This Europe trip is beginning to feel like a two and half week long couples retreat for Edric and I. It’s amazing how the length of time away from the kids, and getting outside our circles of comfort and familiarity have been good for us. There is a predictability about our Manila life that needs to be tampered with every now and then to stimulate growth and better communication in our marriage.
For the most part, I would say that Edric and I have a great marriage. But it’s easy to say that when we are back home, efficiently juggling our responsibilities and commitments while doing our best to stay connected as a couple. Having gotten to that point of comfortably accepting and working around our differences, there is harmony. We get along. We laugh. We play. We love. We are relationally content.
Traveling allows for new challenges and experiences that stretch and enrich our relationship. Sometimes it is very hard to see the areas that are wrong and need fixing or appreciate the unique traits that attract you to one another. To illustrate what I mean, I will talk about the weather.
In these colder regions of the world (anything non-equatorial seems colder to us “tropicanos”). I have noticed that you simply cannot survive with a complacent attitude towards the way you dress. You have to plan, you have to pay attention to the changes in the weather or you will die, literally speaking. In the Philippines, you can put on a t-shirt, shorts and sandals and wear the same kind of outfit everyday, for the entire year…rain or shine. Okay, some people wear scarves and boots in Manila. It is a fashion mystery. For the most part, however, the Philippines is a T-shirt, shorts and sandals kind of country. And it’s nice that way. Apart from updating your wardrobe just for the fun of it, the climate keeps it easy.
After eleven years of marriage, I have found myself wanting things to stay easy. I have been content with the T-shirt, shorts and sandals approach to marriage. If I don’t have to change, that’s great. Heck, I don’t want to put on three layers of clothing and a coat. I like your T-shirt and you like mine. You understand me and I understand you. Everything is a-okay.
But there is something degenerative about this perspective. The reality is relationships take work. And the longer you are married, the more effort you should be putting into your relationship. There is no cruise control.
It has taken me 9 days into this trip to recognize this. The epiphany happened as the train we were on from Switzerland crossed over into Italy. From lush green hills, we cut through mountains and it started to snow. Edric and I were engaged in a discussion about the cons and pros of communicating with the kids on Skype. His theory was it was more painful to stay in touch with them daily so we should spread it out. And my theory was staying in touch with them as often as we could would make them feel more secure. We didn’t agree. He had his own logic and I had my own. A debate ensued.
As I listened to him articulate the logic of his theory, I felt a rising annoyance. He said, “the kids know we love them. I had closure with the boys when we left. It doesn’t make sense to keep calling them and resurrecting the wound of our absence. ” My reply was, “I don’t agree. I think it is better that we let them know that we are thinking of them and missing them even if it does ‘hurt’. We should call them daily if we can.” This was the launching point of a discussion that went on for about an hour and a half. Edric felt like I wasn’t understanding or agreeing with his logic and I was unwilling to concede to his perspective. It was no longer an issue of whether we should call the kids but if there was soundness to his logic. And I didn’t want to say there was because I was consumed by my pride. In the end, I sort of agreed but only to avoid further conflict…to return to the state of “easy.” It was an avoidance tactic.
Edric closed his eyes and decided to sleep.This is what I call, “playing possum in marriage.” I knew he wasn’t happy with the way we ended the conversation. At first, I did not care. Yeah! I can write, I thought to myself. I got a few lines into an entry when the Holy Spirit started to convict me.
What are you doing? Do you really think that you can get away with this type of behavior for very long? Why are you being proud? At what point are you really going to really TALK to your husband and be honest?
These were the questions I was being asked as I stared at the IPad screen.
I poked Edric in the knee. He opened his eyes. “Are you mad at me?” I asked him quietly. It was a rhetorical question…my silly attempt at reconnecting with him. I didn’t let him answer because I went right into, “I am sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me? I was being proud.” It may seem strange but I started to cry. In a very gentle way, Edric gave me his full attention. “Why are you sorry?”
For the first time in a long while, I started to really pour out my heart. It was embarrassing, it was liberating, it was necessary. I couldn’t stop crying. For someone who can pretty much flip a switch to turn one emotion off and another on, this was difficult. But I explained to Edric that when I feel emotionally threatened by him, I will fortify myself against all vulnerability. I do not like to be unmasked or cracked open to reveal what I am really thinking or feeling if I do not absolutely believe it is “safe” to do so. And in a state of conflict between the two of us, my default mode is to respond with hardness or to shut down.
Since the age of about 12 I have written down my feelings and thoughts. Writing has been a kind of refuge, my self-prescribing form of therapy to deal with pain, anger, confusion, fear. When I dealt with personal crisis, writing was a good listener. Sure, I read my Bible and prayed, but I needed a way to sort through the emotions. Writing and even painting became those things. But it has begun to feel wrong to relate to Edric this way. If there is any person whom I should feel emotionally secure with, it should be him. I don’t need to wall myself in. I don’t need to escape.
Towards the end of my monologue and as the weather changed over the countryside from snowy to sunny, Edric assured me, “Joy, I want you to know that I will love you no matter what. There is nothing you can do that will make me love you less. Don’t be afraid to be wounded in marriage. When you experience hurt, let God heal it. As for you and I, we also have to learn to heal one another’s wounds and grow more intimate because of them.”
It wasn’t the response I expected, but it was the response I needed. All the walls came down. I felt free.
Sometimes a date night is enough to unearth and repair hurt in a marriage. But sometimes, it takes a trip out of a country, away from the ease of familiarity to really recognize what needs fixing. Before this sounds like an encouragement to go buy tickets to Europe, I am merely saying that it helps to get away once in a while to rediscover one another and to find that love can grow sweeter still.