Something bizarre happens to reality when you step on a stage and share. The audience comes to think you are always as entertaining or delightful as you look for those 20 minutes. You fill their hopes because you seem better than you really are.
I have worked with my husband for almost 10 of the 12 years of our marriage. We run a platform ministry where our marriage, parenting, even sex lives come under public scrutiny.
People will watch us on stage and assume we have it made. “I could never do that with MY spouse.” I want to tell them how we just argued over how we’re not sure we even want to keep doing this.
One of my prayers before we walk on stage is that we will be more ourselves this time than last. That the person on the stage will be the same Jonalyn that interrupts and puts her foot in her mouth and asks eager questions and wants to be cute and funny and is often as much a smarty-pants as she is brilliant.
It goes by lots of names: authenticity, integrity, honesty. Wendell Berry’s characters seem to have it in droves.
I want it. And so does Dale. But it has not come easy to us.
I don’t naturally want to be as loving to Dale as I appear on stage. Sometimes I want anything but a room alone with him.
Last Fall, we spoke together for the “Get a Room” marriage retreat for a local church. It was the first time we realized the need for a substantial caveat. I read this paragraph to the audience before I spoke on “Dis-enchantment to Re-enchantment”.
Dale and I both come from families with generational sins of sexual infidelity, manipulation, codependency, divorce, shame, bullying, chauvinism, spiritual abuse, and substance abuse. We are not just lucky, our marriage looks the way it does because we work on it.
I need to know that I can mess this up and still feel you will be grateful for my trail blazing
I then spoke about sex for an hour. Dale followed it up with a talk on “Men and Intimacy”. We finished with an hour of questions and answers (these talks with our discussion guide can be found on iTunes). I think it was the first time we both spoke so candidly about sex together with an audience of married couples.
We must be very gentle with one another, for all of us are overcoming. Including me. Including you.
This is a post about the tools Dale and I use to overcome in our marriage. Tools that keep us wanting a room together, even after a week of arguments.
We run our marriage, our speaking and writing, and our parenting as equals. (Theologically this is called egalitarianism, and interprets “husband is the head of the wife” to mean the husband has an interdependence upon and is a source–a la Adam and Eve–to his wife, not husband is an authority over the wife. If you were like me and raised to believe the husband should be a spiritual leader to the wife see Unmuted and Ephesians 5–click arrow on bottom left for successive posts).
Well, equality is our ideal. In reality, we make about two hundred and sixty-seven (I know I’ve counted) compromises each day.
Dale takes our son, Finn, every afternoon, I take him every morning. But, Finn’s naptime is in the afternoon, so Dale (actually!) gets one extra hour (hey, no fair!). But, Dale puts Finn to bed every night. Yeah, but I (technically) get up with him every evening if he wakes in the night, which happens every few days or so (maybe). So I get to read every evening a bit longer than Dale, but I might get less sleep.
But it all evens out, mostly. When I cook, Dale watches the little guy, when Dale cleans up dinner, I take my turn.
We believe in mutuality, equality, but we still have roles. Our roles, however, are not cemented over our gifts. Instead, we choose our roles based on our strengths. For instance, I tend to be the first to suggest we all go outside to shovel the walkway. I love telling people what to do (my spiritual gift is being bossy). Dale’s spiritual gift (as he’s newly christened it) is “remodeling ideas” so he tends to upset all my excellent plans,
“How about we shovel the walkway when there’s not a blizzard outside?” Dale responds.
“Or, we could pretend we live in the the 1800’s and shovel it anyways!” I always have a good rejoinder.
Until recently, when we shared the stage, our notes came together like a collage. I’d write the talk, copy-paste Dale’s ideas where I thought they fit. I’d let him (see the problem yet?) tweak it, then we’d assign parts and practice. Often sparks (not the romantic ones) would fly between us over the content.
Recently, we started doing things differently (full credit to Dale who remodeled, once again, my original idea).
We both picked up brushes and started painting ON THE SAME CANVAS (this is a metaphor, we actually weren’t painting). You can imagine how nervous this made me.
We wrote a talk together, from scratch. And it was the slowest, most unpleasant process of the year.
It began when Dale and I sat across from each other at the dining room table and talked. It grates against my order and leadership abilities to let his ideas interrupt, but I planted my fingers on the keyboard and listened to his ideas long enough to write them down. THEN, I shared my ideas. And I had plenty because I had been waiting so long.
