Bye-bye baby, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Bye-bye baby


December 29, 2010

Closing a phone conversation by saying “I love you” is important business.

Movies generally get this scene spot-on. Picture the new lovers speaking on the phone. The man is at work or among a bunch of guy friends. The woman says, “Good bye, I love you.” And suddenly the man is faced with a huge decision to make. Does he unabashedly commit to the romantic relationship and publicly declare his love, or does he capitulate to his circumstances and privately snub his lover?

Pause for effect, then he says, “mm-hm… you, too.”

Being married 12 years, I have no qualms whatsoever about saying “I love you” to Stacey on the phone. But I have gotten out of the habit of doing so lately and this came up in a really funny exchange yesterday.

Some years ago, I had occasional contact with a woman over the phone for some parish business. She always signed off by saying, “Bye-bye.” Having young children at the time, I was familiar with this as a way to say farewell to youngsters. I found it rather funny that this grown woman used this send-off without a trace of irony.

Amused, I decided to start using it myself, but with a good bit of irony.

So, whenever I spoke with Stacey and she said “I love you” to sign off, I would respond (with a great deal of comic irony in my own mind) “Bye-bye.”

I give Stacey a lot of credit for putting up with this. Formal, public acknowledgments of relationship are very important to her. She simply saw my farewell as another example of her silly husband, whom she loves because of his silliness.

This is a great comfort to me—knowing that I am known through and through and loved because of what is known, not in spite of it. It makes me feel free to be who I am.

Yesterday, though, as we finished a phone conversation, she asked me if I could say, “I love you” to close a conversation. She said that if one of us were to die in an accident, she would need the assurance that the last words we exchanged were words of love.

I realized I may have never explained why I said, “Bye-bye” in the first place, and simply told her the history and that I find it silly. She said that’s what she thought, but that she needs to hear “I love you.” I said okay and then hung up by saying “bye-bye.”

Mind you, all of this is taking place, from my end, in the office and in the presence of a student worker.

She called back immediately and said, “You did it again.” We clarified a bit more, both laughing pretty hard by now, and then agreed that I would say “I love you, too” sometime in the process of signing off, but that it would be okay to still use my silly “Bye-bye” at the end. I said “Okay, thanks,” she said “I love you” and I said “Bye-bye” and hung up.

15 seconds later she called back and we laughed some more, and by this time, I’m laughing with our student worker as well.

We’ve been finding a lot of humor with one another lately, which is fun. I’m grateful we can laugh with one another, and I’m grateful for a wife who loves me so well.

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Hugging the Porcupine

Hugging the Porcupine

A couple of months ago we took on a large extra project that will last through the summer. It is a project we believe in, that pays well, and that will allow us to work together. What could be better?

Back in early June, we had just completed the first phase of the project, and had enough work under us to get a sense of what was left. The kids were just getting out of school, and I looked at Stacey and said warily, “This thing is going to eat our summer whole.”

What’s more, working together hasn’t been the dream we thought it would be. We like to think we work well together because we shared a job for seven years, but the reality is that we split our responsibilities in that job. We actually have severely different working styles.

Different styles of work added with an unusual amount of stress has shortened our patience and made us both a little distracted. Yet, after nearly 16 years together, we’ve come to understand that life has seasons. There is a time for everything, and stressful times pass. We knew we just needed to get through this season—preferably in one piece.

Taking an attitude of service towards each other and family life goes a long way towards framing our conversations in a more gentle light. At times, I’ve been able to do this by initiating conversation with Stacey, checking in with her about how the work was going, and making sure she knew how I was feeling. In those moments, we feel like we’re battling this thing together.

Stacey’s expressiveness is one of the things I love most about her. In a normal time, she literally jumps for joy when things work out well. I never have to guess what she is feeling, and she uses that expressiveness to connect to other people very well. She jacks up our family fun by a factor of four, easily.

But when she is under stress, she becomes like a porcupine—prickly all over. And those barbs are what make me keep my distance; my stress reaction is to become like a turtle. Yet the distance I seek makes her even more prickly. Porcupines can’t physically shoot their quills, but under stress, Stacey can. And turtles don’t stay in their shells for long, but I can camp out there for days. The lesson for me is to remember that when I perceive her turning into a porcupine, when I most feel like protecting myself, that’s precisely when she most needs me to come out of myself and offer generosity and love.

This is how marriage trains us to participate in divine love. Human love is much more sensible—it follows the path of least resistance. Many days, human love is more than enough to get us by. But divine love carries us when we are sick, or scared, or under stress—“for better or worse,” indeed.

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