As part three in the marriage series, I am sharing four research-based strategies for building a healthy marriage: functional conflict, scanning for positive interaction opportunities, affirming one another’s successes, and building a trusting environment.
For each of these four, I will summarize the research and suggestions from the experts, with a particular focus on the work of Dr. John Gottman, an influential researcher in the field of marriage.
I have also created resources for couples to inventory their current use of these strategies and look for opportunities to grow together. Each strategy will have a short quiz couples can take and score. These quizzes are exploratory tools; they are not definitive measures of a couple’s health. I hope that they will be useful in creating discussion, exploration and possibly growth; that is the only goal.
Appreciating the rain,
Stumbling through the sky-
inverted images underfoot
Imagining the opening of the bloom,
wondering about the feelings:
timidity, curiosity, wonder, fear, courage?
In my last post, I told the history of my marriage to my husband Jamey and ended at a crux moment: the moment our marriage almost ended. This was not, however, the end of our story. We stayed together and are very happily married today. So why did I decide to begin my series on marriage by talking about this difficult moment?
One reason I did this is to try and alleviate some of the stigma of difficult and failing marriages. When I was struggling in my own marriage, I felt a lot of shame. When I did talk to others about it, however, what I found is that there were many other people dealing with the same issues and emotions that I was feeling.
I’ve read a lot of research on shame and vulnerability (shout out to Brene Brown) and shame and secrets cause disconnection, pain, and suffering. Marriages fail. It’s a fact. I don’t want to idealize marriage. It does not come easy, and even when it lasts it is often not as good as one might hope. If by saying this out loud I can help one other person to say “Me, too” or “I’m not alone, and it’s ok that this is happening” then I want to do that.
I also believe that seeing how bad it gets and then knowing that it can get better is life and marriage affirming. Couples can go through the lowest points, and come back from it and be better and healthier than ever. It happens. It happened to me.
This was the worst moment:
After telling the kids we are going on a date night, Jamey and I sit in our car staring out at the Olentangy River glistening in the dark. I am trying to hand him a very long letter; he doesn’t want to take it.
He reads part of the first page and crumples the papers in his hand, “I can’t read this. You are making the worst mistake of you life.”
The letter tells him I want a divorce.
This was another bad moment:
A week before, I sit in another parking lot, this time by myself. I am in the middle of panic attack. My head might explode, so I hold it between my knees and try to remember my meditative practice. My hands are shaking. I felt like I might be going crazy. I feel like I might die. How am I going to do this, and why? How did it come to this?
I need to get out. I need to breath. I just want it all to be over.
This was the antecedent to these other two very bad moments:
I am sitting in my therapist’s office and I am telling her: “I feel very clear about this. Things are not changing. My feelings are not changing. I have to make a change.”
“Sounds like you know what you need to do. Our next appointment is in two weeks. Why don’t you tell him before we meet next? You are ready.”
Marriage is one of the most profound and deeply complicated commitments one can make. I believe firmly that regardless of who you are, it is impossible to know and comprehend the truth of it until many years into the experience.
Before I go to into what I mean by this, what I think I have learned after a decade of marriage, I think its important to tell part of our story, my husband’s and mine.
There is an enchanting beauty found along the simplest paths of life. Mostly this is a metaphor, but sometimes, if you are open enough, it is literal, too.
Last Sunday on an early-morning walk so cold that our fingertips were icy-cold bits of numbness, I had to dance and skip alongside Mel to keep from becoming too chilled. Despite the cold, however, we walked for hours, and along the path we encountered some wondrous little surprises that enchanted us both.
What changed in my life while going without makeup for two weeks? Surprisingly little. Not a single person made a comment to me about looking “tired.” No one treated me any differently. People continued to be kind, caring and concerned in the way I know most humans to be on the average day.
The only thing that really changed for me is that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t love my face. This sounds bad, but I wasn’t like, “Ugh, I hate myself. Why do I look like this?” It was more, “Yeah, I don’t really dig this right now.” And when I walked away from the mirror, the thought didn’t follow me around, didn’t nag me, didn’t even occur to me to be honest.
This is surprising considering that had I never stepped foot in front of a classroom or gone to a professional meeting without my safety blanket- concealer, blush, mascara and eye shadow. I did both of these things five days into the two weeks, and there was literally no difference between that day and any other.
Makeup is a complicated cultural phenomenon: a safety blanket, a mask, the gauze on a wound, a watercolor painting- it is all of these things.
When I was on my silent retreat, I went 12 days without a bit of makeup. I will be honest: this was probably the first time that has ever happened in my adult life- besides the last two weeks which have been makeup free for me (more about that later).
One thing that both horrified and fascinated me was the fact that I never got used to my own face while I was there. It just didn’t look like me (or at least not a version I liked). Of course, besides the occasional glance in the mirror, this was not a major topic on my mind; Most of my thinking was consumed by avoiding the part of my body that felt like it was on fire for the last twenty minutes as I tried not to move.
Even before my retreat, however, I had become somewhat intrigued by the inordinate role that makeup played in my daily life. I am not obsessive. I usually put on four products (mascara, eyeshadow, concealer and blush), and I don’t wear a lot of it. My routine is usually once a day. It takes about five to ten minutes.
However, I rarely leave home without at least concealer and a little blush. If I did it would feel very strange, and in general, I am very uncomfortable with certain features of my face, namely my uneven complexion and the dark rings around my eyes (hence the concealer and blush).
As a person who tries to be mindful of my thinking and habits, I had to wonder: why does this mean so much to me? Is beauty that important? What would happen if I didn’t wear it?
I have been thinking about beauty standards lately (see the post Why You’re So Pretty Sucks: Being Mindful of Dangerous Beauty Standards) and wondering: what unacknowledged forces are at work here, and how do they affect people- myself included?
In response to my questions, I decided to post a survey online to my Twitter and Facebook feed about women’s personal makeup routines (or lack thereof) and their feelings on why they use it (if they do). There were nineteen survey respondents, a fairly small sample size. I did, however, have a range of feelings and experiences represented, which I felt was helpful for exploring different angles on the topic. I was also able to see some patterns and some differences that were interesting.