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.
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 been...it 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 purpose...it 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 purpose...how many of us would take that fork in the road that we're too busy to even see most of the time...how 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)