Marriage Takes Work

Eleven years ago, I met my husband.

It happened at a tawny Christmas party in downtown Boston, fondly referred to as the “Tweed and Pearl” party. There wasn’t a great deal of diversity at this gathering, save the variety of Kate Spade bags, so when a tall Asian guy walked into the room, he immediately caught my attention. The party host later introduced us and we discovered we had a lot in common, from taste in music to world travel and future ambitions, we hit it off…of course, the open bar helped a bit too.

Compared to my past long-term relationships, DH was a shining star. I continued to believe that we had more in common than in contrast for quite some time. In fact, I believed it all the way through our engagement and right up to the third-week in to our premarital course, when we took the Myers-Briggs personality test to determine compatibility.

DH and I came out almost completely opposite, I was an ENFJ to his ESTP (and his E was only on the cusp of extrovert and introvert; mine was a no-contest). I was shocked!

But this wasn’t our first red flag.

The first red flag was the fractured, multi-divorce home I came from compared to the stable, Asian-centric, tight-knit family he was part of. There were other flags too: I was older, his parents weren’t thrilled about our engagement, and I wasn’t sure I wanted kids (he definitely did).

But the broken home issue was probably our biggest. It was something we endeavored to work on throughout our relationship and, once we were engaged, throughout our marriage too. It’s something we work on and discuss with regularity.

Divorce is a road neither of us would ever care to travel (again).

Experts say the honeymoon-phase of even the best relationships is only two years. As I mentioned earlier, we’re 11-years in. It hasn’t all been easy, in fact things haven’t always turned out exactly as we’d hoped or planned. We’ve done some things pretty backwards, like having a kid first, THEN going to grad school, THEN buying a house, when we were furthest in debt, least in stable jobs and most in need…

We also both thought life would find us living overseas, raising our kids bilingually and traveling more but that hasn’t happened (yet) either.

Then too are the stresses that come with the life’s different phases. Raising kids is one; taking on debt (from school loans, a mortgage and home repairs) is another; building credibility in a tech-start-up (where the work week sometimes feels more like a month) is third.

All the while we’ve been blessed to have the regular presence and support of DH’s family; to belong to a strong faith community; and for the good friends that we can rely on as soundboards and for weekend escapes when we need them most.

But sometimes it takes more.

For a long time now I’ve wanted to start a marriage mentoring program at our church, a place filled with strong role models and long marriages. But timing hasn’t been right and with our current state of transition, it’s nothing that will come together this year either.

So we’ve had to turn to other sources because I (and I think DH too) firmly believe that marriage, like parenting, cannot succeed in a vacuum. It cannot thrive without advice, encouragement and focus.

After talking for years about my desire to take proactive measures when it comes to our marriage, I have finally boarded that vessel.

We’re lucky enough to have really good health coverage—and having spent a portion of the past three days listening to the Supreme Court hearings on Obama Care, I appreciate it all the more. When I looked in to the costs we would incur if we underwent couples counseling and discovered they would be $0, I knew I had to get things started.

Mind you, DH has never done counseling of any sort, his parents aren’t divorced, he wasn’t sent away to school at a young age, he didn’t have to piece together fragmented homes and a variety of siblings. On the whole, he’s pretty whole. I have a much clearer knowledge about what we are about to embark upon.

I know that counseling sometimes can expose old wounds, like ripping off a Band-aide.

I rest assured that we are not seeking counseling for what is plagued but instead fortifying what is well. We’re not fools, we know men and women live on different planets, we just want to work on better interplanetary travel. We want someone to help us ask the questions we don’t even realize are going unanswered. We’re seeking guidance.

Tomorrow is our first session. Who knows how it will go or what we’ll learn or even if we’ll think it’s a good path for us but nothing ventured, nothing gained and certainly, in the case of our insurance coverage, nothing lost!

How are your relationships? Do you think they could benefit/could have benefited from the guidance of a mentor or counselor? Have you ever taken this route?

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. runningforautism
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 08:45:55

    The decision to seek counseling is a difficult, brave one. Good for you and your husband – and if you’re doing it to strengthen what is good, so much the better!
    Relationships are very hard for me. I have a lot more baggage than the average person, and try as I might to keep the past in the past, that’s not always easy. It does affect my relationship with my husband, who comes with a bit of baggage himself. That being said, we have a strong foundation and we’ve been through extreme difficulties and survived. We’ve never pursued counseling as a couple, but I do see a therapist for my own issues.
    All the best on your journey. You and your husband are doing an amazing thing for each other, and for yourselves.


    • growingmuses
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 15:12:29

      Thanks Runningforautism, I really appreciate your support. In the end, isn’t support such a vital ingredient in the recipe for success? How’s individual counseling going for you? Do you think it could be helpful to work through somethings together, with either your own or a neutral CSW (clinical social worker)? Sometimes just getting the topics out on the table is enormously freeing. Good luck on the journey, we’re there for ya!


