I tried one of those short colored background posts on Facebook. It was a marriage post and it went like this:
“It started when beauty captured you 😚 You married 😍 You saw flaws 🤨 Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”
It didn’t take long for the first comments to arrive, “Peter, are you okay?” My wife jumped in quickly to explain all was well with us and that I was simply preparing to speak at a marriage. The thread gave me and others a good laugh. Not as hilarious, though, is that I can attest also to the truth of my 86 character/ post including the emojis.
“It started when beauty captured you 😚
I fell hard for Patricia, she was so clever, had a great sense of humour, was athletic and her build reflected it. Not to mention her black shiny hair on her white freckled face, it all captured me. I joke with her about the time we decided to go to the indoor pool and I saw her in a bathing suit for the first time. My mouth dropped to the floor, hubba hubba, this was my girl! And we had so much fun finding ways to be together in a school where holding hands was considered too much contact!
You married 😍
We did. We were passionate. We couldn’t wait for the day to hear the bells ring. I graduated from college. We married a week later. We were twenty.
You saw flaws 🤨
Too many couples call it quits because they begin to focus on the negatives. Patricia and I eventually lived out this scenario for a long stretch of time. I began to notice it, slowly, during our years in Thailand. (They are not years that we look back on fondly.) Patricia wasn’t happy being there. I told her that we would stay no matter what. It was the stubborn dutch blood in me speaking! And besides God told us to go there! We were obeying the call! That strong-arming approach did not help and I wasn’t listening to her heart. Her respect for me, as I went globetrotting around Southeast Asia to ‘serve the Lord’ and others, plummeted. I began to see her simmering anger in the forms of complaints and quick mood changes. At times it exploded all over me with shorter and fewer peaceful times in between.
You may have heard the axiom that says you will always see what you are looking for. For my part I become adept to seeing the unlikable in my chosen partner. “Why is she so angry all the time? Why did she look at me like that? Can’t she ever be happy?” I got good at seeing what I was looking for and saw it all the time. Perhaps she did the same for me. I’ll let her tell her side of the story another time. Yes, our eyesight focused on the negatives, the flaws, and it became a deeply imbedded mindset that slanted towards the negative.
Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”
The good Lord has seen it fit to keep the both of us on this planet into our fifties. You can guess already by context that we are still together! I attribute that to two things; 1. my stubborn Dutch roots that went down deep enough to hang on to my wedding day commitment, and 2. fear. I thought I would lose everything I loved; my work and reputation. Ugh!!!
But we said those words, “Till death do us part…” That required an ungodly amount of stubbornness! And it called for hours and hours of long hard talks. Neither one of us really thought that killing each other was a good option, though we joked that it was the only way we would leave each other! So what other options were there? Option One was the hard one: stick it out. There were days – long ones where our emotions ran amuck and this option was stifling, at best, and completely joyless. We lost the beauty of Pete and Pat! We lost sight of each other. The raising of five kids in a polluted Bangkok crammed with cars, motorbikes and taxis didn’t help. The daily grind was grinding our love to smithereens. We forgot what made us fall in love. And we started not caring. “Oh God is this my life?”
Our tiny daughter Amanda mouthed this phrase (mimicking what she had heard her mother say over and over) “Oh God is this my life” one day while play acting with her two dolls. Our life. Patricia longed for a better life. Years of resentment were eating her soul and identity. The lack of perspective, positivity and joy darkened the majority of her days with a blasé going-through-the-motions. Often I heard the words,”Oh God is this my life?” I felt it keenly.
The kids felt it too. Amanda could repeat her words perfectly with the same tone. And I resented the joylessness of my option, stick it out. I would do it. I didn’t like where we were headed. But I would be a martyr if called for.
My facebook post didn’t allow me to add more characters. But there is an Option Two: Change the way you see.
When you have tried digging yourself out of a hole that only got deeper with each shovel full change seems, well, pretty darn impossible. I know that feeling! We tried some digging with counselling. It helped some. But we found ourselves back in the hole again. Bouts of anger still flared, yes, less and less, but still some scary moments. Distance between us, like a phlegmatic sea and its uneven rhythms, increased and decreased and increased again. It’s hard to change.
But not impossible.
You may be reading this and asking for the key to, “How did you change?” Yes, the key. More like hours of honestly looking at ourselves and then hours looking for the good in each other. Hours of being miserable and not wanting to repeat that. And one of the turning points, a key, was to go way back, try and graciously remember the initial attraction, those things that captured us in love’s grasp in the first place. When we never wanted to escape.
Those attractive things hadn’t disappeared completely. Our skin, of course, wasn’t as vibrantly taut and our hair began to thin and grey, but we were still essentially the same inside. We were different versions of the same. It was hidden for a long time from our eyes under expectation, resentment and indifference, but it could be resurrected! Our keen eyesight for the negative caused us blindness for too long. We dealt with the resentment and the anger and the indifference and stubborn selfishness. Slowly we rediscovered the beauty of each other. It rekindled a joy. This sounds simple. It is. But it’s not easy. And it took us a lot of time.
So my short little Facebook post was not so much prompted by preparing to officiate at a marriage as my wife suggested. I was thinking about some couples I know going through staggering storms. I stand with you and the many couples who wonder if it is possible for two people in our day and age to stay together until ‘death do us part.‘ I’d like to shout to you and them, “We made it through many storms, you can too!” Hope you can find some honesty and hope for you in this blog.
Some of you cannot turn the page. “It is finished” is written on your marital story. There are probably good reasons for that. For Patricia and I, we are glad that we are still writing chapters as a couple. We had to learn to move past the flaw seeking and look again at what made us fall in love in the first place. We had to forgive and then bury the awful, and learn from the lean years so we could again be that couple that laughs, talks about everything and nothing, and loves into the sunset.