Part three in a series celebrating 23 years of marriage. You might be interested in reading parts one and two.
11. No one is perfect
And neither you, your loved ones, nor your relationship needs to be perfect to be wonderful!
The first time I heard someone say, “You don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful,” it rang hollow and sounded hokey. Intellectually I knew I wasn’t perfect. But I had demanding, harsh expectations for myself and everyone in my life, especially my husband. I was always disappointed in myself and others often disappointed me.
But then one December day I skipped my morning swim because I was too tired. I hadn’t slept well. On my way to work I couldn’t stop berating myself, You’re so lazy. Why didn’t you just get up? You know you feel better when you swim. Why do you do such stupid things?
I couldn’t forgive myself. I was stuck in rage.
It seemed I’d be mad at myself all day. Just like I used to be with Brian until we discovered the power of snugglebunnies and hugs. (Tips 2 & 3 in part one).
I wished I could do the same for myself, but my arms weren’t long enough. I felt guilty about failing myself. And apprehensive about my upcoming corneal transplant the following week.
Tears of frustration started streaming.
Why am I crying now that I’m a block from work? I felt so overwhelmed. On top of everything I had my period!
Whoa! I felt this wave of compassion for myself wash through me taking all the anger with it. It felt like a brick-sized chip on my right shoulder, that I hadn’t known I was carrying, washed away too. I realized that if I were a four-year-old kid I would pick me up and put me in my lap. I’d hold me, rock me and tell me it will be okay. I would actually expect less of a child facing all these stresses. I would understand that she was afraid. I’d treat her gently and let the little misbehaviors slide.
I forgave myself for sleeping in and skipping swimming.
I’d tapped into a wiser, more nurturing part of myself. A safe place. My inner voice, the one I used to talk to myself changed from a demanding tyrant to a nurturing and supportive one.
Then I had one of those ‘Murphy’s law’ days when everything that could go wrong did. Before I’d even taken my coat off, a co-worker called with bad news. He’d dropped the ball. Instead of getting angry, I listened and helped problem solve. Fifteen minutes later he called with a resolution. Problems kept coming as if shot from tennis ball machine. It peaked during lunchtime errands at the AT&T store with a major cell phone contract snafu. But instead of losing my temper, I remained calm. Having compassion for myself helped me have compassion for others.
I still have challenging expectations for myself, my husband and everyone else. But they’re also reasonable & meetable<grin>. And I don’t expect perfection. And best of all, I even think I’m wonderful when I make mistakes (which I now think of as learning opportunities).
So is my hubby.
And so are you.
12. Wipe the slate clean (Amnesty)
After a sleepless & difficult night resulting from a misunderstanding with our bungalow in Moorea followed by healing sunrise and relaxing morning by the lagoon, Brian and I roused ourselves during the heat of the afternoon sun to take a free shuttle to a pearl shop in order to get a cash advance at the bank next door to the shop. We’d made the mistake of not getting traveler’s checks since everyone assured us that credit cards were accepted every place, but we already discovered that the local store across the street only took cash. Our limited supply wasn’t going to last.
While Brian went to the bank, I browsed in the pearl shop as if it were a museum or art gallery and drank an ice-cold diet coke. I’d had no intention of buying a black pearl, but in person the iridescent pink, purple, blue and green sheen to some of the black pearls set into pendants and rings impressed me more than the pictures I’d seen. I was drawn to one particular teardrop green-black pearl necklace. It reminded me of the green of Bali Hai encircling the inky blue Cook’s Bay—the view from our overwater bungalow we’d been moved to that morning after our horrible night.
Brian returned unsuccessfully from the Banque de Polynesie. “No luck, but they said Banque Socredo will definitely be able to do it tomorrow when they finally open.” The saleswoman greeted him with a frosty Hinano—the local beer— and informed him that I had good taste. Brian looked at her, then at me, with several black pearl pendants and rings laid out on the countertop. “Oh….okay.” was his tentative response while giving me a raised eye that said, “But you told me on the way over you were only going to look, not buy.”
He informed her that he had to negotiate before thinking about purchasing one. She said, “I’m sorry, but our items are priced fairly, we don’t barter like at some of the cruise ship markets.”
