26 June 2012

A Marriage Behind Closed Doors

                                                           (Photo from Jenny Komenda - - couldn't be happier she is moving to Brooklyn!  Yay!)

As a spouse, it's kind of cool because you get to see the side of a person that no one else gets to see. You get to see this person's life from the very front row (it's really quite amazing).

The problem is, often times our guard goes down with our spouse.  We might find it easy to say negative things about other people or gossip with our spouses...simply because it can be done behind closed doors.  We might find it easier to vent often to our spouses and become a fire hose of negativity with them, but not others.  Or perhaps we behave badly or speak sharply with our spouses, just because we think we can - even though we don't normally speak this way.  I think these patterns and habits in marriage are very real and common.  And actually, I'm guessing that some couples might feel comfortable with this pattern - perhaps they consider their marriage a safe place for speaking their mind.  Perhaps changing some of the foundational norms of a marriage or relationship seems scary.

Well - Danny and I, from day one, have tried to maintain our desired character not just outside the marriage, but within it, as well.  And so, that means speaking positively about other people, giving other people the benefit of the doubt, having compassion for those around us, using what Danny calls "The Language of Love", not gossiping, speaking kindly to one another, treating each other like lovers, forgiving those that have harmed or annoyed us.  Our union and our home is never the breeding ground for negativity.  Instead, it's a place where we both work to keep that at bay.  This tradition in our marriage has served us well.  And a nice little side effect:  It builds up a store of good energy which comes in handy when the car breaks down or the roof starts leaking or we're having technical difficulties (pretty much a daily occurrence) or harm of any kind comes our way. 

What about you guys?  Do you think it's important to pay attention to the character you are developing  within your marriage?  Or do you like having a place to just let loose - where it's just the two of you?  I'd love to hear!   

Sending lots of love to all you readers!
(You guys seriously are the best ever.  I don't say that enough.  We're so, so grateful for all of you!!)

Mara

P.S.  Our next 'Class About Love' is this Wednesday at 8:30 pm.  It's about Choosing Happiness.  And it's so good.  We can't wait to share it with you.  Register here.


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37 comments:

  1. Great post, Mara! I love the point you made about how when you actively create a culture of goodness within a marriage or within a home or family, you build up a store of good energy that you can withdraw from when you're having a day where you face many obstacles. I think this is so true!!

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  2. I really appreciate what you just wrote! Sometimes i do treat my husband as way to vent my true feelings about others or situations as i completely trust him but maybe you're right... I should practice being a better person - tolerant , forgiving - instead of putting on a brave face in front of others. It's a struggle at times because sometimes I'll say all the right the things but in my heart of heart I'm not feeling it.

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  3. Hi Mara,
    I love your blog and read it everyday now. But I am struggling a bit today with your post and hoping you can shed some light into how I can better understand it.

    I agree with the idea of building up a store of good energy and be a better person ( I have trying it lately but will tell ya, it's ver hard and a challenge to say the least) but I also feel like if you don't get to be yourself with the most important person (your spouse) in your life then how do you channel that negative energy? I mean if you can't vent to them then wouldn't it be in a way not being yourself? As a human being isnt it almost impossible to hold all negative energy/complaint in? Any thoughts? Thanks,

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    1. Anon - thanks for writing in. First of all, I know how hard this stuff is. haha. Do I ever. It's hard to have a store of good energy when there is SO much potential for us to feel drained by a zillion things each day. But here are my thoughts: it's all about changing your being. I know that sounds lofty. But if you have your desired intentions for a good character at your core -and if you intentionally begin to live & breathe that way of life and even look for opportunities to "practice" living that way, then soon that way of living becomes your reality...and being that kind of person & embodying that character becomes easier and easier. It's like you build up some muscle memory (this totally can happen and it's so cool). And so even if glitches come (which they will. ha!), the turn around time is quicker and quicker. It's like less and less of that good energy gets wasted...Because you simply are not just resisting or getting upset by things like you used to. (Also, please note that this is not just a cover up, which isn't good. When you embody this way of living...it's more like there just isn't anything built up inside anymore...there is less and less need to vent. You feel better about life at your root.)

