Happily Even After
Hugging the Porcupine
By Josh Noem
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.