Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Making a Marriage Work

Ohana means Family; Family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten. 

It's funny how moving away from something completely changes your perspective on it. 

When I got married, I KNEW I'd nailed it. I married a wonderful man who was supportive and fantastic and made my heart explode. 

Now, I realise that all of those things were, and are, true; but that's not necessarily an indicator of a successful marriage. 

The older I get, and the further down the marriage road we get, the more I realise that so much of our happiness is down to luck. 

When we got married, we were in the easiest phase of life. We had no responsibilities; we had so much time. We had flexibility and lots of choices to make. 

We could make those choices without really impacting on each other. If Gary had to work, I met some friends for dinner. If I was out with friends, Gary went to the gym, or went out himself. We flexed and we made it work. 

That life was so simple. No wonder we barely argued. No wonder we loved our lives together. Life was easy. 

Married life is a little (a lot) more complex. Even without children, we are tied together in a way we weren't before. 

Gary was offered a job in Qatar, just before we got married, and we had to make that decision together. 

It was the first time that we had had to make decisions that really impacted on each other. Gary's decision to take that job, meant me giving up mine and moving to another continent. We agreed the decision together, because it worked for us both at that time. We were planning to start a family, so giving up my job wasn't necessarily that much of a hardship as I'd be on maternity leave anyway. 

Then we had children. Gary's job took him away for a week or so at a time. Now his decisions at work impacted on both me and the children. I couldn't just swan off to brunch on a Friday or for ladies night on a Tuesday. I had children to take care of, to be there for, to get up in the night with. 

He couldn't just come home from a night flight and go to bed, or sleep on a sun lounger by the pool. He came home to a tired, cranky wife, who had long since passed her point of no return with either one or two children. He had to come home and pick up the mantle of Daddy, despite being shattered, because at that moment, I had nothing left to give. 

Then Gary accepted a job back in the UK. It was a decision made because it was the best fit for us all as a family. It was an easy decision to make. 

We could get the children settled at home, before school applications were due for Miss S; I could go back to work (and boy was I ready to return to the workplace) and Gary got a great new job, a promotion, and a new challenge. 

And we did, Miss S went to school, I went back to work and Gary got on tackling his new challenge (with great gusto). We settled into our new rhythm; albeit it rather more slowly and painfully than I had expected. We made it work. 

Then we had decided to have another baby. I don't think either of us had any idea of the impact a third child would have. We were in a great rhythm and routine, one which has been thoroughly thrown out of the window! 

My pregnancies are always rotten, 9 months of hyper emesis does not make it a pleasant exercise; but this time, throw in a kidney infection and SPD along with a 4 day a week job (with a daily 3 hour commute) and it was fairly horrendous. 

During said kidney infection, Gary had to go to India with work. HAD TO. There was no one else to go, and he had to go and see to his job. 

I was beyond pissed. I saw his decision to go as a betrayal. For the first time, I think ever, I questioned whether our marriage could work. I didn't know if I could forgive him. 

My friends rallied round, taking time off work and travelling cross country to come and help; for which I am eternally grateful and can never thank them enough. But the whole time I was thinking "you shouldn't have to be here, Gary should have been here". 

I also began to question the decision to have a third child. Had we bitten off more than we could chew? 

It took me a long time to see this incident from Gary's point of view. For me to recognise that him bearing the entire financial responsibility for our family, is quite a big weight around his shoulders. That he had tried to stay at home, but other things had prevented him from doing so. 

That he had felt he had no option but to go. 

It took time, and distance from the incident, before I could even begin to try to look at it from his point of view. I think I'm only now beginning to come to terms with it. 

Sometimes the decisions aren't easy. Sometimes they are really really hard and you can't win no matter what you do. 

Little S is a truly joyful addition to our family and I love her more than I can articulate. I am so glad that we made the decision to add one more to our crazy family. 

But the pressure of three children, and the logistics that go with them, have pushed me to the edge of my mental sanity. There are nights when I literally don't know how I'm going to get out of bed (again) because I'm so tired and mornings when eating ice cream is the only way I'm going to summon up the energy to keep the ball rolling. 

Having three children has compressed the time available to us; has severely restricted the time for us to be us; to enjoy time with each other. The additional workload (both from work and family life) pushes buttons and unleashes frustrations that we have never had to deal with before. 

Now, less decisions seem easy. Gary planning out his travelling with work is difficult. He has work deadlines and pressures (that mostly I have no idea about, and do not understand) which he has to accommodate; plus he is trying to accommodate our needs (my needs) and to predict the future. 

Gary cannot know that we'll all go down with the flu two days before he leaves for a week; but let me tell you, I'll resent him getting on that plane and leaving me with a house of sick children while I'm sick myself. 

The pressure to find some kind of balance is always there, pressing on us both from different angles and different places. 

Big decisions are also harder. Miss S is settled at school and I am settled at work (with no intention of ever needing maternity leave ever again). So what do we do if Gary's gets offered another overseas posting? 

Sometimes I'm terrified that an offer like that, might cause some permanent damage in our relationship. Who yields? We sacrifices? Who is making the bigger sacrifice? What is best for the family; and how do you measure that? Does the pay increase, which provides more opportunities, make it best? Is stability for all of us for the best? Even when it leaves Gary in a position where he can't advance his career? 