      Now, as for trying to be yourself with your spouse - you absolutely should. But the idea is that "being yourself" could possibly be someone who is working on embodying this way of living. And so maybe you could even express to your spouse that you're trying to do this...and you may find it helpful to talk to him from time to time - (even vent, if you need to) - about the difficulty of letting go, the difficulty of forgiving someone, the difficulty of being at peace with crappy circumstances. And so the beauty of the partnership is that you can then work together to do this....and by doing so you are moving UPWARD, not downward. That kind of energy is way different than just stewing together in a habitual pattern of negativity...it's more like you are channeling that negative energy into an opportunity to practice propelling you forward, to practice living a better way of life.

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  4. I love your idea of trying to keep all the negativity out of your home and marriage. I like that you say you store up all the good energy for when something bad happens. I know sometimes I just fall apart when something unexpectedly comes up. However, I think there should be room to share both the good and the bad in your life with your spouse when it is appropriate. A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with someone in my family while my husband was away. What they said really hurt me, and I was upset. I decided not to talk to my husband about it, but after a few days it was still bothering me. Once I decided to tell him I felt much better. I guess the key here is that I was just talking about my feelings and not talking bad about the person, other then the fact that what they had said to me was upsetting.

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  5. I think there is a balance. We should definitely feel comfortable talking to our spouse about the good and the bad things that go on in our daily lives, but we can also be selective about what we say. For example, if the negative thing is about our spouse's family or friends we should probably keep it to ourselves...but if it is something you are steamed about that happened at work, it might actually help to blow of steam by talking to our spouse about it. Notice I said talking and not yelling and stomping around.
    In addition, I think it is VERY important to always speak to our spouse in a kind tone and voice. It is something I have a hard time with and I haven't been able to figure out why. It has definitely contributed to most of the arguments that my husband and I get in to so it is something I am always thinking about.

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  6. When my husband and I were still engaged (not too long ago), his older sister gave us great advice. She said to never, ever talk negatively about your spouse behind their back. No matter what, don't do it. We've really taken that to heart. My husband has actually been better about this than me, I think because it's so easy for girls to talk about their frustrations with each other. One time, I found myself talking with someone on Facebook about how I didn't like that my husband watched basketball so much. My husband, Jacob, saw the comments and talked to me about them because he was really hurt. The next day, I deleted my Facebook. I just felt like it was too easy to talk negatively on there, and there was no way I wanted that distracting me from how wonderful Jacob really is.
    I've also had to really work at not talking with my family if there are frustrating things in my marriage. Jacob's sisters and mom have a girl's night every month, and of course spouses are talked about. I've learned to refrain from talking about Jacob, unless it's a compliment to him. When I visit my mom or talk to my sisters on the phone, I want to vent about something frustrating, but I don't say anything negative about Jacob. It's never been anything really major to complain about-- leaving the fridge open, putting dishes in the sink and not in the dishwasher-- but talking negatively at all can be hurtful and pulls us apart.
    When I do tell someone something positive about Jacob, I always make sure to tell Jacob about it. That way he knows I only talk positively about him when he's not around, and he knows that I appreciate him. He does the same thing for me. It brings us so much closer and makes me love him so much more. Like you said, Mara, it's easy to get too casual in our marriage because we're with our best friend all day, every day. But we need to treat them with complete respect and love, even if they're not around.

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  7. "Our union and our home is never the breeding ground for negativity." I love that. It is easy to justify negativity but it really is just that - negative. How much better to uplift and praise than discourage and berate others, even in the privacy of your marriage. Easier said than done, I've got some work to do. Thanks for the reminder!

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  8. Thank you for sharing this, Mara! Too often, I find myself unappreciative of the close relationship that my husband and I have - I've noticed that I've been letting negativity seep in and allow me to take him for granted. It should be the opposite, and after reading this post, I want it to be. I want to make a concerted effort to make our home a positive and happy place in which we both feel supported and comfortable, not ill-used or unappreciated. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that our home never becomes a breeding ground for negativity either!

