How To Train Your Dragon: Letting Doubt Into Marriage

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl, I am writing because I feel afraid. I got married in August to a man I adore and feel such a comfort with, but we are so different in every way (not the least of which being that I am a minister/chaplain and he is not a person of faith, and our cultural differences). We have had conflicts over the last four years that I would call "normal" for most couples but this weekend was one of those conflicts that left me wracked with doubts.

Doubts like "with this divorce rate what am I thinking?? Are we going to make it?? Is this rocky adjustment period a horrible sign or is it just the reality of marriage?"

He is a genuinely good man. My family loves him. I can be myself around him---except on nights like this when I am super defensive and analytical and miss my parents like a two year old does and cry nonstop. Then we have to go to separate corners.

Anyway, I thought that better than blogging about this would be writing to someone who seems to find the beauty and depth precisely in the imperfections of life and relationships. So I am wondering if you are someone who has somehow made all this work, against all odds.

I hope against hope that we can too.


Newlywedded but Doubting Bride

Dear Newlywedded,

It's beautiful that you are allowing doubt into your relationship.  Doubt is the creature that lurks at the door, and you fear it, imagining a dragon, when really you should let it in and set a place for it at the table.  Once it's been well fed and seen in the light, you'll see its scales will fall off and transform into something more human.

My husband and I have been married for nearly a decade.  We have had our share of bitter heartbreaking periods in that ten year span, but are now in a place that is so good, that we often joke that we should produce some "It Gets Better" videos for young couples who are starting out and wondering why on earth they should stick with something so tragically difficult.  The fact that it is hard is the very reason it turns out to be so rewarding, as time goes on.

Everything gets better if you stick with it: the sex, the communication, the spiritual connection.  Just this past weekend we lay in each other's arms, totally naked, wrapped around each other like ribbons on a May Pole.  Our time together was brief---soon we'd have to hit the grocery store to get food for dinner, pick up our child from the babysitter, and be back to the grind of life.  But that moment felt infinite, as we bared our hearts and bodies to each other.

So, what advice would I give to a newlywed, especially one with some big differences to overcome?

1. Let each other grow and change, even if it looks like you are growing in different ways.  Lets go back to the ivy branch image from last week, as a metaphor for a relationship.  As you grow, you branch out in different directions, but you also twine together in places, always coming back to the same root and source, which is your love for one another.  Don't be afraid of his interests that are different from yours---encourage them.  Give him time and space to explore those very things that you don't enjoy---but also take an interest in them, at the very least asking him to explain to you why they are so meaningful to him.

2. Learn to fight.  One of the first lessons my husband taught me, when we were first dating, was that I couldn't curse at him and lose my mind in our arguments.  It took some practice, but rather than saying, "Aw, forget it, I just won't talk about this stuff with you", I worked on it, and we found a way to talk about the hard stuff with respect.  The biggest mistake I see couples make is avoiding difficult topics.  I have seen that ruin marriages more than anything else.  Marriage is all about getting in to those sticky places in life that you were hoping to just skate by, together.  Try to have a sense of humor in the midst of it---my husband and I have found that being able to make each other laugh is the best way to defuse an argument and get to the bottom of what's really bothering us, without our defenses up.

3. Keep having sex.  Just keep doing it.  Sex is a huge bonding agent.  Have you ever noticed that if your communication is just off, and you are snapping at each other more often, that just getting laid really helps?  Yeah, that's because when you meet each other nakedly in the bedroom, you can see each other in kinder light. My husband and I have had major dry spells with sex, but in those times, we have never been okay with it.  It's never been "Oh well, I guess I'm not such a sexual person".  Sex is the glue of the relationship.  So, even when it was infrequent, we were talking about it all the time, trying different things to get it going again.  You have an entire lifetime to figure out each other's bodies, so enjoy.

4. Ask for help when needed.  The early years of marriage are like resistance training workouts---you build the muscles of finding a way to heal what seems totally broken, again and again. You live in hope. And when things seem just too foggy for either of you to see the way through, you get help. I know a couple that goes to a therapist when they feel they need a "tune-up" or have a conflict they can't settle on their own, OR every five years, whatever comes first.  I love this perspective, because it takes the stigma off of the desire to have someone help you with your issues, and creates space for you to allow things to arise between you that are unexpected.  And please don't tell me you can't afford it.  If you invest in making your home nice to live in, your car run well, or your body to feel good, you can spend money on your relationship.

It sounds like you have a good partner at your side, one willing to do the difficult work and share in the spoils of love and creating a life together.  Hold on to one another, for when the really hard times come, you’ll remember that you sailed through stormy waters in the beginning, and came out afloat, doubts and all.



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