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A Happier Marriage Might Start with the Stories You Tell Yourself: Jay and Anne's Marriage Story

Updated: Mar 17

One of my first memories of our marriage was assuming that we would go on a date our very first weekend together as a married couple. We "dated" long distance for a couple years, so this date would be one date among very few in our relationship. We basically had a dateless dating relationship. So, now that we were together, I thought it was a given that we would take time to connect via dating, probably every weekend.

I cannot remember word-for-word how my husband responded to that request, but the gist of it was: he had set his mind to relax that weekend. My husband was a full-time graduate student and a part-time youth pastor - and a homebody - quite honestly.

I was disappointed.

This was just one small snapshot into our early life together, but I walked away with a story.

I think many of us can relate to this, even if it isn't the way we would word it. We can let one moment in our marriage have too profound of an impact because of story.

As humans, we gravitate to stories because we like and need meaning, and story makes meaning out of the meaningless.

But the downside to this story-making is if we walk away with the wrong story, we can make meaning of everything through that distorted story-lens.

That's what I did.

I walked away with something along the lines of:

  • My husband enjoys relaxing more than me

  • My husband would rather be entertained than talk to me

  • I am boring (because the point above)

Then I began, what we call in coaching, "collecting evidence" or "finding proof".

Every time my story looked remotely true in my marriage, I collected evidence to deepen the believability of my story and the grooves in my mind.

The sad thing is: unless some real perspective pulls us out of our story, we can live in them a long time, it can be years, and sometimes even a lifetime.

What Jay didn't necessarily know is that he was walking into a story of my inner monologue that was going on long before I had met him. He wasn't the cause of my insecurity, but rather, due to my distorted story-lens, I reaffirmed the hurtful inner-talk I was already having.

I believed I was boring prior to moving into our house together. I actually had quite the onslaught of hurtful inner-talk. Shame and insecurity were regular battles.

Here is what happened:

My husband's tendencies + my insecurities = loving but disconnected

Loving but Disconnected

What does loving and disconnected even look like?

For us, we have always had good will towards each other. We care about each other. We are loyal. We are mostly kind, (my husband has never said anything mean to cut me down, so huge brag - my baby, sensitive heart couldn't take it, so thank God!) We do love each other, but there can be a huge distance between feeling love for a person and communicating that love in a way the other person feels it, (Kalista touched on that here).

George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

I believe this can be equally true of the transfer of love and intimacy.

Just because you are feeling it, does not mean the other person is.

Disconnection looked like this for us; there was a disconnect between giving love and felt love, and attempts at intimacy and felt intimacy. That is not a fun feeling, when you are trying but things aren't necessarily landing, and then you begin to believe you have no idea what you're doing when it comes to this marriage thing, when previously you felt like you were pretty smart. I read the personal development books. What wasn't working?

Still on the Journey:

Jay and I are still in process. We have not perfected these things, but we have come a long way when it comes to closeness and connection.

I have learned a couple things:

  1. We cannot faithfully rely on what is natural

  2. A large portion of marriage is a mix of productive skillsets and mindsets

We Cannot Rely on the Natural

It is natural to try to demonstrate love in our own love language. It is natural to communicate when we feel like and how we feel like communicating. It is natural to see things from our own point-of-view, but to have a good marriage, we have to do very unnatural things.

Some people feel like this somehow rubs against authenticity, as if natural and authentic are the same thing. While authenticity does mean: "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character," (and at first glance, that may imply to you that you should do what is natural to be authentic), however, one thing may be true of your personality that is not true of your desired character.

Maybe you have a fiery personality. Maybe anger rises quickly to the surface. That may be an authentic response to a frustrating situation for you. But your character is thoughtful and loving. Contradictions can exist in the same person.

So, I do not believe choosing authenticity and doing unnatural, yet beneficial things are at odds with one another.

Jay and I now rely on systems (some we are still in the process of creating) to keep our relationship in a healthy place. For example, our family meeting.

Marriage is a Mix of Productive Skillsets and Mindsets

In marriage, it can be so easy to spin in circles on a topic, to get on a hamster wheel to nowhere if you will. Topics that have no real answer.

An example in my marriage is what we each believe "interrupting" is.

To my husband, talking before he is finished is interrupting.

To me, asking a relevant question is not interrupting, because I know I will forget it by the end. Or possibly accumulate 10 more.

It is not productive to go around and around on this topic, because in the end, it is mostly open to interpretation. Yet, this is where many people get stuck.

What is productive is practicing active listening and empathy skills. The ability to pull back out of the endless cycle of heading nowhere and do something that (outside of our immediate perspective and opinions, aka: a skill) is a lot more helpful.

That is what we do in our marriage coaching. We pull back and remove ourselves from hamster wheel conversations and work on real relationship skills that will help us make progress.

A Final Encouragement:

If you find yourself discouraged by where you are in your marriage, I want you to give yourself grace. I know you probably heard that a million times, but think about it: you were probably young when you got married, and if you were like me, marriage skills were among the many life skills I lacked.

I think we can still be stuck years into our marriage because we began to think of ourselves or our spouse as bad/incompatible instead of realizing it was as simple as a lack of skills that may have caused some of us our rough starts. Remember the story we begin to tell ourself?

I was a 23 year old when I got married. Would you expect any 23 year old to have their life figured out? No?

The beginning of our marriage sets our trajectory and unless we pivot somewhere along the way, we are on that same path.

However, I want you to know how much hope there is. Look at the difference one small change can make:

You can end up on a completely different path.

I don't know what that small change is for you. It could be inviting a wise friend into your marriage, it could be a family meeting, it could be committing to daily dialogue, meeting with a coach, or working on having a healthier relationship with yourself. Whatever it is, it could put you on a path to a whole new marriage and life.

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