  2. slightlywonky
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 09:13:03

    Good for you. The world would probably be a better place if more people took marriage this seriously. Yes, it’s good that you are seeking advice BEFORE differences in opinion become sore wounds that are slow to heal. Of course, we all try to solve things on our own at first…but most of us realize that we are often more successful when we enlist the support of others. I wouldn’t know how to cope if I didn’t have others to talk to, in order to make sense of difficult situations and feelings. Keep up the good work!


    • growingmuses
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 15:17:38

      I agree, we seem to be living in a society of quitters. Not long ago, DH came home and told me a co-worker he really admired and looked-up to as a mentor was getting a divorce; his reasons, they just don’t get along anymore. I wonder how his 4 and 6 year old kids will process that reasoning in their own lives. People are complicated so naturally relationships will be too but why get married if you’re not willing to fight to hold on to it. Where’s the “till death do us part” in that attitude?!


  3. thirdeyemom
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 11:10:25

    Sounds like a terrific thing to do!


  4. Christine Vara
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 12:03:12

    It’s funny, but my husband and I are also complete opposites when it comes to our personality tests. But I actually contribute that to why we make such a compatible pair. It’s like the ying and the yang. One of the best things we ever did before we were married was to attend a premarital seminar through our church. It allowed us to really spend some uninterupted time discussing what was truly important to us in our marriage and it set the stage for a lifetime of conversation. Now, 17 years and 5 kids into this, I know that we could benefit from more uninterupted time to nourish our personal relationship. It sounds like this counseling will provide you and your husband with that much needed time. I believe a fulfilling marriage requires excellend communications skills and sometimes it’s helpful to have the assistance and expertise of someone who can ensure the communication stays on track. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences and I certainly admire you for being so committed to your marriage.


    • growingmuses
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 15:21:22

      Thanks, Christine. I love hearing about where others are on their paths too. Seventeen years and five kids is a huge testimony to your commitment too! I will certainly have musings to process as we travel this road. I imagine there will be bumps but I look forward to getting over them together.


  5. mommysaidaswearword
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 12:50:38

    My husband and I took classes before we were married, and we loved them. It was something that made me know that in our future, we would have that as an option. I think it must be so effective to have a ‘check up’ on something healthy, than to go in when you are broken and bruised and expect a miracle. Great writing and an even better example.


  6. Karyn @ kloppenmum
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 17:50:59

    Good for you! And good luck,hope the bandaids ripping don’t hurt too much!


  7. Elizabeth
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 20:54:09

    You guys are brave. I was driving home this evening and heard this spot on the NPR about great relationship books:


    • growingmuses
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 21:23:58

      Thanks for that, EG! I may skip the third recommendation, Geography of the Heart, by Fenton Johnson but book #1 We Love Each Other But, by Ellen Watchel, and #2 Mating in Captivity, by Esther Perel just went on my library request list. I always appreciate a relevant reading recommendation.


  8. Christine Fennelly
    Mar 29, 2012 @ 22:24:08

    I remember vividly the Monday morning at the office after you met Ev – you were so skeptical, and we were so excited for you!! I’m pretty sure a meeting was called and Mings was ordered to debate and discuss the possibility of Ev entering our precious world – so glad he did!! Bravo to you for being so enlightened. Too many of us (me included) are too scared to rip off the band-aid and look at the scar.


    • growingmuses
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 22:34:08

      Thanks, Christine. You brought back a flood of memories. The Smithsonian may have been the best job I ever had but that office at BUSDM was far and away the best office I’ve ever worked in. I’m lucky I had the insight and encouragement of friends and mentors like you to encourage me toward the right choice I ultimately made. I’m a little worried about unhealed wounds too but am hoping they’ll all be from my upbringing and nothing from the past 11 years…


  9. Wanderlustress
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 15:37:02

    I really believe in counseling and found it really useful when I was dealing with infertility issues. Surprisingly, the sessions themselves dealt more with old wounds and focused on the positives in our lives that helped to fortify me emotionally for the ups and downs of trying to start a family. It really taught me that the positive things are really what gets you through. You are so brave to be taking this step and sharing it with us.


    • growingmuses
      Apr 21, 2012 @ 06:03:40

      Thanks for your support, Wanderlustress. We’ve had two sessions so far and it’s definitely a work in process. What’s been most helpful, though has felt very unnatural, has been the guided conversations. Our counselor has us pick a topic and then, in turns, we share how we feel about the subject (finances, our children’s education, work, travel). The listener first has to summarize what s/he heard the other saying then has to respond in a non-blaming, supportive way. The 50 minute sessions have just proven to be the conversation starters for us and we’ve continued what we started in the office over the course of the two weeks between sessions. It’s been very helpful so far.


  10. Trackback: Seeing the World « Growing Muses
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