Here’s the truth: it takes a lot to really tick me off, and no one does it better than Wes because he knows exactly how to do it with extreme efficiency and because I am very good at wearing out his vast stores of patience by rarely admitting my faults. And I secretly have a horrible Irish temper characterized by illogical five minute bursts of rage followed by perfectly rational calm. When Wes pushes one too many of my buttons and my Irish temper flares up, sometimes I Google "How to get an online divorce." It seems pretty cheap and easy! A mere $89 if I’m willing to give up the dog!
Then I Google, "How to know if you should get a divorce." Because one would not want to spend that $89 for the wrong reasons. Also seems pretty simple, with questions written by licensed therapists that suggest your relationship is doomed if you never fight, or if you fight too much, or if you don’t compromise or if you over-compromise or if you’re over-scheduled or if you never do things together. And you think, this sounds right! Like we’re somewhere in there on those sliding scales of relationship dangers!
But after my rage subsides and I’m back to perfect calm rational Colleen who takes her personal and spiritual development seriously, sometimes I realize that I’ve forgotten to close the browser window on my iPhone and one of these articles is still hanging out there. And it reminds me that they’re filled with sham advice. Well, mostly sham after you get past the true deal breakers re: safety, fidelity, etc. But for those of us who were set in our ways by the time we got married and are just trying to peacefully and lovingly co-habitate during highly trying times like PMS or suggesting whose turn it is to take out the trash, Google advice on marriage is terrible. So is the really good stuff that our moms and churches teach us about, like putting in 100% even if the other person is putting in 0%, because it actually does not compute in my rage brain when being questioned about my Target purchase history. So, I’m letting all my crazy out on to the Internet in an attempt to write what I believe is NOT sham marriage advice for regular people who need it because honestly I feel like someone has to say it and I guess it might as well be me.
Also, I am really unqualified to be writing any of this because of 1) the information shared in the several paragraphs preceding this sentence, and 2) because I’ve been married a mere five years, am usually a mediocre wife and also at least 263719163 other reasons that I really should not list on the World Wide Web. So I’m going to ask you to just trust that I, like you, suppress desires to flick my husband in the forehead when he tries to ask me about my logic in loading the dishwasher, and that we need reliable tactics to get back to a place of loving peacefulness in these moments.
Ok, so maybe you and I are not the *SAME* same, but we’re both deeply flawed people who do things wrong in relationships regularly because we are human beings and we are also not dictators who can force others to do our bidding (although that must be nice). Maybe you are like me in that you have an Irish temper that drives you to research EZ online divorces when enraged. Or maybe you’re the one always giving 100% and suppressing how you really feel and playing the perfect partner part while feelings of resentment and bitterness are stewing inside of you, and your partner has no clue that they’re even doing anything to irk you and you’re one overpriced Amazon order from going all Gone Girl cold psycho ready to disappear without a trace and frame them for murder. (IDK, I think you get my point.)
The purpose of this article is to share a useful tactic that I find very helpful in reorienting myself to why I selected Wes to be my husband in the first place during these trying moments, and it never fails to put things in perspective. It’s also helpful in pressure-testing any intimate relationship, regardless of marital status. The tactic is basically just keeping three very crucial questions top of mind and continuing to answer them honestly to myself, from the bottom of my heart, when my relationship fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.
Before I share these extremely effective but potentially offensive questions, let me start by sharing the philosophy of negative visualization, which is basically an intellectual exercise that allows you to envision worst case scenarios to crystallize your thinking and decision-making. It’s not an anxious / depressive thing, but really a way to stretch your mind in a way that cuts through the noise of it all and clarifies what you really believe in your bones to be true. Psychologists say so! It’s not just me, random girl on the Internet! It’s facts!
What I’m saying is that these questions are psychologically relevant and effective according to my light desktop research, and my experience as a neurotic, controlling, admittedly bad wife who has used these questions to sustain a mostly happy marriage for a half-decade should provide some anecdotal evidence as well.
Three critical questions to evaluate your relationship
By the way, this has directly led to the dissolution of some serious relationships after I shared it with friends contemplating whether or not they should dump their boyfriends. And it’s this:
If under unexpected circumstances and terrible timing, you were to produce a baby with serious developmental challenges, would this life-partner-in-question (LPIQ) unequivocally be by your side, making the absolute best of a heartbreaking scenario, guiding you and your baby to live lives filled with love and joy, and become the absolute most enthusiastic Special Olympics coach to walk the face of the Earth?
If any part of your deep core doubts this, this is not a life partner. This is just a good times partner. And good times partners really suck when things inevitably go wrong. So go ahead and enter your Visa number on the EZ divorce website and get the ball rolling. My bone marrow always tells me that Wes would not only be the best Special Olympics coach, he’d also adopt half the team and personally take them to Disneyland so that I could go to Napa Valley with all my girlfriends for a week. So this reminds me that he is a catch despite being a pragmatic CPA who doesn’t understand $145 eye cream.
This one is less potentially polarizing but certainly telling. And it’s this:
Do you feel so comfortable being unapologetically yourself with your LPIQ, that your flaws have been fully exposed, that your highly irritating habits are well-understood in the most grating way possible, that you absolutely have the same sense of self-acceptance with them that you do when you’re with your sisters wearing three-day-old pajamas, with a breakout, and braces, and glasses, and a bad haircut, and the flu, and crying at a bad rom-com? Or crying because you’re doubting yourself or because you failed at something important or because of something you can’t even explain but just need to sit in silence and hold hands?
If you haven’t pulled off that Band-Aid yet to be able to answer that honestly, you should. And give your LPIQ some time for the shock to wear off and then gauge how comfortable you feel in continuing to let them into your inner world. In my mind, this is what true intimacy is, letting your freak flag fly while feeling completely safe with and accepted by another person. As much as Wes can tick me off, he sees everything about me and gives me the space to be myself and that is the goal. (As I write this I realize that I could probably do a little better on this question for him.)
This one touches on my favorite topic, the fine line between self-acceptance and self-improvement, and how we apply that to extensions of ourselves such as our partners in our responsibility to help each other become better people. And the question is this:
Has this person, when exposed to your terrible flaws and character defects and sad little fears and negative tendencies, listened to you and accepted the unchangeable parts that make you who you are but also challenged your character flaws, pushed you to cut the crap, get over yourself, and get your effing act together? And then tolerated your Irish temper rage just long enough for your rational brain to kick back in, accept the truth, and use the feedback to become a tiny bit better of a human?
Because they are responsible for doing that, for being your mirror, and you're responsible for doing that for them. And being willing to go through the uncomfortable tiffs that growth process inevitably creates.
The end. If you’re not married and find yourself worried about my future, save it. I guarantee you’ll remember and come back to this exact post someday. If you are married and find yourself worried about my future, you owe it to the rest of us to leave a comment on how you do it or what I have yet to learn.
My whole purpose in telling you this very personal story (that my mother will probably hate) is so that others like me might benefit from hearing a different perspective. If you found value in this article, please share it with someone who may also appreciate it. Your sister, your BFF, your life partner who is killing it, your ex who is still confused why you left and could use advice to get it right for the next one, etc.
Thanks, as always, for reading all the way to the very end of this very verbose essay. Please feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas in the comments!