As a marriage therapist, I should know better. That is the worst part about being a therapist. You actually do know better. But knowing is not the hard part. Which is what our therapist was trying to tell me. At the end of our first session, she generously offered us reassurance that would make it through this, it is a tough spot but not a breaking point. We were both still in. We both wanted this. THIS. What is this, you say? It’s life. It’s him. It’s me. It’s all of the push and pull of our desires, our struggles, our reality. And she was right, we were both in. We just wanted this to be better. Honestly, I just wanted him to be better.
In the gut-wrenching process of putting everything on the table, I said, “My relationships are all thriving. This is the only relationship in my life that is a problem.” The implication, of course, being that I am fine. I am great. Everyone loves being in a relationship with me. He is not fine. He is not great. He is hard to be married to. I hope she gets the message.
She got the message alright. “Jenny, there is no comparison. No other relationship in your life, past, present or future can be compared to your marriage. This is the only relationship in which you are a true partner-emotionally, physically, financially, and spiritually. Your marriage is an orange and every other relationship is an apple. No other person sees you at your worst, get’s your left-overs, lives under the pressures and demands of life with you.”
She didn’t actually say that last sentence. She didn’t need to. Like all good therapy moments, she had pulled back veil that kept me from seeing how I had contributed, most significantly by not seeing this man for who he was, someone special to me.
And he is, really special, especially to me. Now, I know that.
This twist in our road together took me by surprise, we had been through really hard times early in our relationship and I thought that was all in our past. As one who is always looking for the efficient way out, it keeps surprising me that the most important work like surrender and love and grace must be renewed every singe day (or minute, depending on the day).
We were fighting a lot. Everyday. Most conversations. I was lonely with him. He was distant with me. Quality time, date nights, a romantic get-way were not appealing because were not enjoying our time together. This was even more daunting considering that we were just a handful of years away from being empty nesters. The reality that it was going to be just the two of us soon, pushed us into that counselor’s office.
We have changed almost everything about our life since that season. We were spread too thin, had lost our connection with each other and with the values that were the most precious to us. We had followed the path of more and more and more and we found ourselves exactly where you think we would find ourselves—in the land of never enough. That was true, not only for money, time and energy but also in the ways we felt about each other.
The other day, I was doing some work using my husband’s facebook account (as mine is deleted). Scrolling is not my happy place, but I usually see the one post that is on the landing page. It happened to be one of his ex-girlfriends. She was cute, clever, funny and interesting. And, of course, her profile picture was stunning. I know at some point, whenever they “became friends” they must have exchanged a few comments. It all of the sudden struck me as playing with fire. Who would do this to themselves? To their spouse? Here is this lovely put together person who remembers me when I was awesome and there is my spouse, sweaty or tired or wondering if you paid that bill today.
Let me give some background. My husband has never been into social media. He is more of a scroller, would read a lot but participated very little. This was not his thing. Social media was my thing. It was made for me and I was made for it. I loved that I could leave my boring ordinary whenever I wanted to and be connected with people I did not ever think I would see again. It gave me an outlet for creativity, communication, and it gave me a place to feel significant when I felt lost and invisible in other areas of my life.
I had been reconnected with almost all of my ex-boyfriends and did not ever consider that my husband should be threatened by this. Also, being the mature modern girl that I am, did not ever consider being concerned about his old girlfriends. Because, I thought that those kinds of problems, those kinds of people who get involved with their ex’s on facebook obviously have previous issues. It was one of my beliefs that a strong marriage is not broken by a little thing like a friend request and a few comments here and there.
This past Christmas, when my husband was still on fb, we were walking down the street and he looked up at one of our neighbor’s houses and said, “Oh, I hope Taylor gets to put her Christmas tree in the front window. That is what she was most excited about when they first bought the house.”
These moments have stunned me of late. This is how I know that I have passed through another layer of social media detox. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, the same way I felt after reading his ex-girlfriends update. I said, “Do you know what I am the most excited about this Christmas?” Should he have known? Would he have known if I was still updating the world on all the ins and outs of my life?
There is a lot of talk about social media “destroying the fabric of society.” And, I know there is just as big of an argument for how it is connecting all of us for the better. But, for my husband and I, for my family, the world on our phones had become more interesting, stimulating and gave better feedback than the world we shared together in our home. It was so much easier to feel connected to an old friend in Texas than it was to put in the time and effort to be connected to each other. And it happened one tap at a time. This effortless and rewarding relationship with “everyone” got more of me than my husband did and my husband was learning more about “everyone” than he knew about me.
I am not blaming our marriage problems on social media, but what we know is that where you choose to put your attention is everything. It is a lot of work to know and care about the small things about one person, especially when you have know that person for almost three decades and you have the rest of your life to spend together. It matters, those small boring moments, where you happen to mention what you are most looking forward to this Christmas.
These tiny investments of ourselves, of our attention, really do weave something together. Something that cannot be easily torn apart. We live in a culture now where everyone’s thoughts and feelings belong to everyone. I know, at one time, I thought that was being authentic. But, what I have learned is that access to my thoughts and feelings, to my simple desires and embryonic hopes is intimacy. I could be intimate with all of the apples or I could be intimate with one orange. I choose the orange.