It's not the same, so now what? (an anniversary post, part 1)

It was our 23rd wedding anniversary this weekend.

We had a marriage crisis, five years ago this summer on the Appalachian Trail. It was a personal crisis, in me, precipitated by things in our marriage and family life that were revealed and compounded by the crucible of thru-hiking. Personal crisis, marriage crisis, and a lot of sweat and physical endurance all wrapped up into one.

Fun times I tell you. Fun times.

I've measured every anniversary since in comparison to that low and difficult point. Asking myself, is our marriage back to what it was before that trial and that pain?

Like looking for the high-water line of our marriage and seeing if we measure up. But looking for a high-water line means you're in the same body of water. Which is not how a dynamic, growing, evolving relationship works. We changed course in the aftermath of that crisis. We're paddling our canoe in a different river entirely. There isn't really a high-water line for comparison.

summer 2016

So no our marriage is not "back to what it was" before that difficult time in our life. And thank goodness. There was a lot I loved about our marriage pre-crisis, we raised three kiddos to teenhood in that relationship, we laid the foundation of our family life, we had many adventures and amazing experiences.

One of the things I love about this blog is looking back and seeing the record of what we've done and built. (Good old-fashioned photo albums might offer the same retrospective but I stopped making those in 2010.) But we're never going back to who we were, or how we saw the world, and neither of us want to.

At least not now. In the years right after that crisis there were many times I wanted to "go back" to a previous sense of security and certainty. I wanted to go back to when we had shared dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Never mind that I had subverted a lot of myself in those shared ambitions (and felt secure doing so as a "good Christian wife"), and that I hadn't been honest with my husband (so much for the "good" Christian part).

We're on a different track now, most notably in our spirituality, vocations, and location. And what I am most grateful for, five years out, is that we are able, once again, to dream about the future for those vocations and location.

One of the most difficult things of that post-crisis period was the calling-off of all dreams and future plans besides the most immediate needs of securing good employment (Damien's responsibility), homeschooling the kids through high school (my responsibility), and finding a place to live and a community in which to do this work.

As a couple we felt burned by our dreams, and some of the beliefs those dreams were built on, and neither of knew what was safe ground in our marriage besides paying the bills; feeding, raising, and educating the kids; and providing a secure base for their teenaged and young adult years. Which is a pretty decent base, I have to admit. But it wasn't a fire in our belly.

Our commitment to our children and to each other was the glue that held us together, which is the function of commitments. But it's the shared dreams, hopes, and visions that are the creative life energy of a relationship.

Commitments are wearisome without the joy, laughter, and lightheartedness that dreams, hopes, and future plans infuse into the everyday grind. If this is true, even for someone like me - an Enneagram Type 6 who derives deep satisfaction and purpose from being steadfast to my commitments - I can only imagine how much more this is true for other types of people.

It was this hopeful energy, inspired by dreaming about our future, that was in short supply for those post-crisis years in our marriage. Even though realizing previous dreams had cracked open our marriage and brought about significant pain in our relationship, I missed having them.

During those post-crisis years part of me I wanted to go back to who we were, to go back to the certainty I felt in my Christian complementary marriage.See note at end for definition

A shared vision for our future (heavily influenced by a certain understanding of our roles and responsibilities), even if that vision wasn't honest to who we really were as unique individuals, in some ways felt better than no vision at all. Post-crisis we had to learn to sit in the discomfort of no answers to the questions "where are we going now?" and "who are we now?"

Our task since then has been to find out who we are as individuals before putting the two together again to make a plan for the future.

And what marriage has given us is the safety of being fully committed to each other and our future together while we work out what it's like to be individuals in a union.

I am deeply grateful for my marriage. Grateful to build it, live it, and be held by it.

And from this foundation of commitment, security, self-sacrifice for the other; and the intention to support the other person's individuality, goals, and desires; we are dreaming again.

To be continued...

The complementary marriage viewpoint: According to the divine design, men are given the responsibility to lead in marriage and the family, as well as in the church as God’s family, while women are assigned a role of partnering with and supporting their husbands and are entrusted with bearing and nurturing children for God’s glory, as well as being active participants in the church’s mission. From 5 Myths about Complementarianism

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It's not the same, so now what? (an anniversary post, part 2) »

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