this little run-in didn't even really matter. We both went back to sleep and all was well in the morning.

First off, who cares if he shook the bed to stop me snoring anyway, right? The point isn't that he actually shook the bed, which he didn't, but that in my selfishness, I proceeded to get uptight, irritable, and angry....all while he had no idea, and was sleeping. I certainly know how to work myself up over little things like this.

We laugh about this little issue now, but at the time, this seemed rather HUGE. In honesty, things like this shouldn't be worried about in the middle of the night anyway. I once heard a talk in which the speaker said that nothing good comes from someone who lacks one of the following: 1. sleep 2. food 3. exercise.

After recalling this story, per hubby's bringing it up, I decided to practice some sage advice. To avoid a potential row, I now ask myself:

Q: Is this a roommate issue, or is it a long term issue? 

Helping to distinguish between the issue area helps me decide if the issue at hand is really worth discussion and potentially getting in an argument, a.k.a. choose my battles.

My mother also had some sage advice. If you find yourselves arguing about something, write it down on a paper. After things have calmed down a bit from the argument, decide to read the items together and determine HOW these issues affect your relationship, then go from there. 

I might add that if it is temporary or a "roommate" issue, there are most likely ways either party can compromise. If it is long-term, you both might need to come up solutions apart from one another, and combine those ideas together to formulate a new solution in a calm and collected way. There is no reason to try to identify solutions when you or the other person is upset. It doesn't help. It is most likely the case that the other person may just need to air grievances. I am generally a "solutioner". When someone tells me a problem, I want to solve it right away. Most of the time, a solution is not what the other person wants. In fact, sometimes an argument occurs because the other person feels like the other party isn't listening. A person's reaction during an argument really doesn't have to do with being or feeling understood, so much as it is important that the person they are talking to is actively listening.

Another piece of advice that ties in somewhat to this category is that when an issue is presented, it is better to let the issue breathe. This requires taking some time to think about the issue, mulling it over for a couple of days, then trying to resolve it. I have yet to be effective with this.

I am happy to be married to a man that despite my weaknesses, still sees in me the potential to be someone who doesn't stampede through the house when lacking sleep, who sees in me the possibility of getting over these silly arguments that prevent progression, and who loves me and loves being with me. And for that I am grateful. 

So, how will I respond when people ask me how newly married life is? Perhaps I will share this sage advice. My hope is that they will respond and receive this advice differently than I did.

1 comment:

AJ Candrian said...

Well said! I love that you shared this. I have to say... Isaac snores. Bad. And I usually shake the bed and/or him to get him to stop. He is usually in such a deep slumber that he wakes up enough to stop snoring, turn over, and not realize that it was me who woke him up. Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly agree about picking your battles, and I have often shared the "roommate" theory with others. It's just like getting used to a new roommate and working out the kinks while you adjust. Glad you're doing well and figuring it out along with the rest of us newly weds! XO