By Lisa Kemble
Josh and I have been together for twenty years, since 1995, and married for nearly fifteen. In twenty-first century America, that roughly translates to “a pretty long time.” Before we began dating–during my teen years–I had come up with a (very) brief set of my own values around what I was looking for in a life partner, should I happen to find someone who “fit the bill”. Being a very growth-oriented person, one of the main qualities I was looking for was someone I could continue to grow with throughout my life–someone who would continue to stretch and challenge me, someone who would journey alongside me for the span of our life together.
While I have been blessed with an incredible partner, lover and friend in my husband, our marriage and our life together has not always looked like the rosy, continuously uphill growth curve I envisioned at twenty-five when I spoke my vows. Even though I later learned that it’s normal to have “seasons” in marriage–times where growth is more apparent and you feel more connected, and other times where you feel out of sync or like connection is especially difficult (and I wish someone had helped me to have more realistic expectations of marriage! (See: premarital counseling), I still struggled with disappointment when things got hard. I felt frustrated when our relationship felt slow to change, stuck, or even (I imagined) stagnant, and I worried that the difficult season would never end, that we would never be able to make peace with our differences.
Those differences became apparent early on. My husband and I pretty quickly learned that our family cultures were very different and that we had learned different ways of handling conflict. Coming from a German family that highly valued truth and clear thinking, I was taught to speak my mind and to express myself confidently in words. The upside of that is that I feel free to share my ideas and opinions and that I am not afraid of conflict. The downside of that is that I feel free to share my ideas and opinions and that there was a lot of conflict (Read: constant arguing) in my family.
Josh, on the other hand, is from a Mexican family that highly valued harmony and togetherness. He learned to make friends quickly and to get along with almost everyone. The upside of that is that he keeps the peace and is a joyful, sensitive soul who is easy and fun to be around. The downside of that is that he keeps the peace (Read: avoids conflict) and that he grew up feeling uncomfortable with dissenting opinions, sometimes taking them personally.
You can imagine how this seemingly small area of our marriage–different styles of handling conflict–has had profound repercussions on our life together. In the disappointment of my unmet expectations, there have been times when I allowed the ripple effect from that fundamental difference to carry me out to sea, emotionally far away from my husband. In the midst of an essentially good and healthy relationship, I have at times lost all perspective and felt lost and unmoored.
But there is hope, friends, there is hope. What has been helpful for me was finding resources that gave me a new perspective, committing to a group of friends who have challenged me to look more deeply at my own relational patterns, and seeing a spiritual director who has helped me to find more grace for both my husband and myself.
I have recognized that many of us allocate far more time, attention and resources to maintaining our cars than we do to our most intimate relationships. We take our cars in for services and oil changes every 3,000 (cough, 5,000) miles, but we rarely make time to do the sort of relational “tune ups” that help our relationships stay strong, healthy and satisfying for the long haul. So I thought it was time to remedy this problem and to share some of what I’ve learned in my own relationship and in my professional work counseling couples with you–I created a three part series of date night “tune ups” for couples in August called Summer Lovin’ where couples can take time to connect more deeply and to learn tools for communication and understanding. Each week has a different theme and you can attend one, two or all three nights. I hope to see you there!
Week 1–Fanning the Flames of Love: Nurturing positive loving feelings toward your partner
Week 2–Finding our Song and Singing in Harmony: Engaging and connecting in sensitive moments
Week 3–Making Up and Making Out: Learning about relational repair and restoration
Summer Lovin’ series will take place Wednesday nights, August 5, 12 and 19.