I mentioned in my entry about our trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto that the 5 hour drive back to Michigan was fruitful and beautiful for us as a couple - and I'm finally getting around to putting into words exactly why that is....
As we reflected on the wonderful trip we had just experienced together, we shared a lot of laughs and spoke about how much of a blessing it was. At some point, however, there was a shift in the direction of our conversation and Michael expressed something that was troubling to me; he seemed to have a negative understanding of and be upset about something related to my pregnancy and the future of our marriage which, in turn, made me upset. We were both frustrated...and I began crying like most pregnant women do when they're frustrated. This wasn't exactly the beautiful or fruitful part of the journey...but what took place next was. So what happened?
We continued talking, understanding that this wasn't a "quick fix" to be done with and forget about. Neither of us knew exactly what to say but we knew that this wouldn't get resolved if we ignored it. I was worried that my pregnancy hormones would get the better of me, but I trusted in God to lead us so we could move forward as a couple (after all, this is my husband and my vocation - not some kind of relationship I can put on hold or walk away from). Side note: I recognize that healthy communication doesn't always mean discussing a topic and resolving it immediately - though considering we were alone in a car together for hours, it became a pressing issue for us.
After all, if Michael and I don't talk about something and haven't established where we stand as a couple it's far easier to end up listening to what people on the outside of your marriage have to say about the topic. And while those men certainly didn't mean any harm, they were speaking from their own personal experiences with their wives...which doesn't quite line up with how Michael and I interact or approach things. As soon as Michael and I were able to reestablish all of this he was able to easily dismiss what he had been told from outside sources and stop worrying.
Now, before I continue, I'd like to point out that sometimes we do need to speak to people outside of our marriages and hear what they have to say. However, when it comes to situations that effect our married lives it's far more important that we actually discuss the topic with our spouse. In other words, we have to be careful not to substitute having discussed something with a friend for the actual conversation that needs to happen with our significant other.
The bottom line is this: the people we work with, our family, and our friends are just that - the people we work with, our family, and our friends. They aren't our spouse and they can't tell us what our spouse may be thinking. Only our spouse can do that. Sometimes we think we're on the same page and don't need to discuss certain things, but it doesn't hurt to talk about it anyway...even if it's just to reiterate the fact that the two of you are indeed on the same page.
The entire conversation we had on that car ride home was a learning experience for Michael and me. We already communicate a lot. After all, we were long distance for essentially our entire dating relationship leading up to our wedding day (so clearly we spent many hours talking on the phone, Skype, etc.). We've never had to worry much about expressing our thoughts, fears, or sharing any other emotion with the other person because it's what we've done all along. Yet we almost fell into a trap of Michael being unhappy and worrying about something he didn't need to really worry about...which just goes to show that, ultimately, the important thing is to just keep the healthy communication going. If we didn't communicate so frequently it would have been nearly impossible for Michael to bring up his thoughts or for me to know that he had ever been concerned about something.
The second important lesson I took away from that afternoon was this: when a difficult conversation arises, don't freak out or try to avoid it. It would have been so easy for me to just cry and shut down...but God gave me the grace to listen and hear what my husband was trying to tell me - which helped me find the words I needed in return. Sometimes listening is all we can manage to do and sometimes that's all it takes...and God handles the rest.
Most of this seems like common sense to all of us.
However, it doesn't take a genius to glance at the marriages in our nation and tell us that a whole lot of people manage (often unintentionally) to let healthy communication slide by the wayside for us to know that it's true. Which brings me to my next point: yes, communication is a key ingredient in any successful relationship...but too often the "healthy" part remains neglected or isn't quite achieved. Yelling or saying hurtful things just for the sake of "communicating" isn't productive, so we also need to consider the ways in which we are communicating.
When all was said and done Michael and I walked away from that conversation feeling closer than ever before. Many people would say that an afternoon with me crying in the car doesn't sound like a great time...but we both agreed that we felt so relieved and joyful that we had managed to address a tough issue and resolve it. There aren't many things that make me happy in the way I feel whenever Michael and I know without a doubt that we are on the same page.
That afternoon truly was a beautiful and fruitful experience for Michael and me - tough topics, tears, and all. After all, how can we become the best versions of ourselves and more loving spouses if we don't share and acknowledge how one another is truly feeling or what he or she is dealing with emotionally? By sharing our hearts and our most vulnerable thoughts and fears, we can better love and pray for our spouses and (hopefully) help them love and be loved in such a way that brings us that much closer to heaven.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
-Mr. Fred Rogers