A cancelled appointment on a Friday evening provided just enough time to meet my wife and kids for a rush hour show. The meager savings provided by attending the 5:30 seating was literally eaten up moments later at the concession stand. Fortunately, we have discovered a way to limit the sticker shock of AMC’s snack-bar by purchasing their bucket-sized refillable bag. By the time the movie concluded, we had gone back to the popcorn trough three times.
Despite the fact that for two hours we had bathed our hands, esophagi, and colons in palm oil, yellow dye “Number 5,” and two gallons of husks, hulls and fluffy carbohydrates, my wife and I thought we ought to at least go through the motions of dinner. Like a small herd of corn-fed piggies, we waddled across Clayton Avenue to The Bread Company.
Maybe it was the uncomfortable feeling of all those ingredients sloshing around in the cement mixer of our stomachs. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, paradoxically, a movie entitled, “Up,” had actually succeeded in bringing me down. Out of nowhere, my wife and I found ourselves in the middle of an annoying little fight.
HIM: “Could you just take a breath and chill out a minute?” HER: “Instead of just standing there, could you just make up your mind about what you want to do?” HIM: “Why don’t you go outside and come back with a better attitude?” HER: “You want me to leave?” HIM: “If you come back nicer, then yes!” HER: “Yada.” “Yada.” “Yada.” HIM: “Blah.” “Blah.” “Blah.”
When stumbling across these kinds of marital artifacts, it is almost always a good idea to take a step back and to examine them carefully. After simmering down a little, I came to an awareness that the feelings associated with this little dust-up were familiar. It occurred to me that I regularly used to experience emotions like these when Lisa was in the throes of her medical residency. In those days, she would work rotations that required gargantuan amounts of time away from home, including twelve to fifteen hour days and overnight shifts besides. Toward the end of those rotations, I would notice a twitchy trigger finger on my temper.
After noticing when and where I’d felt something like this before, I came to another awareness. In the last thirty-five days before this fight, Lisa had been gone on three separate work-related trips. In addition, she had worked a solid two weeks of back-to-back shifts without a day off. Many of those shifts required her to awaken hours before dawn had even thought about cracking. What I have learned over the years, in working with couples…what I have learned over the years in my own marriage…is that when a sense of disconnection creeps into a relationship, the table is usually set for the kind of mischief that showed up on that Friday night after the movie.
This Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. In the second reading of that liturgy (Romans 8: 14-17), we listened to an audacious claim made by Saint Paul. Since God entered into our human condition, we have been swept up into the divine condition. And so, as “children of God”, we can expect to enjoy a full sharing of the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit (for example, the fruits: peace, patience, joy, love, etc…; the gifts: wisdom, counsel, understanding, courage, etc…).
As a therapist, I try to do what I ask my clients to do. For good emotional and spiritual hygiene, it is a good idea to take a daily inventory of one’s interior landscape. From time-to-time I have been amazed to discover that the scenery has been more tinged with anxiety than peace, more fear than courage. As I have monitored my interior dialogues, from time-to-time I have discovered silly preoccupations. For example, I have found myself in little retrospective arguments with someone who seemed to have slighted me, or with someone who failed to agree with my point of view. I have caught myself worrying about things that were fully outside of my control. I have found my own reserves of patience and wisdom growing worn, and thin.
When it comes to marriage, the pathway to benign neglect is easy and chosen by many. We look across the dinner table and see an adult who can take care of him or herself. Kids need attention. Work needs attention. Schedules need attention. The chores need attention. Finances need attention. In the midst of these legitimate needs, it is easy to push our marriages to the back burner. When we fail to privilege our marital relationships with regular dates, vacations, prayer together, physical intimacy, romance, and daily rituals of contact, the door to conflict and discord swings wide open.
Likewise, when we fail to privilege our relationship with God through regular prayer dates, meditation, contemplation, spiritual reading, acts of charity, biblical prayer, the sacraments, immersion in a faith community, the flow of the fruits and gifts associated with our connection to the Trinity slow to a trickle. The door is left wide open for our ego to take charge. The bitter fruit of the ego includes: impatience, resentments, a lack of self-compassion, or compassion for others, lack of gratitude, anxiety, attempts to control, silly arguments, lack of humor, and various forms of addictions. The list goes on….
What concrete thing will you do this summer that will increase your connection with your spouse so that the bitter fruits of disconnection can be reduced or eliminated? What concrete thing will you do this summer that will increase the connection with the source of everything that is good in you? Would you be willing to discuss the answers to these last two questions with someone who knows you well, and will hold you accountable for your answers?