Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Warning Signs and a Love Map

GRADE: 50/50 (Great job! The emotion in your story almost brought me to tears. Sometimes, it is the challenges and sacrifices that bring us closer together.)
Lena Baron
Assignment 9
Warning Signs and a Love Map

I recently wrote a paper for my Balancing Work, Family and Marriage class where we summed up how we were going to find a balance between work, family, and marriage ten years down the road. After reading these three chapters in Gottman’s book, I wish I could rewrite my paper. 

My husband, Leif, and I have a happy marriage. However, I grew up in the classic negative example of marriage that Gottman discussed. The one headed toward divorce. For as long as I can remember, I have fought against the example that was set within my home of origin. I instinctively knew that my parent’s relationship was extremely dysfunctional and unhealthy. I was a junior in High School when I took my first Communications class. I remember feeling like a lost soul in the desert who had just found a stream. Learning a healthy way of communicating was life changing for me.

With this said, I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy when Gottman said that the “old school” way of therapy is ineffective. However, as I read further, truth be told, Gottman just teaches us a newer way to communicate. It’s not that communication isn’t important. But that’s just my opinion.

After reading about Harsh Startup’s, The Four Horsemen, Flooding, Body Language, Failed Repair, and Bad Memories, I have renewed my commitment to be more aware of my own personal thoughts and actions when communicating with my husband. 

Leif and I didn’t argue or bicker for the first two years of our dating and married life. That isn’t because we were in denial that there were ever struggles or that we were numb to our own needs or emotions. It is because we had a very healthy positive to negative thinking ratio. We both focused so much upon the positive within each other that there was little room for any negativity. We also had a healthy Love Map filled with growing details. It took harsh real life experiences, the loss of our twin daughters, within the third year of our marriage to rattle us off our virtually flawless foundation.

While reading about all of these warning signs I recognize them within our marriage only as shadows of the grief and hardships that stems from the loss of our girls and the sequence of events that followed. Their loss was only the beginning of a very difficult and life-altering season for our family. We had sold our business, a national nanny agency, only months before our girls’ were born, our savings was spent during and after the drama, and Leif’s real-estate license was useless due to the latest economic problems of that time.  Leif entered back into the college scene at 28 years old with only a Massage Therapy and Real Estate certification. We settled into my in-law’s “barn” (an apartment above their garage) and have lived here ever since. We have three children now and Leif has almost 10 years left in his school career before he will settle into his chosen profession as a Nurse Anesthetist.

I share the personal details of our life in order to explain how the warning signs that Gottman tells us about in his book apply to my marriage relationship. If Leif and I were to sit down and pin point our weaknesses they would most likely be flooding and stonewalling. I am the “flooder” in the relationship and my poor husband feels the “flooding”.  My weakness is allowing more emotion into the moment then what is involved in the present issue. Sometimes the flooding becomes so overwhelming that Leif resorts to stonewalling rather than taking on all of the issues again. And then if we’re both in a weak moment we’ll bring in criticism and defensiveness.

Leif and I are both reading Gottman’s book. When I asked my husband what strengths he thought we had as a couple he brought up the fact that our repair attempts are successful. We are able to argue or “hash things out” and end with a stronger relationship.

We have been asked how we have managed to keep our marriage alive and even thrive despite our losses and hard times. I truly believe that it is because through it all we have remained friends. We have steadily increased the details on our Love Map on a daily basis, we have always tried to meet each other’s needs first, and above all, we have continued to nourish our friendship.

Every day throughout our marriage Leif and I have used shop and small talk to keep our connection strong. As we end the day it’s not uncommon for us to take a few minutes and update each other on any commitments we’ve made, plans we’ve set, or conversations we’ve had that we feel like sharing. Along with staying connected through updating, we build our love map through observation and retention. By this, I mean that we observe each other as we are out and about together or with other people at a party or activity. We listen to what the other has to say, we observe the things that the other finds interesting or not interesting. As the years have progressed, we have come to a point where we know each other’s stories before the second word comes out. We know what book the other person is looking for on the shelf without asking because we’ve paid attention to the series of books the other is reading. We know the nitty-gritty details about each other because we want to know. And this desire motivates us to take the time to find out the details.

When I was in the hospital for six weeks prior to our twin’s birth Leif made the sacrifices necessary in order to ensure that I was able to visit with our son. Leif would come to the hospital every morning with our son and they would visit until his naptime. Leif would then take him home and bring him back so we could all eat dinner together. On occasion, Leif would find a babysitter for our son and he would come to the hospital for a “date night.” These were very special times. This is just one example of how we do our best to meet each other’s needs.

The trust that Leif and I have built over the years has strengthened our friendship and love. This bond of friendship and trust keeps us from chronically using the deadly communication tactics against each other that are discussed in Gottam’s book. Now that we are reading this book together we will be able to take the principles taught and apply it where needed, specifically when we are tempted to use flooding and stonewalling. 

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