Times of Joy, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Times of Joy


August 26, 2010

We have had a “helluva” summer.  What was supposed to be three and a half months of down time at home and at the office – kicked off with a fun vacation at the beach – turned into multiple funerals and cross country trips by car and by plane. And it probably goes without saying that trips of that magnitude didn’t result in a lot of downtime at the office.  We seemed to be endlessly returning from a trip or getting everything in order to leave for a trip. 

I actually remember a moment back in early June, sitting on our front porch on a heavenly Saturday afternoon.  I mean it was completely idyllic.  Kids playing in the yard.  Flowers we planted blooming.  Perfect 70-degree weather, sunshine and not a cloud in sight.  It was just one of those moments when you are completely…complete.  At peace with yourself and your life; fully conscious and aware of what a precious gift you are experiencing and thankful to God for it.  I remember that moment, because it was the last time I remember feeling that way for the last two and a half months.

Until last weekend.

A friend and co-worker offered us her timeshare at a beach condo out of nowhere.  She had it booked and ended up not being able to use it and figured we could use a getaway. She just gave it to us.  Free.  A completely gratuitous gift.  So we packed up the family, sand toys, rubber boots and jackets (this is Oregon, not Florida) and headed to the coast for some family time–something we just haven’t had in a couple months. 

After driving for a few hours, we arrived in the mid-afternoon, and settled in quickly.  Then we headed straight for the beach.  Now, I had never been to this beach.  And, I come from a land (Florida) of magnificent beaches.  But I had simply never seen anything like the beach at Newport, Oregon.  After parking on a bluff, descending several sea stairs, and climbing over an enormous dune, you are faced with a landscape of 3-4 feet high mini-dunes rolling (is that the right verb to describe dunes?) down to the Pacific.  It looked like a half or quarter scale Tatooine desert (Star Wars reference for those who have no 30-50 year-old men or Lego-addicted little boys around).

We plodded through the warm sand over the ridges of one dune after another until we chose our spot in the middle of nowhere.  We were surrounded by nothing but sand and water. (Seriously, there were so few people, it was amazing to feel so alone on a public beach!) The children were as completely fascinated with the landscape as we were.  Oscar started exploring, Simon was discovering how to slide and jump down little dunes, and little Lucy treated them like rock walls she wanted to climb. 

Which left us with very little to do besides Joshua laying his head in my lap as I sat on our blanket.  There we were: watching our children, marveling at the beautiful late afternoon light, the piercingly clear day, the soft warmth of the sand through our toes, the relentless waves of the Pacific, the complete and utterly gratuitous gift of it all. 

It was one of those moments: at peace with yourself and your life; fully conscious and aware of what a precious gift you are experiencing and thankful to God for it.  In the face of such an abundance of grace, could a person want anything more?  Then I realized, in addition to all the blessings of nature, a healthy happy family, a surprise getaway, and remarkable weather in Oregon…I get to share it all with Joshua, the love of my life.

Some people search and search for love, for someone with whom they can share life.  I was given Joshua at a relatively early age and we share so much that it is almost easy to take it for granted. But not in a moment like this. I can sigh in contented wonder at this utter gift of a moment, and he can touch my leg to let me know he knows.  Without a word from him, I am no longer a solitary being in my reverie, but part of an indwelling community of love.  I am known.  And the only response to that is gratitude.

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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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