A few months ago, I casually mentioned something on Instagram about my husband and not being on the same page regarding a particular situation/circumstance.
I was aware that many people don’t share things like that on Instagram, but I was caught off guard by the “doubtful” reaction many people had. Some of the reactions included: “that’s an overshare”, or “oh my, is their marriage in trouble?” and so on. It made me realize that in the more religious or insular communities, of which I am happy member, the topic of marriage is not spoken about very often. I get it, by definition, marriage is an intimate relationship, and I agree that the details of that relationship should remain private. What I can’t get behind is the notion that we can’t speak about the realities of marriage, the ups and downs, the immense investment it takes to make a marriage work, and the fact that it’s not always going to be smooth sailing. I think it sends an unrealistic image to individuals who are in the dating/marriage process, and frankly to couples that might be struggling and feel like it’s not normal to struggle. If we don’t talk about it, how are couples or individuals to know what types of struggles are normal and ok but may necessitate a bit of outside support and counseling. How will they know what scenarios are not ok, unhealthy, and maybe even dangerous? There is definitely some shame associated with couples who are reaching out for support. One of the only ways I know of when confronting shame is to stare it in the face, talk about it (with people who are safe) and make it ok for others to as well.
So, I’m going to share some of my thoughts, experiences lessons and growth that I’ve experienced as my husband and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Key word being MY! It goes without saying that marriage will look different for every married couple, this is just but one perspective, MY perspective. Whatever I share I feel comfortable with sharing (and don’t worry, my husband proofread it). Feel free to take all I’m saying with a grain of salt 😉
I often find myself chuckling when I think about the first few months of marriage, when I thought we were going to be the couple that never clashed. I legit couldn’t imagine arguing, thinking to myself “what would we even fight about”. Ha, oh sweet naïve little girl, the real question should’ve been “what are you not going to fight about”.
Many orthodox couples end up getting pregnant soon after marriage. Surprisingly, I am very grateful for the time we had to get to know each other before our kids came along. Two years into our marriage we had to face a life changing diagnosis of permanent infertility, enough to rock our world and to question everything we might’ve taken for granted. How do you forge this new path together while trying to figure out and process your grief? We all process our emotions so differently. I mean, how often does one need space and their partner needs closeness and vice versa. You might want to talk, and your spouse may want to avoid….
It’s intense enough trying to merge the lives of two humans, even without any extenuating circumstances. I think that too often when we are young and dealing with something so big, a lot of the emotions and deep feelings get pushed aside or suppressed due to lack of tools or even the lack of awareness, thinking that we can move on, just by putting all our focus on solving “the immediate problem” which in our case was figuring out how to build a family.
G-d had a very special life in store for us and over the years we have encountered many life altering challenges that constantly push us to dig deeper and deeper. Every time we find old wounds that we think are over and done with, and they come back up. I’m talking all the way back to your childhood. I’m sure you’ve heard about inner child work, let me tell you, I really believe having a deep meaningful partnership, being a present parent, is very much dependent on addressing our childhood wounds. We could’ve had the best childhood; we all have stuff! This is not blaming our parents for our struggles, this is about understanding why we do the things we do, why we make the choices we make. At times, we could be operating out of fear or projecting our previous experiences on our spouse or child. They are hard to confront but like I said before facing them, understanding them, having compassion for them is such a gift.
In the last sixteen years these are some of the things we faced as a couple. Permanent infertility, my husband’s mother passing away, adopting a preemie with a lot of medical traumas, adopting a child with a rare genetic disorder that took five years to diagnose (not for lack of trying, just took forever for the doctors to figure out what’s going, as it’s so rare and no family history to help things along). Adopting our son who’s black, adopting a 12-year-old with an incredible amount of trauma. After self-harm, attempted suicide, and other scary cries for help it became clear that as much as we wanted to be able to handle it all without help, we couldn’t. Our daughter needed a protected and safe environment to work through all her traumas, so she went to a wilderness program followed by a year in a therapeutic equine boarding school. To top it off, last year we had to send our 8-year-old son to treatment for severe behavioral issues. Having to do that twice for two different children hits hard. Not to mention running a Chabad Center in a remote location with no family nearby. These life events take a toll, no matter how strong you are!
I mention all these experiences not because I’m into the comparative suffering game, not at all! I have no doubt that every single person in this world can make a list of challenges just as long. These just happen to be mine. The point I’m trying to make is there are going to be obstacles in your life, they are going to affect you and your relationships, and that’s ok!
I can clearly remember the point in time when I realized it was time to get deeper. Sending Shoshana to wilderness was such a turning point for me and for my husband. When you have a child in treatment you are really confronted with your own baggage, and you are forced to face it head on, for your child, for yourself, for your family. It opened a whole new world of pain and as a result profound healing.
Growth never stops, it evolves, it waxes and wanes. If we are in this world, we will be tasked with the mission of character development, coupled with, and just as important, self -acceptance.
I have also learned that just as self-acceptance is important for me in how I view myself, it is vital for how I view my spouse. When we try to change who are spouse is we will hit up against a wall and rightfully so. We cannot control or take ownership of our spouses struggles, behavior or pain. We can only control our own. I know, not cool 😳, I’m still learning that. I seem to know it, and unknow it, more times than I would like to admit!
I think as we grow older in our marriage things do get easier, you know each other better there is a certain comfort and ease. At the same time as the family grows, the challenges get more intense, there is a lot at stake and that can feel scary. One of the ways we move through overwhelming situations is with humor, not taking ourselves too seriously. Trust me it’s a life saver.
My husband and I both have very strong personalities; I know, shocking 😂, and our strength comes from different places, my husband leads with his intellect, he’s strong, a leader, and can take charge (enneagram 8) and I lead with my emotions, I have strong intuition and very sensitive to energies (enneagram 4). The more time we each spend understanding what drives us, what circumstances provoke strong reaction for each of us, what our core fears are, the less hold it has on us. When we can recognize the patterns that we fall into, or like our therapist likes to call it “the dance”, the less urgent and scary it feels.
We still find ourselves in the dance, but we both have made so much progress in recognizing and understanding how we got there, what the triggers were and sometimes we can even turn it around in the moment.
So, on the eve of our 16th anniversary, I’m going to take a moment to be proud! To be proud of our growth, to be proud of our perseverance, and to be proud of the beautiful relationship we have built, despite and because of all we have been through together.