We wrote and re-crafted the entire talk together. We lived the verse we love to speak about, “Neither is woman independent from man, nor man independent from woman.” (1 Corinthians 11:11)
The result: a talk we’re both proud of. We (WE!) crafted a talk, our little masterpiece on which we can both sign our names. We (WE!) could perform it with a conviction that this was our point, crafted together. Neither of us was ‘stuck’ saying some canned line the other person had come up with.
But sitting down at the table, patiently listening, adding every point Dale suggested before I steered him toward my three points, required a tectonic shift in my soul. I had to pray and ask friends to pray beforehand. I had to gear up all day long.
I still get anxious when I know we have a talk to write, but I now know I can hold my thoughts long enough to listen (I know this now because I’ve done it once).
I’m climbing out of the family sin of control and domination, out of the glitch of impatience and selfishness that has been around my bloodline for generations.
We prepare for a radio interview. We critique each other’s points, we study and prepare counter-points. We go LIVE and the crazy-making begins.
Maybe to the audience all seems to go as planned. But when we hang up, my eyes are bright and Dale’s have dulled. I spoke over him.
Dale wonders if his points were heard. We both feel inadequate.
Enter shame, that feeling that we are unworthy of connection because we just didn’t do as well as we could have done. It can do some fascinating work on a marriage.
Fascinating because gremlins pop up with their ugly agendas and we find there is always more to unpack together.
Internally, I will want to tell Dale how to do things better (Here are five steps to avoid criticism. Now memorize them). Internally, Dale will want to tell me how a point wasn’t actually helpful or clear for the larger picture. And sometimes those internal thoughts spark into long, long arguments. We can argue beautifully, intensely, passionately, and even kindly (watch us on stage sometime, you’ll see what I mean). Or watch us off stage and see we’re not always kind.
I’ve started to notice, when I’m feeling ashamed, I punch below the belt.
Shame feels different for everyone. For me, shame feels like impatience and a sudden fear that there won’t be time if we don’t move NOW (in fact we’re probably already late). Shame feels like agitation, finger-tapping, bustling-to-put-things-away anxiety. Shame unrecognized makes me mean.
But, shame RECOGNIZED (e.g.”I feel too weak to do this.”) looks like shaking shoulders, covered eyes, and feeling that longed for touch that all is well, that I am still wanted.
Dale and I confess to each other when we feel unworthy of being loved. We are also open to hearing how we are not being kind enough, strong enough, present enough with each other (these are the hardest, most important moments of our marriage). It’s a showstopper for me to hear Dale say, “I feel blamed right now.”
And if I cannot stop being unkind in that moment, it’s time for me to leave the room to calm down.
We have begun expecting mistakes out of each other. I even have memorized a speech in response to Dale’s mistakes, “Oh, Dale, it’s okay. I do that all the time.”
Dale and I interact almost every hour on business. We interact dozens of times a day on parenting. And in the evenings, we have dinner together with constant
interruptions conversations with our three-year-old.
After dinner and playtime, if it’s a weeknight, Dale puts our son to bed (we swap on weekends). I get the time from 8- 10pm to fill as I choose (being a book worm–I read!), but at 10, we belong to each other again. We give each other at least one hour of agenda-free hang out time (thank you to Bill and Robin Moore for inspiring us with this idea).
Sometimes, we watch the next Breaking Bad (we’re on the last season, so no spoilers!). That still counts for us, because we’re active watchers, which is a technical way to say we interrupt a lot to point out what we’re thinking.
Sometimes we talk about what is bothering us about our work, or an upcoming speaking engagement. A few weeks ago, it was in our “after 10pm” time that I told Dale about my fear of botching up an important meeting.
“I need to know that I can mess this up and still feel you will be grateful for my trail blazing,” I said.
“You can botch the whole thing up, Jonalyn. I’m okay with that. If they don’t want us for their event, we have plenty of other work to do. Also, that means we won’t have to travel! Bonus!”
I am often so glad to know that every day, no matter how intense, at 10 pm I get to make room for us. It helps me remember why I married him in the first place.
So, go get a room and start loving that lucky person you married.
To hear the in-depth version of this post, go to iTunes and click on Soulation’s “Get a Room“.
I’m indebted to Josh Brahm for asking the question that prompted this post.
Next week, a guest post by author Mary DeMuth with a sneak peek of her book Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.