This article was previously published on November 7, 2016.
My husband is sleeping next to me, peacefully breathing as I type away. Tomorrow is the 5-year anniversary of our first date, so it’s only fitting I talk about the time my prince became a frog, and we faced the potential collapse of our relationship only four months into our marriage.
When my husband and I first met, it felt as meant to be as it gets. He seemed weirdly familiar to me. Like if I’d known him most of my life. He felt the same way (“it feels like we used to play together as kids and we’re just meeting up again”).* Better yet, I’d dreamed about him about six months prior to meeting him. I didn’t realize it at the time; I thought the guy in that very important dream was symbolical, a stand-in for my dream guy (literally…dream guy). But then I met Mike, and we clicked almost immediately. I had a dream about a week later in which I saw that dream guy again–the one I’d dreamed about six months earlier, but I knew in my dream that it was Mike.
That’s just the beginning of it, of the crazy synchronicities and feelings of “meant to be,” the details of which I’ll reserve for another time. It’s all to say that Mike seemed really different right away.
So it came as a huge shock when we started collapsing under our own weight early this year. I didn’t know how to end the fighting, the crying, the aggressive blaming, the emotional trauma. Things were bad. Really bad. Weirdly bad. Dozens-of-times-worse-than-it’d-ever-been “bad.”
Solemnly and sadly, we talked several times about the possibility of divorce, but that idea felt as bad as staying together. How do you move on from your soulmate? How do you find a good relationship with anyone if you can’t make it work with your “meant to be”?
So instead of leaving the relationship or continuing to spin my wheels, I chose a third option and got his permission to initiate it. I decided I would 1) focus on getting myself out of depression, which had been a main source of much of the fighting, and then I would 2) focus as much as I possibly could on his positives and ignore his negatives as much as I possibly could. Neither were easy–not by a long shot.
At first, I couldn’t do either. It was too hard. There was too much negative momentum–too much grief and pain. So, as a way of ignoring his negatives, I asked if I could ignore him. Yup, I ignored my husband. When I literally couldn’t look at him without feeling angry or depressed, I’d walk out the room. Mike and I loved each other enough that he accepted I had to do this because #1 (becoming un-depressed) was so important. It was do-or-die time, and I needed to pull myself up by any means necessary.
At the same time, I did everything I could to feel as good as I possibly could in every moment, ranging from taking walks to watching videos of baby animals (or self-soothing when nothing worked), to gain ground on breaking from the depression. It took time, but my efforts started to pick up, and I started feeling good again.
Then, as I could, I shifted to recalling his positives. None came to mind at first–just indignation, frustration, and blame. But I was committed. I didn’t know yet if we would remain together, but I knew that if I didn’t do this exercise and learn how to be a better partner, my next relationship would collapse in the same way.
That commitment paid off. The list of positives came back. At first, the change was small, but my commitment made it grow, and within a couple of months, I realized that I once again felt his positives outweigh his negatives.
We’d gained ground, but we were still in the danger zone. We were back to mostly not fighting, but when we did fight, it was bad. As in storming-off-in-the-middle-of-the-night-in-a-rage bad.
Commitment played a hand again. I was committed to learning how to be a better partner (to him and to myself). I was committed to learning how to manage conflict in a more peaceful manner and stand my ground until things got better.
They did. Each disagreement gave me a new opportunity to self-monitor and learn, to tweak my language, tweak my reactions. Each disagreement became lighter, less scary. Then about 6 weeks ago, the following scenario took place:
We started to have a disagreement, and both of us became heated. I was more aware than he of how quickly things were heating, and I asked for a pause and to record our conversation, to play back and reflect on. He agreed. It worked like magic. Seeing ourselves talk it out and then having a by-then much calmer conversation gave us an opportunity to see through our own filters. Where he saw negative intention, I was able to use the video to point out he’d misheard. It was no longer up to interpretation, “he said” vs. “she said” – the proof was in the video. On my end, I didn’t shout “I told you so!” in a gloating manner. The point wasn’t to gain power. It was to gain peace. Beefed-up egos have no place in peaceful conflict resolution.
Fast-forward five weeks later, to about a week ago: we had a couple disagreements in public and I noticed… I wasn’t scared. I no longer feared they would devolve into something bad, so it was light and easily became playful again. VICTORY.
Yesterday, I put this all together and realized that the reason we’d come so close to dissolving had been present all during our relationship: bad conflict resolution tools. That was it. That was the culprit. Not being bad people or having bad intentions. Just bad tools. It wasn’t because my prince had actually become a frog. He’d never stopped being a prince. I’d just had frog-colored glasses.
And now, with that problem properly diagnosed and well on its way to being cured, I can go back to doing what I love to do: appreciate. Appreciate Mike for the great partner that he is, for the loving, caring, compassionate, strong, handsome, funny person that he is. For the life-giving relationship that we’ve created. And for all the great, great times, so many experiences, and so many more still to come.
* My mom feels the same way about him now, too–that he’s been in our family for many, many years :).
Also by Amparo: The Best Lesson I Had on Healing Relationships
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Photos: Jonas Weckshmied via Unsplash, Amparo Vazqwright