“Oh, no I need to strike a deal with my wife before I talk with you,” He said.
“Oh, I understand,” she gave him a knowing smile and left us alone to talk about it.
“Which do you like best? He asked.
“That one,” I said I pointing to the one I liked. The green-black pearl dangled from a gold clasp inset with black iridescent mother-of-pearl.
“I think you should get it. But I want something out of this deal,” he said puffing out his chest.
“What?” I asked, my wheels turning, wondering what he was plotting.
“Amnesty,” he replied.
“Huh?” I asked, scrunching my nose in confusion.
“I want amnesty for all the bad gifts I’ve given you over the years. Especially the appliance Christmas. I want my slate wiped clean. And I want the pearl to count for your birthday and our anniversary this year and next. And for Christmas. And I want amnesty for any future lousy gifts…“ he said grinning at me.
I cut in before he could add any more. “Hold it, no way! You know you’ll buy me Christmas gifts. You love being Santa. And no way you’re getting future amnesty. But sure, as a combined birthday and anniversary gift—just this once. And amnesty granted.” I lifted my right hand high over head then brought it down to rest on his shoulder as if knighting him.
After returning from Moorea, I only wore the pearl on special occasions, at first. It seemed too dressy to wear with my typically casual outfits. Overtime, I began to wear it more, noticing patterns. I wore it when I felt nervous so I could caress the pearl for comfort. I wore it when I wished my husband could be with me. I wore it when I felt madly in love with him. I wore it when I felt gorgeous or sexy (or wanted to feel gorgeous and sexy). It became an amulet. Touching the pearl transports me back to that magical, healing sunrise on Cook’s Bay.
And my husband loves it even more than I do. Only once in the ten years since he bought me the pearl and himself amnesty did I slip up and begin to harass him, ‘about the time he gave me….’ But I caught myself and covered my mouth. Whenever he tells the story of how he scored amnesty for past bungles he’s a legend among men.
Excerpted from my story, From Blunder to Wonder and a Surprise for Two in Moorea published at Bliss Habits.
13. Tragedy is a part of life; Nature heals
Everyone experiences pain, illness, death, and loss. They are a part of life. Traditional marriage vows remind us:
…better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…
…in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, and in joy as well as in sorrow…
Still, we expect happily ever after. At least I did. And on some level, how can we not? We’ve all seen countless TV shows, movies and read books where the tension is sustained with obstacles until the magical resolution at the end leading to the blissful kiss or marriage.
But life has huge ups and down. And unfulfilled dreams. The most tragic part of our love story so far was experiencing three miscarriages. We both always wanted kids. We would’ve made fantastic parents and had plenty of love to share. But we decided against adoption after we couldn’t have our own children.
Many couples don’t survive hardships like infertility, death of a child, job loss, home loss and chronic illness. Everyday stresses take their toll, but the big stresses increase the need for coping skills, often beyond our capabilities.
After each miscarriage, I woke up to a huge, dark storm cloud over head. It followed me around all day. Lasting longer after each one. Nothing helped. Support groups and counseling made me feel worse. Most of the books I read pissed me off. Though a few tidbits affected me more than I realized because they became part of my belief system.
Besides our crushed spirits and parenthood dream, the hardest part was the blow to my faith in God, trust in myself and my decision-making abilities. It ultimately turned us both into a former Catholics. It also put an extra damper on our sex life for a long time.
Brian and survived by clinging to each other rather than turning away from each other despite the fighting which returned. We found small joy in hugs, movies and hand-in-hand strolls. Television was tricky because so many commercials made me cry. I remember laughing for the first time after one of the miscarriages to the silly little movie Hotel de Love. I spent time journaling. Most importantly, we spent extra time in nature. It was the one thing that helped our wounded spirits heal.
I’d planned a surprise long weekend for Brian’s 30th birthday to Big Sur. It was about a month after the first miscarriage. On our last day we stopped to hike Point Lobos not ready to return home. Something about being immersed in the wild meeting of land and sea gifted me with my first glimmer of real healing and hope. Though at the time I didn’t understand how important time in nature is for healing and restoring mind, body, heart and soul. Research has even prompted hospitals and nursing homes to begin integrating nature into their design because of the healing effects. I just knew I felt a little better, a little lighter. The cloud a little brighter.
