Monday, July 6, 2009

Pioneer Mode

There is a part of me that is tempted to merely continue telling my story without adding more details about my marriage, but the other part of me understands that my relationship with Jim has been a journey of many learnings, and I feel as though these gifts of discovery are to be shared. There may be one person who reads this and is somehow helped on his/her path, so I view this as an invitation to step away from the present, reflect on the past thirty plus years of our relationship, and then communicate it with deep honesty, sincerity and love. Therein lies the challenge for me because I have only shared these details in one-on-one situations, never in the public venue.

It seems as though Jim and I tripped over a lot of the typical bumps that couples experience while creating a meaningful life together. It certainly didn't help that my past arrived with me, meaning I brought enough baggage for a six month extended trip. I also brought all my awkward ways of dealing with emotions, and since Jim didn't arrive empty handed, we were in serious need of some clearing and cleaning out of old habits. The biggest obstacle for us was that we were each equipped with undeveloped tools and no maps to give us a sense of direction, so we found ourselves like pioneers, making our way over the unknown terrain of our life together. That brings me to my first learning...finding how to best acquire the skills necessary to make this partnership work effectively. I should mention upfront that this initial learning took us literally years to create and fully understand how to use them.

I want to share a few illustrations of our good intentions, but faulty connections. The first gift I ever received from Jim was for my birthday, a few months into our relationship. I was blown away by the size of the gift he brought to the house, and I was even more blown away by the contents...a two drawer metal file cabinet! I was shocked, speechless and at a loss as to how to lovingly respond to this very impersonal practical gift. He stood with a pleased smile on his face because he knew that I had been looking for a way to organize my papers, and I stood with a blank look on my face, having a hard time admitting to myself that I was disappointed to have received such a sensible gift from him. Then I felt guilty for seemingly not appreciating Jim's thoughtfulness in choosing something that he knew I could use. Are you now beginning to see how our differences in perceptions and expectations were challenging for us to handle? Hindsight is 20/20, so I feel a bit guilty sitting here critically dissecting some of our earlier behaviors and efforts. I now treasure Jim's ability to be the practical one, and each time I remember the file cabinet I smile with love and appreciation, although it took me many years to acquire this insight.

There is also the unforgettable night when we were invited to a friend's house for dinner and Jim was quite impressed with the stroganoff she prepared for us. He couldn't stop talking about it on our ride home, so I decided that soon I would make it, even though I had no idea how to prepare it. A few weeks later I had found a recipe, done the grocery shopping, and started making this fussy, time consuming dinner of beef stroganoff. I was feeling excited about surprising him with this special meal, but I was the surprised one when he took one quick look at it and said, "Is THIS what you made with that steak was on the counter?" How was I to react to this question after having spent the afternoon preparing what I felt would be an exceptional meal? My feelings were crushed, and I think he should have considered himself lucky for not wearing the dish, because believe me, that is what I considered doing. Working on an openly honest relationship was going to be more challenging than I thought.

During these early years we both had good intentions of helping create a solid foundation for our marriage, but in reality we didn't have the directions explaining how to make this happen. At times it seemed like we were merely going from one minor annoyance to another, never totally aware of how to best clean up the hurt feelings or frustrations. So many of my feelings went unspoken because I wasn't sure how to verbalize them without making Jim feel attacked. Have you already figured out what I did with all those unexpressed feelings? Of course they were each tucked safely away in Pandora's Box. What became of all these emotions that had accumulated over the years? You'll just have to stick around to find the answer to that fascinating query...

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