Saturday, March 12, 2011

Settling Into Happily Ever After

In honor of our eighth anniversary, which was Thursday, I thought I'd share another chapter in my love story with Bill.

After our fairy tale wedding on Vancouver Island and an intimate reception with family and friends back home, we settled into domestic life almost effortlessly. Bill moved his meager stash of furniture into my house, including the giant blue chair that I absolutely despised and an antique dresser that took up residence in our closet. Other than the chair, I was pleasantly surprised at how naturally our lives meshed.

Our First House
The Blue Chair - With Matching Ottoman! (Bill's Apartment)

Unlike most of the couples in our marriage class, His Needs/Her Needs, we didn't fight over domestic chores, bill paying, or child rearing duties. (Granted, we were the only newlyweds in the class.) Without any negotiations or even any discussion, Bill took up about half of the household chores. We shared the cooking and the dishes pretty equally. He washed laundry, and I folded. I cleaned the bathrooms, and he mowed the lawn. And he gladly helped with five-year-old Ethan's homework and bedtime routines.
Ethan in First Grade Classroom

There was only one area where we weren't so compatible: he was a night owl, and I preferred to go to bed early. I was used to going to bed by 10:00 and getting a full eight hours of sleep, but he liked to stay up until almost midnight. I tried to get him to turn in earlier, but it was hard to tear his attention from the TV; he needed that time after all the chores were done to relax and unwind.

Since one of my favorite things about marriage was snuggling and talking before I dropped off to sleep--promise you won't tease Bill about that--I decided to adapt to his schedule. But then he compromised by coming to bed around 11:00 instead of midnight.

My 33rd Birthday, One Month After Wedding

[So, that's it, you ask? Where's the drama? Hey, this is me we're talking about. Of course there was drama!]

The hardest adjustment for me was reconciling my expectations with reality. Somehow I expected wild nights of passion and long walks in the park, earnest conversations in the evenings, and adoring glances and lavish compliments. In other words, I expected Bill to meet my every need and love me in the way that I thought he should.

The reality was far more... ordinary. As I mentioned, there were lots of household duties, and there was Bill's propensity for mindless television. By the time we turned in after 11:00 each night, there was little energy for conversation, let alone passion.

I was crushed. Right around PMS time, the drama arrived with a vengeance. I stewed for days, wondering why Bill didn't seem to be nearly so in love as I was. Did he love me at all?, I wondered. No, we were just roommates, I concluded. I wanted desperately to confess my hurts and fears, but I was ashamed of my insecurities. It reminded me of the painful transition when Bill had first moved to Texas, which was maddening.

After a few days, I broke. Bill had dozed off almost the moment his head hit the pillow; I knew because I could feel his muscles twitching as he held me. Meanwhile, I lay wide awake, my eyes burning with unshed tears and my chest tight with anxiety. I took a deep breath and whispered, "Are you awake?" No answer. I elbowed him gently and repeated "Are you awake?"

"Uhnnnn," he groaned.

And thus began our the first Relationship Talk of our young marriage. As you might imagine, it went downhill from there. I ended up sobbing uncontrollably while Bill helplessly patted my back, shaking his head in confusion. "I thought we were happy," he said.

"We a-are," I sobbed. "I just don't think you love me like you used to."

"Of course I love you! I moved down here and left all my family and friends to be with you. Why would you think my feelings had changed?"

"You don't... look at me the same way. You don't tell me I'm beautiful. I don't know."

"Well I don't know how I used to look at you, so how am I going to look at you that way again?"

"That's just it!" I cried. "You didn't have to think about it then."

The conversation got us nowhere, except that Bill promised to try to show more affection. But of course, he didn't--at least not that I could tell. He just kept loving me the only way he knew how. That scene repeated itself almost once a month for at least the first year. Bill was always patient, but I could see that my insecurities were wearing on him. He'd get angry with himself because he just couldn't seem to do it right, and that put a new distance between us.

I got angry with myself, too, because I couldn't stop sabotaging our happiness. The sad thing was, I knew from our marriage class exactly what was wrong. We were speaking different love languages, and his messages weren't getting through. His love language was acts of service, and mine was words of affirmation. It just wasn't natural for him to express his love in words. I understood with my head that Bill's way of loving me was making sure I never had to touch the trash, or buying me the most thoughtful gifts, yet that didn't fill the craving in my heart.

A more mature woman would have focused on addressing his love language, making sure that he felt loved. But I just kept hoping he would change, and trying to help him change by communicating exactly what I needed.

As the years passed--yes, years--I mellowed out a little. I prayed more, pouring out my heart to God in my journal. "Why can't I be happy, God? Why can't I just love Bill as he is?" Gradually, my meltdowns slowed to every two or three months, and then six months, and then once a year. I learned to fight the urge to start a Relationship Talk after 11:00 P.M., and that it was better to pray about it for a few days and ask God to give me the right words and show me the right moment.

Eight Years Later
It's been eight years, and my last meltdown was over a year ago, I think. I can't remember when, and I think that's a good sign. I still get my feelings hurt, but I'm learning to let those feelings go. Through years of Bible study and meditating on scripture, I'm beginning to fathom how precious and loved I am in God's eyes, and that makes me believe that I'm also worthy of my husband's love. But I've learned that my worth doesn't depend on Bill's love, and that he can't possibly meet all my needs.

Our marriage isn't perfect, and we still don't live that life of wild passion that I envisioned, but I think what we have is better. Different, but better. We make each other laugh almost every day. We share the same goals. We love spending time with our kids.

I'm free to be myself with Bill. Just like God, he knows everything about me, and he loves me anyway. I'm so thankful that neither of them gave up on me.


Victor S E Moubarak said...

Best wishes to you and your family.

Praying for you all.

Gdo bless.

Jenny said...

Sweet love story! Happy anniversary!

Gentle said...

I am so happy to see God is taking you so far and that you are allowing Him to work in you. Happy Anniversary!

Sarah said...

Thank you, Victor, Jenny, and Gentle. I'm so thankful for each year God has given us.


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