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  9. We never use our marriage to malign others, but the relationship is one of the few safe places to voice frustrations about jobs and family, and in turn figure out solutions. I value that we're a team and each other's confidants.

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  10. I love that wording. Avoid making home a breeding ground for negativity and I whole-heartedly agree. I think that kind atmosphere isn't uplifting and if there is one aspect I want in a marriage or long-term relationship, it's to feel uplifted when you are around one another. I also think it's possible to discuss frustrations or stresses without it becoming a "venting session where anything goes".

    My question is this though: How do we create this enviornment in relationships? Is it either "you have it or you don't" or is this something that can be created?

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    1. I think it absolutely can be created. We are all capable of change. But it does take very, very deliberate effort. Perhaps even MORE effort if two people are involved (it would be like two smokers trying to quit smoking together. Negative talk/gossiping/or speaking in a snappy tone is addictive and habitual. It's hard to change that pattern, especially if someone else is engaging you or vice versa.) SO, I'd say it would help if this was a very deliberate & open goal btwn two partners. You really could make it happen. I think it's totally possible. However, if one partner is not on board, then all the other person can do is not engage in the negativity - try to stay true to who you want to be. It may inspire the other person to join you. Or it may also make them feel increasingly uncomfortable if they truly aren't used to that way of life. If you're dating, this would be an area to watch very closely. Personally, speaking from my life's experiences, it's best to marry someone who is actively working on bringing positive energy to the table.

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  11. I agree with all the commenters. I feel like as we are trying to become the person that we want to be - one who doesn't gossip, is forgiving, etc. - then we should be able to work through our feelings and thoughts and frustrations with our spouse. I love that when I have a hard time, my husband is there to help me through it and figure it out in a loving way. And I am that person for him. I think it's important to know what is bothering each other and if they need help sorting through it. One time my husband and I were with another couple and I mentioned something that the wife told me was bothering her. The husband had NO idea about it - and it was a BIG deal! - and it made the situation so weird. I think it's important to talk about these things, even if it's negative. We can help each other grow and learn and become better by working through our negativity together. But, I love that the goal is to always be better. To always try to be positive and not let anything get in the way of our happiness. I really love that homes shouldn't harbor those bad feelings or thoughts, but should be a place to work through them and come out on the other side a better person. I love this post, Mara! Thank you!

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  12. What a great advice.
    I sort of do this with my husband. I can see almost instant reaction to my attitude or comments and this is amazing. I would say that not everything I talk with him is positive and happy but I only speak about negative things or gossip when I have doubts about someone or something and it's always with a good attitude, like you say, giving benefit of doubt.

    We have made good changes in ourselves, just by being ourselves. I can see how he brings out the best of me, and I do this on him (that's what he says).

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  13. Dearest Mara,
    I think this is one of those times I'm going to have to respectfully disagree.
    While I wouldn't say I talk negatively to/about my spouse, my husband and I definitely talk to each other about "negative" things. We discuss, debate and even disagree, all respectively and I think it is healthy to do so.
    We have an open-hearted marriage and we give each other the benefit of the doubt - always! I don't think it is too casual to be honest and open about my thoughts and feelings, share my highs and lows - it's what I would call intimacy. With that said, I don't believe it is healthy "blow off steam" at anyone, vent, share petty nuisances or speak without first spending a little time analyzing my feelings first. (No one wants to hear about all the little petty irritations of day-to-day life, no one wants to be emotionally vomited on at the end of the day and no one wants to be the sounding board for anger). But it's important to share one's struggles and bigger emotional challenges.
    My husband knows my heart and I know his as a result of this habit of sharing. We expect each other to overcome our respective challenges and cheer each other on as we do so together in spirit.
    So much of what we as people need to work on are internal, struggles of the heart and mind. I want to share that journey of self-improvement and emotional self-mastery with my husband.
    I absolutely love the writings of Dr. John Gottman and Dr. David Medina. Each of these men have great suggestions on how to foster a safe and loving atmosphere at home, have difficult discussion, how to always keep your positive to negative ratio high, how to teach your children about disagreement (they will learn from their parents how to communicate disagreement and these are skills they need for the real world), etc. I can't recommend their books enough!
    Again, love the idea of treating your spouse with the utmost love and reducing negativity. But as a sage therapist once said "Feelings buried alive never die". As women we need to deal with our feelings and wisely choose who and how to share our thoughts and feelings.
    Love you Mara!