The following month we did our first full moon kayak paddle. More healing. It began my fascination with the moon’s magical luminescence.
Nature heals. If you’re suffering and need to heal garden, take a hike, a stroll, listen to the birds at sunrise, watch a sunset, swim in the ocean, roll around in the sand, get soaked in the pouring rain. If your relationship needs healing spend time together in nature. I’m not suggesting it can solve all problems, but it helps body and spirit heal just like eating greens helps cells detoxify and wearing a band-aid helps skin heal itself.
14. Love is a verb
As much as it is a feeling. During the rocky times. The times when you’re not really sure you’re ‘in love’ with your significant other. Love him/her. As in, take action. Do something loving. I discovered that the loving feelings followed the loving behaviors. During those particularly difficult three years—in addition to the three miscarriages, Brian’s dad died and then we moved back east for his job that made promises not kept—we were fighting like we had in our first year of marriage. I was unhappy, probably depressed. I hated my job. We had little time for fun, missed kayaking—our favorite form of restoration in California. On ‘good’ days Brian came home to find me listening to Chris Isaak’s Baja Sessions by candle light planning to make bean and cheese burritos for dinner. Bad days were Law and Order reruns followed by Chinese takeout or Uno’s pizza (with a coupon I’d give him to use when he went back out to pick it up). You get the idea.
One day, still upset from an argument we’d had the night before, I wished for the guy I’d first fallen in love with. I began writing the qualities I missed. It evolved into a list of “100 reasons I love you.” By #10 I’d forgiven him. By #15 or #20 I felt the loving feelings blossom. By #100 I was head over heels in love again. I kept a copy and read it anytime I needed to reconnect to those feelings.
I also found that little acts of love like cooking his favorite dinner, making him cookies or tucking a love note into his briefcase helped me feel move loving towards him. And he reciprocated without me needing to ask. Even the 100 reasons love note. It took a few years. But one anniversary, at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland for a Diana Krall show, he made me cry and glow with his own,“100 reasons I love you” card.
15. People do change
When we got married one recurrent piece of wisdom passed on from well meaning family and friends was, “Don’t expect each other to change.” I know they meant, “Don’t expect to mold him/her into what you want them to be.” And that’s true. But there is an underlying expectation—People don’t change. But that’s not true, they do. While I agree that our core personality characteristics and strengths don’t change. I’ve been curious and persistent since I was 4 years old, pestering my mom with whys followed by forty questions. Do the same with Brian now. However, my values, interests, opinions, needs, desires, etc have all changed. So have Brian’s.
For example, five years ago I read the book, Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD. It was the best and most well cited book on nutrition I’d ever read. Before I’d even finished it, I decided to follow the strict plant-based eating. I filled a trash bag with ‘food’ I viewed as poison: bags of white jasmine and basmati rice, salt, white and brown sugar, white all purpose flour and bread flour, chocolate chips, M&Ms, bags of penne and fusilli pasta. Brian interrupted me as I was about to attack the cereal cabinet. I believed that even ‘healthy’ cereals were full of salt, sugar and acrylamides and had less nutritional value than the cardboard that contained them. Though I’d told Brian I was going to clean out the cabinets, he hadn’t read the book and didn’t realize the extent of the change I was about to make. And I didn’t realize that he wouldn’t want to join me once I shared all the details.
After a heated discussion, tears of fright and frustration (from me) and a calmer discussion we negotiated a plan (that involved a special Brian cabinet and drawer in the fridge) for how to help me get through the first intense six weeks and Brian to not have to join me.
If we didn’t support this growth in each other, we wouldn’t have loved so well during our twenty-five years together. More importantly we’ve changed and grown with each other. We discuss and renegotiate. We support each other.
I’m still a near-vegan nutritarian and he’s still an omnivore. Though he eats lots of vegetarian/vegan meals. And I make some exceptions, particularly on holidays.