We have been under great pressure lately, much of it self-imposed. My husband and I can both be perfectionistic but, unfortunately, our perfectionist tendencies go in opposing directions. Simply put, what he feels has to be done perfectly, I usually feel is unimportant and vice-versa. Instead of realizing that together, from our different perspectives, we have all the bases covered, we often tug and pull to get the other to do things "our way".
Over the past couple of months, Phil has switched to a new position at work and experiences frequent stress as he trains for this assignment- often staying up late to study after working long hours during the day. He feels that, at his age, this may be the last "new assignment" that he will be given and he wants to do the job perfectly, he wants to eventually retire on a positive note, knowing he did his best. And I think this is commendable.
When we felt God leading us to open our home to an international, we both were positive about doing this (and still are!). But his response was to try to make the house perfect while my response was to try to make the house comfortable and more attractive. He immediately started talking about how we needed to dust the ceiling fans, the walls, edge the lawn, sweep the porch, re-arrange the laundry room, etc.
I wanted the kitchen walls repainted a bright, sunny yellow and I wanted to shop for futons, so our son's friends could still come over and "crash" in the living room if they needed to stay overnight. I wanted the grass mowed but didn't care about edging - I am more of a "bush hog" the whole yard and we'll be fine type of person.
We were both agreed that our spare room, which has been a big walk-in closet/storage room for the past ten years, would have to be totally revamped and that it was great that we were finally motivated to do what should have been done long ago.
We were both agreed that the Christmas decorations, storage boxes and exercise machine would have to find another home. But beyond that, we seldom saw eye-to-eye. He wanted the room to be clean but to me, his idea of clean was clean as in "sterile", like an impersonal hospital room. To me, I was thinking in terms of "cozy" - wanting to get just the right curtains, bedspread, etc. (Graciously, my sister-in-law who has a gift for cleaning, shopping and decorating went out and bought coordinated bedspread, sheets, curtains, and throw rug for the room, making the room exactly what I wanted. She also cleaned the room to perfection, making the room exactly what Phil wanted and did this at a time when push had come to shove and Phil and I were almost frantic due to the pressure of time. Honestly, without her help and my brother's plus my neighbor's, we would never have gotten the house ready to meet both of our specifications in time to welcome our guest!).
With the stress of reorganizing the house and Phil's new position, which necessitated several 6 day work weeks for him that ended around 7 in the evening as well as evenings of painting that ended often at 1 a.m., by the time our international student arrived, we were physically depleted. Once he gets here, I kept thinking, we can slow down and relax, the hard stuff will be over!
But bringing someone new into your home, although rewarding, brings it's own type of stress. Every new person added to the family changes the family dynamics a bit. Communicating even the simplest needs and desires takes work, which can be mentally taxing at first. Routines are disrupted for everyone and consequently everyone is scrambling to figure out what is the proper thing to do, the polite thing to do? Both parties want to please and in order to do that, you have to sort of "climb into the other person's mind" and learn to see things the way they see things. This is eventually very rewarding but it takes time and it is not easy. Good things seldom are easy!
A couple of nights ago, this cumulative stress and physical tiredness caught up with us both. When Phil is tired, he is very negative and tends to go on what I call "tirades". Never raising his voice but going over and over the things that he doesn't like as if I didn't get it the first, second, third, or fourth time he launched his complaints.
When I am tired, I become self-pitying and waspish. I grew up in a family where extremely sarcastic, belittling comments were the norm and I learned that lesson well. Even today, at 57 years of age, horribly stinging comments can come to my mind - maybe not always at the very moment I want them:) But still, they will come!
Because I realize this type of speech was partially responsible for destroying my parents's marriage and sending all of us kids into some type of counseling in our earlier years, by the grace of God, I refrain from saying a lot of what I think in the heat of the moment here within our home. I know the consequences can be severe.
When I was a child, I was taught the little rhyme:
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me.
It wasn't until recently that I realized that little limerick isn't even Biblical - God never said, "Words don't hurt you." Instead, through the writer, James, God said that the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison, something that no man can tame and something that can even set the course of our whole life on fire and be set on fire by hell itself.
That's pretty strong - too strong, I thought, as I was meditating on that passage today. But then I thought about my parent's marriage and wondered.
And then I thought about a couple of nights ago. My husband was exhausted and to him, nothing was right with the world. As he was engaging in a tired litany of complaints in our bedroom for what seemed to me to be the upteenth time that evening, my self-pity kicked in. I was tired too! Life hadn't been easy for me either! Suddenly, I felt enraged - I was as tired as he was and I had a right to peace and quiet! In fact, I didn't have to sit and listen to this!
