A love story

When I first got married, my mom told me she hoped that I would have a lifelong fairytale romance.

At the time, I found that kind of unrealistic. I was 20 and my husband was 21 when we got married. We were best friends above all else with a phenomenal connection and I knew I needed him in my life forever. But I was never the little girl who dreamed of a fairytale wedding, straight out of Disney. In fact, I didn’t dream of my wedding day at all. And when we got married, my husband wasn’t particularly romantic and the way we came to the decision to marry ranks up there among the least romantic marriage proposals of all time.

We both had a lot of growing up to do when we got married. He was wary of marriage, a child of divorce who didn’t really have a positive model of marriage. I came from two parents who had been seemingly happily married for 20 years but didn’t show me much about how their marriage worked.

We also both had gigantic chips on our shoulders about the way we had been raised and life in general. Mine was particularly huge; I was so angry with my parents that it was beyond irrational. It shocks me now to think that I was ever that angry. We moved 1300 miles away from our families right after getting married and I often think that distance from family and the legal piece of paper kept us together in the first few years. We were both fairly selfish and immature; I would say I was more so than him.

For us, it was that deep friendship and easy companionship that kept us together. Fortunately, we waited four years to have our first child because neither of us would have been good parents before that. When we did have kids, he went into hyper-responsibility mode by working a lot because that was the example his stepdad had given him. I was profoundly depressed after the birth of my first child, something that didn’t let up for years, made worse because I was so alone with my husband working so much.

We never were the angry, name-calling, plate-smashing kind of couple, even at our worst. Instead, we were more likely to have only cursory interactions, burying our dissatisfactions deep within ourselves, sometimes sniping at each other under stress.

But in the intervening years, our mutual loyalty to each other grew into a deep love. After he revealed his longtime porn addiction three years ago, he worked on facing his own inner demons. His method for transformation was through his Catholic faith. I didn’t share the faith but learned to be grateful that it helped him so much.

Although the revelation of his hidden addiction explained so much about our marriage up until that point, it was one of the most painful things I ever went through. But it also strengthened us more than anything else. He had always worked hard to provide for our family and we had always been close and we enjoyed spending time together.

But after the total honesty on his part, he also changed and became the kind of fairytale husband I never dared to dream of. He started showing that he deeply valued me and calling me his beautiful bride, which he had never said before. I often briefly wake up to him kissing my forehead when he gets up to get ready for work. He sends occasional random texts saying I’m the best thing that ever happened to him.

He even gave me a cute nickname, his “little bird”, loosely taken from Matthew 6:26, the Bible verse about birds not needing to worry about how they’ll be fed because God will meet their needs. He gave me that nickname because I used to always be so worried and it was a reminder not to worry because everything would be okay. It may sound silly, but in doing so, it helped me work to overcome my anxiety (specifically about money.) Now its a nickname that doesn’t really apply to my anxiety anymore but still makes me feel treasured and cared for.

Once I started working on my issues, I came to love him as affectionately and deeply as he loved me. It’s true what people say: you have to start to love yourself before you can truly love others. He was part of how I learned to love myself, though learning to love myself is an ongoing process.

And I started working on how to be truly respectful of him, something I admit I didn’t always understand. Now I wouldn’t dream of wanting to criticize him or say something sarcastic about him or make a joke at his expense anymore, but unfortunately that wasn’t always the case. I started to really look at how I was treating him, which was less than it could have been.

It’s funny in a way because we had always had a pretty good marriage. We were two very imperfect people who nonetheless saw enough good in each other that we were able to be best friends and constant companions, even in the times when we were each too broken to understand what love really was and how deep it could go.

I don’t know what other people’s marriages are like enough to know if we just finally caught up to where other people start, or if what we have is rare. What I do know is that we both became completely vulnerable to each other as a result of working on ourselves and that transformed a best friendship into a deep, fulfilling, irreplaceable love. I guess in the end, my mom’s wish for me ended up coming true after all.

“It’s like a long book that you never want to end” – Pam Halpert in “The Office” finale, about her romance with her husband Jim

 

Brené Brown and getting through cancer with gratitude

Even though I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and have read several of her books, I hadn’t gotten around to watching her recent Netflix special until last night.

I guess it’s part of that commitment to self-care that I wrote about last time: I did a couple hours of work, then let myself watch something for enjoyment.

She made a lot of great points that I’ll likely use as topics for other posts, but right now I want to focus on one: the concept of “foreboding joy” and how gratitude is the antidote.

Foreboding joy is the concept of being afraid to experience true joy because you fear that something could take it away. I know I have been guilty of this before–and something bad did indeed happen.

I was so excited but also scared about moving back to Texas by myself five years ago with the hopes of bringing my family down here. Someone who was a hater disguised as a friend said I was awful and horrible to pursue being happy and said I didn’t deserve it. (Brené Brown had a lot to say about haters in the special, too, but that’s for another time.)

From that point on, even as I was successful in my efforts to move my family down here, I was terrified that something bad would happen to someone in my family. I actually believed that the laws of the universe would make me pay for my great joy with a tragedy, like some sort of twisted karmic retribution.

And then three months after arriving here, my middle son got hit by a car and broke multiple bones. One of the best events of my life was followed shortly thereafter with one of the worst events of my life.

But somewhere in the years since then, I’ve embraced gratitude more fully as a way of life. From being grateful for the house I live in and being current on my bills to little daily things like forehead kisses from my husband and the way he calls me his “little bird”, I have trained myself to constantly think of things every day to be grateful for.

I think that’s one reason why I don’t let my multiple sclerosis get me down more than it does, even if I’m in pain a lot of the time and that limits my activities. I see a lot of people online who are very bitter about their MS and I can honestly say I don’t relate. I miss having the energy to do more and I really hate that I can’t pursue my grad school dreams, but that’s not the same as being miserable every day about my illness.

I’m grateful that I got disability and can sleep when I need to. Many people with MS are worse off than I am and don’t have that option.

Brené Brown also talks about how truly loving someone means being vulnerable. That opens you up to the fear that you could lose someone you love. Not everybody understands you when you’re expressing vulnerability and some will use it against you. Those aren’t the people you want in your life, but it can take a lot of strength to prioritize yourself enough to let them go .

Because I’m constantly working on both being more vulnerable and on feeling more gratitude, I think that’s why my husband’s cancer diagnosis is something I am handling okay so far. The vulnerability aspect means I’m aware that I could lose him.

But guess what? Whether I am more vulnerable or not doesn’t change the outcome of his cancer. If it’s his time to go (please God, no) I can’t change that by being more scared. And if it’s not his time to go, then being vulnerable and open just makes us closer with the time we do have.

However, because I’m also feeling more gratitude and that’s the antidote to the “foreboding joy” concept, I can honestly say I no longer feel afraid to feel joy. I don’t think bad things are lurking around the corner.

I actually am sure that there are currently unknown bad things lurking around the corner because that’s how life works. But there’s a lot of joy around the corner, too. It’s all about where I place my focus, and I want my focus to be on joy and gratitude and the intimacy that comes from being vulnerable.

In so many ways, I’m so much less afraid in general than I was even five years ago. And yet in that time, some admittedly terrible things have happened–my husband’s cancer diagnosis probably being the worst. Yes, there’s a lot to fear. But there’s also a lot to celebrate even now.

I choose to be grateful and vulnerable even if it means I could experience loss and pain. As Brené Brown says, when you close yourself off to being vulnerable, you also close yourself off to true joy and intimacy. It’s a trade that I make with my eyes wide open.