It seems ridiculous to be terrified by hypothetical things, which may never happen. But I have come to realise that the reason our marriage works is because of luck. 

I am lucky that Gary sees me as an equal, that he is 100% involved with the kids; that he commits himself to work and to us and lets everything else fall, even himself. Our money is family money, there's rarely a debate about finances, other than accepting that we have overspent (again). 

Neither of us had any idea of how the other might react to the things married life has brought us. Gary could have resented paying for everything while I was at home with the kids; had expectations that I would do every last scrap of housework, as he was working full time. He could have refused to do 50% of the night feeds, because he was working. 

I am lucky that he is every bit the wonderful man that I thought he was on the day that I married him. But I had no idea on that day, how those pressures would shape him (and me). 

I know he works hard for us, and with us. I know when he internally sighs when I'm sick and he has to take up the slack, even when he is supposed to be having some time to himself. I know he gets up, even when it is my "turn" because I've been up three times already and I have lost the plot. 

A marriage takes work. It doesn't just take us working together, it takes us working individually on being the best husband/wife and parent we can be. It's about biting your lip when your partner is in a foul mood; because you know they are tired beyond belief, and that this is not how they usually behave. 

I hope Gary knows that I'm working on our marriage too. That there are times that I pretend the kids slept ok, when the truth is that I'm sitting there in yoga pants trying to keep my eyes open because no one slept and I don't think I saw my bed much at all. 

That when he is sick, I try to look after him; give him time and space to heal; even when I'm quietly furious because he's about to travel with work, and his illness is bloody inconvenient and placing even more stress on me. 

Most of all, I hope that we both know that the other is trying their best. Trying to be everything to everyone and to get done what needs to be done. That we both fall short sometimes, and that we understand that.

That even when we are frustrated and mad at each other and at the world, that we are both still trying to make it work. 

This was a reading from our wedding. I hadn't even noticed it's significance until today: 

Extract from Les Miserables
Victor Hugo

You can give without loving,
but you can never love without giving. 
The great acts of love are done by those
who are habitually performing small acts of kindness. 
We pardon to the extent that we love. 
Love is knowing that even when you are alone, you will never be lonely again. 
And great happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.
Loved for ourselves. And even loved in spite of ourselves.

Small acts of kindness. That's exactly it, I hope we continue to perform small acts of kindness for each other, even when its hard, even when it's easier not to. 

When we were planning our wedding ceremony, we wrote a version of our own vows. I have a copy of the ceremony safe in my emails, something which I hadn't opened until today. 

I meant those vows then, even when I didn't understand what they meant. And I mean them now. I know we will go through more hardships, we may lose people; we may lose jobs or money or our health, but I still promise to stay and to work, and to try to see the wonder in the man that I married. 

I, Lora take you Gary, to be my husband,
knowing that you will be my constant friend,
my faithful partner in life, and my one true love.

I affirm to you in the presence of these witnesses 
my promise to stay by your side as your wife

I promise to love you without reservation,
to comfort you in times of distress,

I promise to encourage you to achieve all
of your goals,

To laugh with you and cry with you,
To grow with you in mind and spirit,

I promise to always be open and honest with you,
I promise to be true to you

In good times and in bad,
In sickness and in health.

I will love you and honor you,
All the days of my life.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Unrealistic Expectations

Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. 
Vince Lombardi

Gary once said to me that we should always assume positive intent when interpreting other people's actions. It stayed with me, and is something I reflect on quite a lot. 

It's also the hardest thing to do, especially when you aren't feeling right, or are struggling with something and want/need support. It's easy to assume someone doesn't care because they aren't in a position to be as present or as supportive as you would like. 

The one thing that having three children has taught me, is that sometimes the weight of your own life, even when it's going really well, can be so much of a burden that there just isn't room for anything else. 

In learning that sometimes I just have nothing left to give to other people (including my kids and my husband, and even myself), it really brought home the unrealistic expectations I have often had of my family and friends. 

It has made me realise that I can often be too harsh about other people, and judge them, without really reflecting on whether my expectations are too high. 

Or, even if they are not too high, that my expectations may not be able to be met by a particular person (or anyone at all), not because they don't want to, but because there is only such much burden one person can shoulder. 

Expectations on Other People

Gary and I got married in California...

Which sounds fine, until you realise that we lived in Manchester, UK. 

We decided to have our wedding 3,000 miles from home, on a farm, in the middle of Santa Barbara, about as far from an airport/train station as possible. 

I was so consumed with having "Our day, our way" that I barely gave much thought to the pressure we were placing on our nearest and dearest. 

I felt like I was being graceful, because we didn't expect people to come. We understood that it would not be possible for everyone to come, that it would be too much of a time or financial (or both!) commitment for some of our friends and family. (I'm seriously rolling my eyes at myself nowadays). 

The only wedding I had ever been to, at this point, was my mum's wedding to my step-dad. Mum arranged and paid for everything for us, and we pretty much just showed up. So I had absolutely no understanding about the pressure of a close friend or family member getting married half way around the world. 

