I've gotten comments from some really sweet people who have been following our story saying things like "watching your marriage from afar and seeing the connection between you and Lolly makes me feel deficient in my own marriage..." and hearing that, while it's a really kind compliment, makes my heart hurt a little bit.
I want to write this post to emphasize something that I think is very important: every marriage, in its very essence, can be both good and hard. The key that I think is easy to forget at times is that the good and the hard are inextricably linked together. You cannot have one without the other. They are part of the same formula which leads to closeness and unity.
We are no exception to this.
Yes, we are totally in love. Yes we feel that our life together is truly wonderful and we feel very, very happy and fulfilled. Yes, everything you have seen and read (that has come from us) is true.
But, there's more to us than all of that. Things are hard for us at times in many ways, just as is the case in any marriage. And the "hard" thing that I want to talk about today is something every marriage experiences: conflict.
Lolly and I are multidimensional people, and both of us are very passionate and verbal. Before coming to consensus on things, sometimes we have to process a bit. Sometimes we get a little grumpy. Sometimes things aren't all "Goody goody gumdrops I love life!!!"
So yeah, basically what I'm saying is that occasionally we bicker like 80-year-olds who are lost and late to a wedding.
"If you had read the map correctly, Arlene, we wouldn't have missed the brunch. So yes it IS your fault."
I want to emphasize here that different people have different communication styles. I always tell my clients that that's totally okay. Lolly and I both come from parents who rarely fight, so when we found that our style of communication included verbal conflict, we had to figure out what that meant for us, and if that was okay.
Early on in our marriage, we realized the answer. While sometimes conflict is petty and can be avoided, other times our fights are what bring us closer together. Sometimes in facing the difficulty of challenging emotions and the vulnerability of saying hard things, we pass through the portal of deeper understanding and more intense closeness. Sometimes our conflicts are the very key to ensuring that we understand each other and feel intimate and connected and understood.
So what I'm saying here is that conflict can be a good thing in marriage, as long as it is handled correctly.
Here's one of our favorite "fight" stories.
When we were first married, we moved to Provo, Utah. We were broke, but Lolly went to the store and bought some decorative stuff so we could settle in and make our new little apartment a home. She bought some fake ivy and some candles, among other things. When she showed me what she had purchased, she said "I feel so guilty I bought all of this! It was $60!" to which I replied "No, sweetheart. Don't feel guilty. Let go of the guilt. I want you to feel good in our new home. I want you to feel content here." She went back to putting the stuff she bought up, but then she said she felt guilty again (have I mentioned Lolly has a mild case of OCD?) which I responded to by saying something like "Lolly, let me do this for you. Let me buy you some decorations. Please." When she said she felt guilty a third time, I kinda lost my cool and said "Fine. If you're gonna feel guilty about it, you might as well just take the stuff back."
That was a poor choice.
From there we launched into an intense fight, the content of which I don't remember. But what I do remember is that at one point Lolly got so angry with me that she kicked her shoe across the room. I watched as the shoe glided across the room, ricocheted off the wall, hit the ceiling, and then broke the huge front window of our new apartment.
"Um, yeah, Mr. Landlord? We need to replace the window. Because we broke it. With a shoe. During a fight."
This fight was about something petty, but it's also an example of conflict in our marriage. We're not usually hurling objects at each other, but I want you to know that we have worked through some difficult moments. We've had some really hard discussions and we've gotten upset and emotional. We've talked sometimes about heart-rending things with courage and love for each other, and even when things got messy, we've pushed through until we understood each other. And that's the key. Push through the conflict until you get to the other side.
We don't let bad feelings last. We don't let a conflict change how we feel about each other. We push through until we find a solution or a compromise, or until we can say we understand each other. That kind of tenacity has paid off. I trust Lolly with literally anything in my heart, and she does the same with me.
In fact, as I think about it, that all started during our engagement. And it started with something Lolly said.