And so, as his words and my feelings of self-pity/entitlement collided with each other, some of the cruelest comments I've ever thought in my entire married life came to mind, actually bubbled to the surface with great ease, frightening ease. While he talked, aware that I was ticked but unaware of what was going on inside of me, I seriously considered unleashing belittling, sarcastic, cruel comments his way - not because they were true but because I wanted him to be quiet. Simply put, at that moment, my needs were more important than his. IN my mind, I was justified in saying whatever I could just to get him to be quiet and leave me alone so I could attend my pity-party of one.
By the grace of God and only by His grace, I recognized that I was on the brink of doing to my loved one what my parents had done to each other and to me when I was growing up, I was getting ready to roll "childhood tapes" and verbally damage our relationship in a way that I knew my husband might never completely forget, even as I knew he would completely, eventually forgive. At that moment of temptation, God graciously warned me that the best thing I could do was to keep my mouth totally shut and again, by His power, I was able to do that. I'm sure my expression was hateful but my verbal daggers were never unsheathed. For that, I thank Him.
PHil went to take a shower and during that time, God worked on both of us. When my husband came to bed, the first thing he said was, "I'm so sorry for running on like I did. Will you forgive me?" And the second thing he said was, "I love you."
Wow. How different things would have been if I had let my thoughts "fly" as I had wanted to....
I asked his forgiveness also and affirmed my love for him. It wasn't hard.
Today I read something that arrested my attention. Kate McCord (a pseudonym) wrote: How we define the source of our problems determines where we look for solutions. Kate lived for five years in Afghanistan and witnessed a culture where the man has supreme control over the wife, where girls are usually married between the ages of 11 and 15 to men they don't know. The marriages are arranged by the family and when the girl is wed, she is immediately taken to her husband's village to live with his family. She said that in five years, she never talked to an Afghan woman who didn't mention being hit or beaten by her husband. It is routine.
She also said that when she asked a man what was the happiest day of his life, he would inevitably say it was the day he acquired a wife. When women were asked the same question, they never mentioned their wedding day. However, when they were asked what was the worst thing that ever happened to them, they would frequently say it was the day they got married.
She also found that many of these women believed the problem in their marriage could be fixed if only they could live in the Western world, where partners choose each other. Then, they would have the perfect marriage and be happy.
While Kate obviously doesn't approve of men beating their wives and isn't enamored with the way marriages are run in Afghanistan, she had to point out something to these women. She had to tell them that they hadn't found the right source of their problems, their perception was skewed. The problem in marriage isn't confined to Afghanistan and it didn't originate there; instead, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, to the introduction of sin into the world, to the beginning of the rift between men and women. She had to tell them that in the West, even with the freedom to date, there are still problems between men and women, that men and women have difficulty relating all over the world because of sin.
And that this is not the way God wants us to live. He wants us to experience love and peace with each other but to do this, we have to go to Him as the solution to our sin problem.
I thought about that. A lot.
Obviously, I prefer the American way of dating and marriage and my first reaction was to agree with the Afghan women whom Kate befriended: if the Afghan men would be more respectful, more loving towards their wives, the problem would be solved! If the women had the right to choose whom they wanted to marry, the problem would be solved! If I had been in Afghanistan, I would have counseled these woman to try to get to the West any way they could so that they could experience freedom and live under laws that would protect them.
Basically, my first response to what Kate wrote was to think, "She is so wrong!" But then as I read on, I saw where she stated that neither arranged marriages or free dating will solve the problems between men and women. ANd I thought about how we, in the West, also mistake the source of our problems. When the Western marriage hits bumps in the road, when both partners are tired or sick or worried - or all of the above, it is tempting to think: my problem is my spouse. If I were married to someone else, I would have the perfect marriage. And so we have people who go from one partner to another. People like me - I could easily have been divorced and remarried many times if I had bailed every time I got seriously upset with Phil and I'm sure he could say the same. It's just so easy for me to blame him when things are not going well.
And I had to agree that the basic problem in marriage is sin. And until we correctly identify the source of our problems, we won't find the correct solution. Again, I'm not saying that if one partner is abusive, the other partner should stay and be endangered or that women in Afghanistan should not be protected. I'm not saying that at all and as I read more in Kate's book, In the Land of Blue Burqas, it is clear she is not saying that either.. But I am saying that there is no such thing as a "perfect partner" and that sin is at the bottom of the problem between men and women, regardless of where they live. And the only solution to sin is... Jesus.