Wednesday, April 02, 2008

After 25 Years, Married Life is a Blessed Existence

When Gary and I were first married, we weren't believers. We were about the most ill-equipped couple for marriage, and if I were a betting person, I think looking back, I would have placed some strong bets on our marriage not lasting seven years. I was confrontational, and he was non-confrontational--both in the extreme--and this combination led to some hideous disagreements and frustration. The fact that we have made it to almost 25 years is truly only by God's grace, not by any wisdom or power of our own! I can honestly say, though, that the most recent years have been the best, and this last year may have topped all the others; God is so gracious.
It didn't take long for us to discover the first challenge to our relationship. Gary's mom had been in a severe car accident when Gary was 12--and Gary's dad said she had never been the same since. I honestly have never met a person who was more constantly tense than she was. Seven years after we were married we were told that she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimers', but I'm not sure whether it was truly that, or merely a result of the accident and the constant pain relievers and other drugs that she'd taken over those years. When I first met her, I remember being amazed--I'd never met anyone who was so stuck in an era; she dressed, cooked, and lived as if she still were in the 50's or 60's. (I'd never seen tomato aspic, for example, until we went to their house.) The most troubling thing I remember from that first meeting was that when she gave me an empty dish back to take home, she was desperate to put it in a filmy old plastic bag with a much-used twist-tie wound many times to close it. When I said I didn't need the bag, she became very agitated. This was my strongest initial clue that she might have some trouble going on in her head.
Between her desire for control (plastic bags turned out to be the least of it), Gary's desire to please her, and his non-confrontational nature, I found myself continually coming out on the short end of the stick--so after visits with his parents, I found myself venting at Gary all the way home, fuming and frustrated. This became an awful cycle, and eventually, after Katie was born, I withdrew from their family gatherings, because they seemed to cause more harm to our relationship than good. Though this is far from the ideal outcome, in retrospect I think it was probably the best thing I could have done until I could develop some insight and self-control--at the time my withdrawal was the only solution, given the circumstances.
I received Christ when I was 29, and so while I still couldn't solve the problem, at least I had the power of prayer--no small thing; through it God gave me a useful outlet, a shoulder to cry on so to speak, and He came to my defense in various ways. It was the day after I'd been taught at a woman's retreat to give my problems to God and not take them back upon myself that He brought my in-laws to our house and we were finally told she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimers--two years previously.
From that point on, she became harmless as a kitten. She seemed to lack the fight that she'd had before, to realize that she'd lost hold on the ability to run things. Things became much easier for me, and Gary's dad knew what I'd gone through--his life, of course, hadn't been easy either.
During that time, Gary got a job in the pharmaceutical sales field, which he'd been trying to do for a couple of years. He started traveling about one week per month, and when he was home, he constantly had work to do. I started feeling like a single mom with a paycheck. I was constantly overwhelmed and our relationship wasn't exactly thriving. We hadn't really had any time to get it back into shape before he had started diving into his work...and this continued throughout his time in pharmaceutical sales, about 15 years. Having him so work-oriented was a hard thing to argue with: who can say that a man shouldn't work hard? It's considered a virtue, and a friend during that time was constantly telling me how her husband hated his job; that made it a little easier for me that Gary so loved his.
It took me a long time to realize that Gary's non-confrontational nature, even with its drawbacks, has also had its benefits. If we'd both been confrontational, we might never have lasted a year. The fact that he doesn't take up every issue has made life easy for me in the everyday aspects of life; I know of husbands who pick their wives apart for how they housekeep, how they cook, and whether they're overweight. Maybe it would be good for Gary to speak up more to me; I'd probably have had to develop more self-discipline, but I don't know if I could have coped with all the stresses we already were dealing with plus that type of control.
Now he's between jobs. Due to his age and a downsizing, he was laid off from his first pharmaceutical job after seven years, the year that he was top in sales in that company. Since that time, he has worked as a contracted sales rep--which means a rhythm of about a year and a half with a company, and then a job search. A one-year stint with a beverage company continued the cycle. Usually job stresses add problems to a marriage; in our case they've helped it. We've had to work together in the job searches, and to reconcile issues as they arise. I've also learned not to make a big issue of little things. Our having to work together, and the very fact that we've had so much time together, have been very therapeutic for what had been a very dysfunctional and seemingly rather hopeless situation. Gary's trouble in the job realm seems to be teaching him to rely more on God's power, and the sweetness of our church has greatly helped to draw him closer in this regard as well. Our communication has improved and increased, and overall, we're living in a very blessed time in spite of our finances taking a downward spiral. Even compared to our lives before marriage, our life is at its best now, since faith is more at the center of it and was non-existent then. Money is hardly everything; I think of it as just a number. If the number's in the black, so good regardless of how small it is. I don't want to think of what to say if it hits red, but with God's help we can make good of anything.

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