It Takes Two

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Now, I suppose you are wondering what happened that turned mine and Wakizashi’s marriage around. How did we get from averge and volatile to fabulous and wonderful?

Well, I’m not really sure… It took time, and it really all started with a personalrenovation. I was trying to be the best me I could be. I was so sick and tired of being unhappy, and unsatisfied with life. I was desperate to finally figure out what Real Life was about (because the average everyday thing we call life just wasn’t very satisfying, if you know what I mean.). I swear, I hadn’t set out to change my marriage, although, that ended up being the result.

God pointed out to me that if I wanted things to change around me, then I needed to start changing who and how I was in this world. He gave me an assignment. It was a terrible, hard, sacrificial assignment: I had to do housework.

You see, almost all of our fights began or ended on housework. I suck at housework. It’s just not my strength. It’s not that I can’t do the work, it’s just that… it’s hard to describe… my brain wasn’t trained to it. Anyway, Wakizashi was very aware of every little thing (I swear, he used to yell at me if the chair wasn’t pushed in… that’s how bad things had gotten between us) and it was starting to kill our relationship.

So, God pointed out that I knew which things most annoyed Wakizashi and I needed to be attending to those things (do the minimum work with the biggest results). But, I had a proviso – I couldn’t ask for any recognition. If Wakizashi noticed that was ok, but if he ignored what I had done I wasn’t supposed to say anything.

I can’t tell you how difficult this was! It was my very first lesson on the idea that we were a unit and not just two individuals striving to get ahead in the same space. (If life is a mountain climb, most of us as couples are trying to climb the mountain independently and are normally trying to climb up on our partners or push them lower so we seem higher. It’s sad but true. The real goal though is to climb together, one pulling the other along as we each need the help.)

I also started noticing something by doing this. Wakizashi seemed to get angry no matter what I did. I started to realize that we were often just arguing out of habit. (I’m not blaming him here, we were both guilty of this at one point, but because I was paying attention to myself, at this point, I was less likely to be the culprit.) It was almost like he’d push simply to get me angry and get a fight on, which would give him permission to get angry.

Seeing as I was so practiced at holding myself in (what with the not being able to say anything to draw attention to my hard work), I started not responding to his attempts. I’d hum or sing to myself. I’d calmly leave the room (not rudely, but simply as if he wasn’t speaking to me and I was going on with my task), or I’d respond as if he were speaking reasonably. And when I didn’t manage to keep control and we did fight, I was suddenly very aware of how often I said things just to be mean or hurtful. I started apologizing immediately for anything I said that I knew I had said simply to hurt him.

Now, I’m not sure when this happened, or how far into my own personal growth this was, but suddenly Wakizashi started to change. (He’s since told me that he realized I had been making an effort to be a better person and that motivated him to do likewise. Also, like me, he didn’t start making changes with the marriage in mind, but instead worked on the habits that were hurting him personally the most.) One day when we were arguing I told him that he was always yelling at me for little things without even acknowledging the things I had done.

He very calmly pointed out that he hadn’t done that in a few months. And… I realized he was right (and so apologized for accusing him of that and for not noticing too), he actually hadn’t lost his temper in a long time. And that… that was the magic turning point for our marriage.

It was like we were roped together and climbing up the mountain together. We were each doing our personal climb: working to be better and better individuals, but each time one of us reached a level we would help the other to catch up to us. He started working on his temper, so I started working on mine.

Then I started to work on another thing, he’d notice my effort and he’d work on another. Suddenly, we were able to talk about the things and we discovered that most of our disagreements came from simply having no clue what the other person was thinking. Now we could actually say (without freaking out) what was bothering us, or how we felt about something. (Wow, we really had to work on defensiveness then.)

Let me pause here for a moment to tell you that if you have a couple of friends who are going to marry, the best electric knife sharpener can be a perfect wedding gift without spending too much money.

The better and better our marriage became the better our individual lives became. The happier we became with ourselves the more our marriage improved. Now we live as a team. I’m very much aware which of my weaknesses Wakizashi compensates for, and he knows which of my strengths he needs to make use of. We are partners in every sense of the word. It took a lot of work, and still takes a huge amount of willingness to sacrifice ourselves, but you know, it always pays off in the end.

The Trials of The Hard Way

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I recently had a very similar conversation with my little sister. (In case you didn’t know, I was an only child till the age of nine when my sister had the nerve to come along. Finally, as adults, we get along; it only took me 20 years or so to forgive her intrusion into my life.)

She has been faced with one or two very difficult decisions lately. Decisions that take facing people, possibly hurting people, and choosing what you know to be right over what would be easiest to do (that is: leave things as they are). I promised her that if she took the Easy Way I wouldn’t hold it against her. She’d never had to make these kinds of decision before and I know it takes a lot of working up to The Hard Way (even if it is the right way). I promised to love and respect her despite copping out; which is exactly what I’m doing right now. (I know she sometimes finds time to read this blog so I hope she sees that as the statement of fact that it was meant to be and not some ill-disguised jab.)

At the time of our conversation she wanted to know if life got easier the older you got (remember, I have almost a decade on her). Sad to say, I couldn’t offer her that comfort. I’d like to say that the hard decisions get easier to make, but I think that’s only true when you are truly convinced that making them will be worth it in the end. Talk about maturity.

Taking the Hard Way truly is, well, HARD. Choosing to just stop where we are, have a rest, and let life roll by for a bit always seems like the more agreeable option. The thing is, no matter how agreeable it is at the time, taking the Easy Way almost always demands a sacrifice of us, a compromise. It may be something we can stand for a week, or a few months, some of us even endure them for years on end; the truth is though, in the end these compromises eat away at us. They eat away at our very core selves; they kill us; they are roots for bitterness and unhappiness; worst of all, they are contagious. Once they take root in our lives they have the audacity to spread their venom into the lives of those we love.

Ask any woman, now in her forties or fifties, who gave up her dreams and passions for the sake of being a wife, or mother (or because someone told her she “shouldn’t” pursue them). (And then look at the ripples this decision has caused in the life of those children.) You can’t live a life of compromise forever.

I have spent a lot of years trying to figure out why we are here on this earth (I truly believe there is a reason; both one for people as a whole and you as an individual.) and I think I’ve gotten it. We are here to grow up. We, each one of us, are meant to mature, become better people, blossom and fulfill our individual purposes. Frankly, life is meant to be a mountain climb – the resting part comes at the end – whether we like it or not.

That’s why all the rewards are in the Hard Way. It’s when we are doing the hard work of changing and growing that we are really hitting our stride of purpose; all the little treasures are strategically placed along the steep trail to keep you moving forward. This I am throughly, one hundred percent, convinced of.

Besides, life may never get easier, and choosing the Hard Way may always be difficult, but once you’ve gotten over the hump of decision-making the whole thing tends to get easier; momentum and anticipation push you on through the toughest parts. (If nothing else, knowing that everything you’ve already put into it will be wasted if you quit now can be an excellent motivator.)

If I had to leave you with only one message, I’d tell you what I’d tell my sister: Fight for what matters. Whatever that means for you, keep fighting to discover, create, or hold onto what matters to you. That’s where really living begins.

(p.s. if you want to see a great movie about the routine of the Easy (complacent) life and the power of Risking the Hard Way watch Stranger Than Fiction – excellent (And motivating) movie.)