Rick returned home about five months after I did, and the second he arrived, we were inseparable. We spent every moment we could together. We were madly in love and were hard-pressed to find any fault in the other. Until I barfed fish tacos.
Truthfully, I can’t even remember the exact argument that led up to this unfortunate event--just that it involved something about one of his brothers and I felt like he was brushing me aside in favor of one of them. Or something like that. I was so upset about whatever was said, that I made Rick pull over so I could get out of the car and take a breather. Then I barfed. Right there in public. Right there on the street corner, for all to see. Fish tacos all over the sidewalk.
That was the first time that I can remember ever being really angry at Rick. And it wouldn’t be the last.
We had to learn how to fight together. At first, Rick wouldn’t want to talk things out, and that’s all I wanted to do. I wasn’t used to keeping feelings in (something about being the child of two psychologists may have had an influence on me), and he wasn’t used to letting feelings out.
There used to be times when we’d fight so explosively, that one of us would take off for hours. And we’d sit and stew in our boiling rage. Many nights were spent with one of us on the couch, both too stubborn to apologize or even admit any of the fault was our own.
Fighting teaches you a lot about a person. Things you can’t learn through two years of letter-writing. It shows you a person’s weaknesses, insecurities, fears. It shows you their priorities, their passions, their concerns. It opens them up to your examination. That’s a scary thing when it’s the person you love.
Over the last nearly 16 years of marriage, we have fought a lot. We’ve also learned a lot about what’s helpful in an argument and what’s not. We’ve each learned that it can be as helpful to keep your mouth shut as it can be to open it.
I guess, though, that when I say “we’ve learned”, that I use that phrase loosely. There are still times when I blurt something out and as I’m saying it, I’m thinking, “Oh, shoot. Am I really saying this?” But the words are flying so quickly that I can’t catch them before they hit their mark. I have a lot of work to do.
Rick is a faster learner than I am. He’s made an art out of apologizing when it’s not his fault. I am a hard-headed woman and hold a grudge for hours, even after he’s taken the blame. I have a lot of work to do.
Although we still fight, it’s usually not as intense as it once was. We are pretty good at addressing issues quickly and have set some ground rules that have helped us: no leaving, no sleeping in a different place, no sleeping under a different blanket, it’s okay to go to bed angry, it’s okay to let the kids see us fight. Even through the arguments, Rick and I know that we’re a team. We have the same goals and are committed to each other.
Last week during General Conference, Sister Linda K. Burton shared some helpful thoughts on how to create a more loving relationship with our spouse. She said:
...we need to lift each other and help each other become the people the Lord would have us become... our two hands are similar to each other but not exactly the same. In fact, they are exact opposites, but they complement each other and are suited to each other. Working together, they are stronger.
Then she shared a list of questions:
1. When was the last time I sincerely praised my companion, either alone or in the presence of our children?
2. When was the last time I thanked, expressed love for, or earnestly pleaded in faith for him or her in prayer?
3. When was the last time I stopped myself from saying something I knew could be hurtful?
4. When was the last time I apologized and humbly asked for forgiveness—without adding the words “but if only you had” or “but if only you hadn’t”?
5. When was the last time I chose to be happy rather than demanding to be “right”?
I have a lot of work to do.
One of my very favorite stories from Mark Twain is The Diaries of Adam and Eve. In it, we read excerpts from Adam’s and Eve’s (fictional) personal journals. Over their years together each expresses frustration with the other and arguments they have. But Adam’s last entry simply states: “Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.”
Regardless of the disagreements we have, I know that Rick and I can continue to grow together, and in the same direction, relying on the Lord’s help and remembering that we’ve made a commitment to each other. Wheresoever the other is, THERE is Eden, no matter what.