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  14. I totally agree! My husband and I are trying to help each other become better and more loving people, so we try to encourage each other in that. Sometimes if I have vented to him about my anger with someone in an unhealthy way, I will go back later and apologize once I realize what I've done. Or if our conversation steers towards gossip, one of us will try to get it back on track.
    "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another"!

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  15. I've found that this practice is invaluable in raising children too. When our kids are feeling/acting grumpy or negatively, returning that behavior has NEVER helped the situation. And if there is one thing that my husband and I have learned from parenting it is that our moods and behaviors set the tone in our home and family. Whose day doesn't look brighter when Mom and Dad (or spouse) each have a smile and a hug waiting for you in the morning or when you get home? (On a side note, we love reading Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth with our kids. We refer to the stories all the time to help them remember they get to choose how they feel.)

    Other readers have commented about how unhealthy it is to bottle up or bury feelings. Agreed. But choosing to be positive doesn't equate to emotional repression. We can communicate our feelings and experiences with honesty and sincerity but leave the malice and sharpness out on the curb. When I'm feeling negatively about another person or situation, I try work it out on my knees in prayer first. Something about speaking to a Father that I believe loves all of His children completely and perfectly helps me put things in perspective. How can I hold on to resentments or speak unkindly of someone He loves so dearly, especially when I have felt that selfsame love He has for me? I'm quicker to forgive, see my own contribution to a contentious situation, and feel love for someone I might not otherwise make the effort to open my heart to.

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    1. I've been struggling to understand how positivity AND emotional honesty/intimacy can coexist and I think you did a beautiful job explaining it in this comment. Thank you Lisa! I think I might print your comment out as a reminder to myself.

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    2. I've been struggling to understand how positivity AND emotional honesty/intimacy can coexist and I think you did a beautiful job explaining it in this comment. Thank you Lisa! I think I might print your comment out as a reminder to myself.

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    3. I agree with Rachel...Lisa, this is a terrific comment. Thank you for the wisdom you shared. I think you do a great job of describing how it is possible to work through negative feelings without resorting to added negativity.

      Again, beautifully said!

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    4. Lisa, I'm speechless other than to say that I love you and am so thankful to be your sister :) Thank you for adding your voice here! Your insight is wonderful. I love to feel the spirit of your marriage and relationship with your kids when we are together. It was great talking this afternoon and I can't wait to see you in a few weeks! Thank you for being you!

      Danny and Mara - sending you my love and gratitude!

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  16. I am sorry if this information is somewhere else... I can't seem to find it... BUT... how long is the class tomorrow night? I would love to take it... but just wondering how much time I need to block out... one hour? two?

    Thanks so much

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    1. Thanks for asking! It's a one hour class.

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  17. My hubby and I have had part of this discussion before. We have discussed the fact that sometimes he speaks to me differently than he would everyone else. His point of view is that we are closer than anyone else and so he can be how he wants to be with me, whether that's good OR bad. That's why I found it interesting that you and Danny work on being the same person with each other as you would with everyone else.

    I hope that makes sense. :)

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  18. The union of two people in front of the altar is filled with joy and love. I was inspired by this blog.. thank you.

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  19. So seriously, is everything about your marriage phony?