I have a distinct memory of sitting on the floor of my parents' kitchen talking to Lolly on the phone. I was telling her that sometimes I hesitated to let her know how I was really feeling about hard things because the intensity of her emotional reactions made me uncomfortable. Sometimes her responses scared me.
I wanted to tell her everything. I'm, at the core, an honest person who wishes to be as real and frank and open as possible. We both knew that it was incredibly important to be able to say whatever needed to be said to one another. But now that we were getting so close--marriage close--I was feeling responsible for her emotional well-being, and saying things that made her sad or uncomfortable was beginning to feel painful for both of us. I realize now that what I was asking for at that moment on the phone was not a reasonable request. I was asking that she not emotionally react when I told her hard things. I was asking that she stifle her emotions, and just let me say hard things without having to work on the emotions those hard things evoked.
In response to my concern, she said something totally clutch that has been a bedrock of our communication ever since. She said "Josh, I want you to say anything and everything you need to say. I can't promise I won't have an emotional reaction to what you say. I don't have control over the feelings I feel. But I do have control over my actions. I can promise you that no matter what I feel, I will work through the emotions with you until we both come to a mutual understanding. So you tell me whatever it is you need to say, and I promise we'll talk through the emotions until we both understand it."
I married a smart one, didn't I?
That was a profound insight. We can't control our emotional reactions to things. Our bodies just respond to stimuli. But the thing we can promise each other is that we will sit there, side by side, working through it until both parties feel good, and until both parties understand what is happening.
That's what marriage is about. That's what communication is about. That's what loving others is about. That's the balm we need in order to feel like we can talk openly to our spouses. We can't promise each other unearthly peace or a total lack of human emotion. That wouldn't even be healthy. We can only promise to be there, thick and thin, willing to work until our hearts feel at peace.
If you, like the commenter I mentioned above, are having difficulties in your relationship, I want you to know that you aren't alone. Every relationship has difficult moments. Every single one. If you have gone through difficult times in your marriage, it means you are living. If you and your spouse have had disagreements, it means you are two adult people who have preferences, and the courage to share those preferences with each other.
Having hard moments of conflict is not a sign that things are falling apart in your marriage, or a sign that you and your spouse have failed. It is a stepping stone. It is an open door, awaiting the two of you to join hands and walk through it--walk through the conflict,--to the other side. That's where understanding is. That's where unity is. That's where you and your spouse can be if you simply promise to keep talking to each other until there is understanding, and then actively seek for that understanding.
It sounds like an easy solution, and I don't wish to make light of how complex conflict can be. Heck, I just shared a story about a fight that ended in a broken window. But what I wish to communicate is that even when things get shoe-breaking-the-window intense, you can still find the peace afterwards. You can each take a break, take a deep breath, and try again until your connection is restored. And when that happens, you will feel closer than you did before. You will know you are in this together, and that the only thing that could stop you from being the couple you know you can be is being too afraid to face the hard things head on, with faith in each other and faith in God.
Walk through that door. Walk through the door of conflict and see what awaits you. Don't be afraid. Push through, and there is the potential to be understood in ways you scarcely imagined possible.
*Ummm, as a side-note I'd like to point out that Lolly and I got into a fight as we were editing this post.
It went a little something like this:
Lolly: Um, this part about "walking through the doors holding hands" is too cheesy.
Josh: I'm not cheesy. I'm writing what's in my heart.
Lolly: Sweetie, the fact that you just said "I'm writing what's in my heart" proves you're cheesy.
Josh: I'm not being cheesy! I actually mean this crap!! I am seriously writing what's in my heart!
Lolly: Fine. Your heart is cheesy. Let's move on.
Lolly: Ope, this next sentence is too long.
Josh: Read it back to me.
Lolly: I don't want to read it back to you. It's too long.
And then I got angry and hyper-sensitive. And Lolly said, "Okay Josh, let's hold hands and walk through the non-cheesy open door of this conflict until we reach further understanding."
And then we laughed. And then we talked it through. And then we finished editing.
And that's how this post came full circle. Kind of like a miracle.