Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Musings - Cohesion and Clarity of Purpose

How many times have you heard something like this:  Couple achieves tremendous professional and economic success and laments the loss of the modest life they had when they were first married...striving together to succeed...struggling to make ends meet...joyous in their tiny home.  Couple is materially happy, but little more than roommates at the end of the journey.

I don't want that to be how my/our story ends.

Before Superman accepted this position overseas, we were floundering.  Our family was suffering.  Even though he came home from work everyday, Superman seemed, well, absent in our lives.  More often than not, I was lonely.  The kids felt almost fatherless.  It was all very difficult.  Even worse?  Superman couldn't understand what I was trying to say when I was bringing my concerns to him.   How could this be happening to my family?  to my marriage?  What was going on?   My husband loved me and I loved him.  We loved our kids.  And yet, neither of us seemed to be the way we had seemed so strange.

Fast forward one year and my faith has been renewed.  My marriage feels stronger than it has been in years and my kids feel closer to their father than they have in a long time.  My husband talks with me and hears me.  How can this be?  Superman is 10,000+ miles from home; only spending two weeks in the last 8 months with his wife and children.  How can we have grown closer with such distance between us.  Yet, it is true... all of us are happier.

Confused?  I was.  So I started thinking about what had happened.  Thinking about those stories of couples who've achieved success only to realize they were happier before such "blessings".  Thinking about the stories of people who've stayed happily married for decades and thinking about people who've stayed married even as they've watched their marriages slip away.  What was the difference?  I knew there was an answer, if I could just find it.

What would make people look back to a time of little material success and reminisce so fondly?  What is the common thread for those who transcend those problems?

It is cohesion and clarity of purpose.

Cohesion - the act or state of cohering, uniting, or sticking together.  Clarity - clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding. 

The answer is not letting go of that state of working together with clear understanding and agreement of your goals.

It seems to me that the people who look back so longingly at the "early years" of their marriages are looking at those years in which they and their spouse had cohesion and clarity of purpose as they worked together for their goals.   Their partnership was vitally significant, no one role more important than the other and the results of their efforts were easily perceived.  Being able to make the rent each month, being able to have enough diapers and formula for a baby, buying your first home, these things are measurable accomplishments that required the combined efforts and focus of both partners in the marriage.  Even more importantly, the goals required that focus remained at home.   Yes, one or both partners worked out of the home, but the consequences of that work were immediately tangible in lifestyle.  An extra hour at work (with overtime!) is easily translated to a box of diapers, gas in the tank, or some other vital part  of daily life.  Money saved by couponing is, likewise, seen as having an immediately evident positive effect.  Those feelings of working together towards oh-so-necessary goals is one of joy, isn't it?

So, where does all that joy go?  How can we go from those feelings to feeling of distance, disconnection, and isolation?

I think it happens because those basic goals are met and we don't have clarity of purpose for the next steps.  We have no cohesion.  We might be a united front, but we're not united.  To be blunt, we're no longer working together.  Instead we're working next to each other.  To use my own marriage as an example, Superman was working so hard at work, doing what he thought he had to do, giving all he had to give at work.  Unfortunately, that meant he had nothing left to give at home and didn't think he had anything to do that was as important at home.  Me?  I was working so hard to turn our new house into our home and raising our children, caring for our pets, and caring for him, that I couldn't see how I could do more.  Except more wasn't what was needed.  Neither Superman nor I needed to give more.  In fact, we needed to give less.  We needed to slow down, work "easier", and talk more.  We needed to design the next phase of our family's life rather than both of us just assuming we knew what the other one intended or expected for/of us.

Without cohesion, our efforts weren't actually getting the results we wanted.  Without clarity of purpose, our marriage wasn't enriching our family.  With our only contact now being deliberate, purposeful contact (via Skype), our conversations have become far more than "the kids have a doctor's appt tomorrow/I have a meeting at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow".  They are back to being more "what do we want our lives to look like in five years?" types of conversations.  United in the goal of healing our marriage and family,  paying off our debt, and positioning our selves for the next 20 years we'll spend together, we're not making assumptions that we know what the other is thinking.  We're once again creating cohesion in our marriage and, once again, we're feeling the deep-seated contentment that comes with that journey.

Cohesion and clarity of seems so simple, yet so many of us don't even realize when it fades away or is drowned out by the demands of daily life.

I wonder how many of us could improve our relationships with deliberate cohesion and clarity of many of us would take that fork in the road that we're too busy to even see most of the much internal contentment we could reap with the deliberate attention focused on regaining that which we had at the beginning of this journey?  It is worth thinking about, isn't it?

(Photo:  Escher Relativity in Legos)


Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to what you are saying. I've been with my husband for 13 years and we've gone through similar periods of time. Times when "work", be that home or away, has taken over and we've forgotten who we were as a couple. I like the line "we're no longer working together. Instead we're working next to each other" I think it sums things up nicely. The key, as you've found out is to ride through the rough patch, take a step back, and decide this is not how life should be lived. I believe life ebbs and flows, that there will always be high and low points. It's how we handle the low points that make us who we are. Great post.

Alicia said...

Wow...wonderful post, Erin! This really spoke to me. It's so easy to get caught up in the everyday!!! And what a blessing that you and your hubby are back on the same page, and are closer than ever!!!

I just love your new layout, and especially your new header!!!! So cute!

Anonymous said...

I think so many young couples start out fine then they get sucked into life with kids and careers. The father (usually) works outside the home, he is career driven. If the family succeeds, it is because he is a success. If he fails, it fails.
The mother (usually) works inside the home. Even if she has a career, her primary reason for being in the family is so that the children succeed. If they are successful, she is successful. If they fail to thrive, she is a failure.

Then one day, the kids move out. They create whatever lives they are going to have and Mom and Dad look at each other and don't have a clue who the other person is. He's not the cute guy who caught her eye across campus, heck he's 40 pounds heavier and balding. She's not that flirtatious girl he remembers marrying. She is 40 pounds heavier and distracted most of the time.

So how do these new people create a marriage from this point. Well, with a lot of prayer. And possibly counseling.

Ten years ago when my children were still young and we were that couple, just younger, I decided I was not going to get to this point and be that older couple. So I began to pray that God would let me fall in love with my husband more each day, just differently than I had at twenty.
Now age wise we are here, but we couldn't be more in love. Life with an emptying nest can be scary for mid40s couples, but it doesn't have to be. Not if you make a commitment to fall in love everyday. Sometimes that means sitting and really talking instead of the TV on (we got rid of cable 7 years ago, so this is pretty easy.)
Sometimes it means finding a hobby you both like. Sometimes it means doing what Erin and Superman did- recreate your marriage.

But children are most happiest with loving married parents. Your greatest asset you have to give to them as an inheritance, is a working, loving marriage.
Yes, we fight, all couples do, but they can see how you work through that in love as well. Because in a few years, they are all going to be living away from us, and we are only going to have each other. Better to be with someone you love, than someone you hate.

Marriages require work. Do a little each day and like housework you don't become overwhelmed. ;)

Clark said...

Wow! Great post. What a difference a year makes. I also love the post by generationsgoneby. It sounds easy enough to stay in sync, but it is often harder in practice.