Because it wasn't about me being "graceful" about people not coming to our wedding. It was about our friends and family who actually WANTED to come to our wedding, who had to reconcile the enormous sacrifices of actually making that happen. 

We had thirty guests at our wedding. All of whom were cheerful and excited and said all the right things about our wedding... To our faces anyway. 

I'm sure there was quite a bit of cursing going on when they realised how much flights were going to cost to California in school holidays; and while they were trying to figure out how the hell they were going to get from LAX to our wedding venue up the the mountains. 

in hindsight, I wasn't graceful, they were the graceful ones. They smiled and didn't complain and our wedding truly was the most magical day. 

It is even more magical now, in hindsight, now that I understand a little more about the cost of our guests actually showing up. Watching our wedding video has taken on new meaning, and I realise how truly "blessed" I actually am. 

Now that I have been to a few more weddings, taken time off work, booked hotel rooms and made travel arrangements, I understand just how bloody selfish we were! How little we even considered the needs and wants of other people, when planning the logistics for our wedding.

Expectations on Ourselves

I have always considered myself to be a good friend. Better than a good friend, I would have said I was a ruddy excellent friend, thank you very much. 

I would always take phone calls, even late into the night, for an upset friend; always be there when they needed me; drop plans when they had problems. I was rocking the whole friendship thing...

Except, it's kind of easy to do that when you are in a nice easy relationship with no pressures, no real responsibilities and a pretty straightforward life with lots of room around the edges. 

I was a good friend because I had the time. I had the mental space to remember other people's job interview's and doctors appointments and anniversaries of their parent's death. 

I sent cards, flowers, presents. I was present. I knew the right thing to say, I knew when to show up, even when friends said it wasn't needed (because I knew that they did need it). 

Now, I'm not that great a friend. I mean to be. I try to be. But I'm falling short of the expectations I have for myself. 

The worst part, is that I no longer know the right thing to say. I get tongue tied and clumsy and say things that just sound weird. 

I hear the words come out of my mouth and I have no idea what possessed me. Even if the words are right, often the tone is wrong. I feel the words fall flat and I know I've missed the mood. 

I don't have the mental space to feel other people's pain in the way that I used to. I can't feel my way through it now. I no longer know instinctively what to say, or what to do. It leave me hesitant and strangely anxious and whatever I seem to say comes out wrong. 

I can't show up in the same way as before either. 

Before we had kids, my mum fell down the stairs and broke both of her legs. I got the call at 1am, and I got dressed and headed straight to the hospital. I took emergency leave from work and I stayed with her while she had surgery. My step-dad and I sat in her hospital room until 3am while she was in recovery. I ran errands, I was useful, I was supportive. 

Last year mum fell down the stairs (again) and broke several ribs. I wasn't there. I didn't get there. I didn't go to the hospital, I did visit her at home. I'm not even sure I sent flowers. I wanted to, but I didn't. I dropped the ball. 

I called and text and tried to offer some support over the phone, but I fell short of the expectations I have for myself, and probably the expectations my mum had for support from her only daughter.

One of my closest friend's husbands was taken ill a couple of years ago. Really sick. Blue lighted to hospital sick. I fell short of the expectations I have for myself. I wasn't really there. 

We don't live very close anymore, and though I don't think my friend ever expected me to get on a train (although I certainly could have, certainly should have), I barely called or text. 

I was a little bit supportive when it originally happened (long distance and by phone only), and then, I wasn't. 

My friend isn't the type to complain, or to push for support, even when she needs it the most. I KNOW that. I know that getting her to talk about what is going on with her, isn't easy. I know her well enough to know I needed to be the one calling and texting and making my presence felt. 

I didn't. The worst part is that I wasn't even aware that I wasn't doing it. I didn't realise until much later, until I realised how much support had been provided by other friends, friends who were significantly better friends during that period than I had been. 

I didn't just drop that ball, I dropped it and it rolled behind the sofa, never to be seen again. When I realised, I felt, still feel, ashamed. That's not the friend I want to be. 

Recently, another friend lost her dad. I knew he was sick, I knew she was devastated. I knew she was coming to stay with him, close to where I live. I dropped that ball too. 

I only realised I had dropped that ball when she apologised to me, for not getting in touch when she was back. While she was dealing with the prospect of losing a parent, while looking after her children, in someone else's house, she felt bad that she hadn't been in touch with me. 

All of this, it made me realise that I often judge other's too harshly. That I often get frustrated when people don't drop everything to provide support when I need it. 

I'm pretty vocal when I'm having a hard time, every man and his dog knows it, it's how I cope with it. I talk too much and nothing much changes when I'm having a hard time. 

Having three children has taught me that I need to practice what I preach. I need to assume positive intent when people don't provide the support that I feel I need. That sometimes people unintentionally drop balls; unintentionally cannot be there for you, even though they love you and want to support you. 

Sometimes a person you love isn't even on your radar, even though you want them to be, even though they need you to be. 

All my family and friends have been nothing but gracious about my inability to be the supportive person I used to be. For that I'm really grateful. That makes me realise exactly how incredible my family and friends are, and how unbelievably lucky I am.