“They must be crazy!”, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

“They must be crazy!”


March 9, 2010

“They must be crazy!”

The priest repeated this refrain in his homily at our wedding on May 9, 1998, at the church on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. We were technically still college seniors, celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony the day after finals.

The priest recalled for all present that the novelty of the news of our wedding had spread across campus. When our fellow students heard that we were finishing finals on Friday afternoon, holding our rehearsal and dinner later that evening, and getting married at 1 p.m. on Saturday, they thought we were out of our minds.
 
We both will admit that our GPAs suffered that spring semester of senior year, but it was worth it. The wedding served as a fitting culmination of our relationship, which had grown entirely within our time at Notre Dame.
 
We met on the first day of classes when we shared a humanities seminar together and by spring of our junior year, we had asked our parents for their blessing and had a date to be married. We may have been crazy, but we weren’t stupid–all of our friends were on campus and finished with classes and ready for a party. Our Irish and Polish family and friends celebrated with the fullness of joy that only weddings can manifest.

Yet, sacraments are starting lines, not finish lines, and we’ve hit our stride as a married couple of 11 years and counting. We crossed the continent when we lived in Alaska for a year, serving as Jesuit Volunteers, and then moved to Florida for the birth of our first son, Oscar (9 years old). We returned to Notre Dame as the first married couple to work through the Masters of Divinity Program together.

After earning our degrees in 2005, we were graciously received by the University of Portland in Oregon to serve as campus ministers, sharing one job, and we’ve been here ever since. The university allows us to share one full-time position, so one of us can be at home with the kids during the day. We each take two or three days on campus during the week and have a very highly coordinated calendar.

Two more children arrived along the past five years here in Portland: Simon-Peter, who is pushing 4, and little Lucy, who is two and a half.

In some ways, our married life is atypical: we share a job and an income; we shared the formative parts of our lives together, including the turn to specialize in a career; and we both see our vocation as a married couple intimately tied to our vocation to serve the Church as lay ecclesial ministers.

In many, many other ways, though, our lives are very typical: we worry whether our kids get enough to eat when all that seems to go into their bodies, despite our best efforts, are fruit snacks; our solitary car needs a new transmission, probably, and the rear window wiper doesn’t work; and any given Friday evening has us renting a movie and turning in early.

Our goal in this blog is to simply share with you glimpses into our married life and what we do to sustain it. After being married nearly a dozen years, significant moments and insights continue to come to us throughout a typical week. Our hope is that, perhaps, sharing these will be useful. At a minimum we are most grateful for the opportunity for some intentional reflection.

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Invalidation or, Guess Who is Less than Perfect?

Invalidation or, Guess Who is Less than Perfect?

Many years ago, Joshua and I were trained by the excellent folks at Northwest Family Services in Portland to offer relationship communication workshops. One of the wonderful bits of information that the workshops offered was called the Four Communication Danger Signs. The four signs of impending communication danger are: escalation, invalidation, negative interpretations, and avoidance/withdrawal.

One of the things we have always appreciated about working with couples is that it provides the opportunity for us to reflect and take a new look at our own relationship. So too with these workshops. As we were learning the material, it was abundantly clear to us which danger signs were particular pitfalls in our own relationship: escalation and avoidance/withdrawal.

Having identified those danger signs all those years ago, we have paid particular attention to them in our communication patterns with one another. We try not to fall victim to them and when we do, we try to name them as soon as possible. The effort to avoid them is so much a part of our marital communication that we have even written about them here more than once. Needless to say we feel aware and cautious of them.

Sadly, just because some of the other signs were not present years ago does not mean that we are immune to them.

Recently, as we prepared to meet with a local couple, I came across the list of the four danger signs again. Truthfully, up until then, I had actually forgotten about the invalidation and negative interpretations dangers. After refreshing my memory with the description of each of them, I quickly realized that while Joshua and I are vigilant about not falling prey to escalation or avoidance/withdrawal, we are actually increasingly bad at invalidation!

Invalidation is when one person subtly or overtly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. It could include interrupting, eye rolling, sighing, sarcasm, name-calling, insults, and other such interactions.

Now on some level this makes sense. I think it is a simple product of the length, and therefore complexity, of our relationship with one another. Joshua and I do not get so far as using the most overt or extreme examples of invalidation like name-calling or insults. But the other subtle examples creep into our communication more and more.

So while our old tried and true patterns of communication are still present, we have gotten quite excellent at improvising in new and creative ways. When we are not at our best, this “creativity” quickly morphs into laziness. And in our experience, laziness in marital communication can easily lead to stepping all over each other’s human dignity. In the midst of conflict, we have even gone so far as commenting upon how good one of us (Josh) is getting at eye rolling; or how heavily one of us (Stacey) sighs. Interrupting is just a foregone conclusion (and I am the worst at it).

It’s ugly stuff to be sure.

The other night on our way home from our conversation with the local couple, I mentioned this whole realization to Joshua. I told him that while I think we are getting better at escalation and avoidance/withdrawal, I am increasingly aware of how badly we do with invalidation. At which point he paused and then agreed by saying, “Yes, you are very bad at that.”

Which is hysterical and awesome on a couple levels: first, his response is the opposite of invalidating – it is affirming of my position and I love being affirmed, even if it is pointing out my weaknesses. Second, it was a light-hearted way of responding to a pretty heavy realization which indicates that we are in a good place and able to talk about this without too much guilt.

I immediately responded, “I know!” and we shared a laugh and had a very good exchange about our mutual susceptibility to invalidation.

So here we go again with learning new things about ourselves and the nature of our self-emptying, loving commitment. On the one hand, the personal lesson is consistently the same: somehow, I am not perfect. But the multifarious ways in which we fall short of perfection are always new and abundant. As are the opportunities to grow in holiness through our life with one another.


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