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    1. Hi Anon- Ha. Actually, our marriage isn't phony. Being true to who I want to be/hope to be both in and out of the marriage has been the most liberating, empowering thing ever. It's like there are no "appearances" to upkeep. I have never in my life felt more true to myself. The opposite was true during my first marriage, when I didn't deliberately live this way and had to keep up appearances in public, then come to an extremely negative home where gossiping, criticism, & trash talking was the norm. I couldn't stand it. But eventually you participate if that seems to be the norm and you don't do anything to change it. I'm telling you, having different ideals in public and in private is a LOT to manage - it's the most exhausting, phony existence I've ever had. So I know about phony. That's why I wrote this post (it didn't come out of no where!) I think it's better to choose the kind of person that you want to be and then go for that in all aspects of your life. This way you don't have to fake anything publicly and then come home and be someone totally different. Certainly a marriage should be a safe place to share challenges, worries, concerns, negative thoughts, etc.(of course :) And a lot of that should only be shared privately. That's normal and wonderful and it's amazing & healthy to have a place to vent all that w/ the purpose of trying to get back on track to who you aspire to be. But when it's done just habitually without even thinking about it, or it's done just to spew negativity, or if this is the norm of one's marital conversations, then it becomes t-o-x-i-c and it brings everyone down with you. I get it, though, that not everyone aspires to live a positive life. A lot of people don't believe they can change or aren't comfortable giving up their current ways. Everyone is in a different place. My heart goes out to anyone who doesn't believe that living a positive life is possible. I guess that's why I write the blog - I hope to inspire people who may be living in the way I did 6 years ago.

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  21. I find that my husband and I often share negative opinions/gossip with each other, but it is in jest with the understanding that we don't actually understand the true nature of the people discussed or their situation. It often ends with a comment dismissing what has been discussed as not our legitimate feelings and that we don't get to see the whole picture of that person's life.

    It is obviously better not to gossip at all and I find as we think about and prepare to be parents someday one of our goals is to remove that kind of talk from our relationship. And at the very least just NOT gossiping in front of our children.

    I think it's really hard (for us) to take it out of our relationship completely because we do love to joke around, even when arguing with one another! I wonder why it is so hard not to gossip? We all have flaws and can never be perfect (in this life). I guess my whole point of this novel was that, I don't think letting loose has to ruin your relationship as long as you are not doing it when full of anger/rage. And you need to be willing to forgive. We try to help each other keep perspective. I know when one of us vents, the other is usually the voice of reason (and jest). We often try to get each other to laugh about it to release/let go of the other negative emotions.

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    1. But I do think it is VERY unhealthy to go dump negative emotions on your spouse all day every day. That's not at all what I meant.

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  22. 2 things: the only thing that stuck with me from dr. laura's book "proper care and feeding of husbands" is that i needed to get me a vent-buddy, a woman with whom i could vent to the max and blab all i needed to blab. that person is my sister whom i talk with almost every day. i can't tell you what a vital thing this is for my daily sanity, especially because we are both in the trenches of sahm-hood. then i can have my hubby come home to plenty of other chaos and vent whatever's left. he can vent, too. then we shut up and just enjoy each other's company. i feel like we've got a good way of compartmentalizing venting: say your crap, and move on. thing #2, in the beginning of our marriage i figured gossip was totally okay. come to find out, gossip makes me feel crappy no matter who i'm saying it to. so, i try to keep the gossip out. try! it's hard. but the more i live (especially with kids), the less judgemental i become. so, that's good. can't wait to read the comments! this is a great topic.

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  23. Small bits of content which are explained in details, helps me understand the topic,thank you!

    Iron Doors

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  24. Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic,you made my day.

    Iron Doors

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  25. Getting caught in love life illusions will prevent you from living your highest potential...It’s also a mistake to expect one person to fulfill all of your love life demands.

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  26. Thanks for sharing such an interesting information.

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  27. My husband and I have so much room for improvement in this area. It's so EASY to gossip, get short with each other, etc. and I think that's why it happens so much. It's so challenging to step outside of what is comfortable and easy, but it ultimately achieves a happier union and happier life. Thanks for sharing this!

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