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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Our Worst Moment as a Couple

When you are as naturally different in personality as Joshua and I, there are moments of extreme bliss and joy at how amazingly your diverse strengths, skills and senses of humor complement each other…

…and there are moments where it is amazing you can survive the pain and challenge that being so incredibly different causes you.

Moments of bliss and joy seem to happen spontaneously and are like what Teresa of Avila calls a “spiritual delight” in her Interior Castle. Just yesterday Josh was sitting at the computer at home and when I walked by I said “shoulder five” and smacked his hand on his shoulder. Not missing a beat he said, “low five” and I hit his hand as I kept walking. At which point I did a 70s-style spinturn with a clap and said “Jackson Five.” And we both erupted into giggles.

Moment of bliss and joy. For us, these moments are a total gift, but pretty much unpredictable and unexpected.

The challenging moments on the other hand are completely predictable and seem to happen like clockwork. Over the years Joshua and I have identified (always in retrospect, of course) the moments when we are at our worst with and for each other: Moving furniture and getting out the door.

Getting out the door is the bane of our marital existence. We just work differently and even writing this I can’t exactly put my finger on what seems to go wrong. It definitely has something to do with watching the clock, planning ahead, personal expectations, not enough hands and three children. But other than that I am just not sure.

The worst of the worst is getting out the door on a weekday morning. And it isn’t every single morning that we have challenges, but probably once every week or two. When momentum starts to stall in our getting-out-the-door process or things start to go wrong, one or both of us gets testy and it is a vicious “diverging personality” spiral from there.

I vocalize exactly what I think is going wrong (and whose fault I think it is) and Joshua withdraws (rushing with objects and children and not saying anything). These can happen in interchangeable order. He may withdraw and start getting rush-y before I get piss-y and blame-y.

This happens consistently, and not just in the last year or few months. For years and years. We have talked about it. We have opened it up and attempted to put different strategies in place to circumvent it. But if something falls through or best intentions go awry, it is back to the same icky frustrating divergence of personalities. This is simply when we are at our worst for each other.

But recently I figured something out.

I realized that each time something like this happens, within 10-30 minutes of leaving the house or being out of the stressful moment, I felt remorseful. I could recognize, looking back, that I had nothing at stake. I just hated the feeling of being rushed and running late. Once being rushed and running late was over and we were on our way, all my anxiety and negative feelings dissipated on their own. But the effects of my dealing with them poorly, i.e., the way I spoke or interacted with Joshua were still left and needed healing.

What could I do so this wouldn’t happen in the future? Well, I thought I might try not saying anything – just keeping my mouth shut — and see how that worked.

The next time morning getting-out-the-door stressors started running high and I recognized what was happening, I made a conscious choice: I didn’t mention it. I didn’t say a thing that wasn’t essential to getting us out the door (and that I said as lovingly as I could). And sure enough, within moments of getting in the car, I felt better and there was no Joshua carnage left in our wake. It worked.

Joshua and I always say that in marriage, dying to yourself (choosing to sacrifice) is always met with new and abundant life. In this instance, for me, two additional lessons hit home:

First, in marriage (and in all relationships I suppose), I can only change myself.

Second, while communication is essential to marriage, sometimes silent actions (like buckling down to work towards a common goal) can communicate better than poorly chosen words.