He Thought, She Thought

I wrote this post for my church’s Marriage & Family blog, and thought I’d share it here too. Though I didn’t address it for an audience of married couples facing special needs challenges, I want to acknowledge here that I understand firsthand the strains that something like autism can put on even the best marriage. Married 13 years this August, my husband and I were pretty great communicators for the first 9 years and were always in stride with one other. When autism entered in, he and I have coped somewhat differently, and our insecurities have certainly been tapped into. Stress speaks. Even in the silences.

Our greatest challenge in the past year has been “drift.” When we realized that we both needed to carve individual time to get recharged, one of us always had to be home with Josiah. For the past 4 years we could no longer attend church together, hang out with the same friends, or take the same vacations. That has an affect on unity. It’s hard to “turn toward each other” at times when you’re simply not together as much, and when you are, you realize you’ve learned to guard your heart differently–find ways to face your realities differently. It takes work, but for the man who is a stellar father to Josiah, and who is the love of my life, I now realize why it’s so important to put your own oxygen mask on before you help your child. I want to get better at that. As they say, this is a marathon. Now to that post, “He Thought, She Thought.”

“I feel like you’re constantly judging me on a point system,” he said, paired with an eye roll.

And that started the first little “spat” of our engagement, right on the lovely sidewalk in front of roaming white geese in a quaint colonial spot in Pennsylvania.

Our intertwined fingers separated and I felt totally misunderstood.

“Sheesh! Why do you feel like I’m judging you? Am I that horrible of a person? You must not know me at all,” I retorted.

If I would have known 14 years ago that the root of almost every marital discord we would have would be summed up in that little exchange, I could’ve made much greater strides as an ideal Proverbs 31 woman. Alas, I just made the connection. Today. (And, for the record, the Proverbs 31 woman had maids, so I’d already given up that far-fetched goal.)

Shaunti Feldhahn sums it up best in her book, For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men: “A guy’s inner vulnerability about his performance is made more intense by his belief that at all times he is being watched and judged…and perhaps found wanting. It includes the knowledge that since they don’t always know what they are doing, they are just one mess-up away from being found out.”

Conversely, in Feldhahn’s book, For Men Only, she and her husband nailed why my womanly brain ended up in a stand-off with my man’s ego: “If she’s feeling something, it’s counterproductive to try to tell her she shouldn’t be feeling that way. As men, we’re prone to jump to the conclusion that our wives are in husband attack mode. But remember a guy’s performance isn’t usually what’s on her mind. Our wives need to process their stuff by talking about it and having us available to listen…and not take it so personally.”

Women need to process feelings and discuss issues. Men feel like they have to perform and solve. Women feel unheard. Men sense that they don’t measure up. And there you have a little 9-year-old girl standing in front of a 10-year-old boy, both in adult bodies, clinging to their old innate insecurities.

She goes to bed feeling emotionally unmet. He turns off the light feeling like he doesn’t have her respect. While a reluctant “I’m sorry” or two may have been lobbed up, each adds the episode to their record of wrongs. And each secretly takes a mental note of the best ammo to use in case there’s a need to go into “attack mode” later to defend one’s self.

At the end of the day, whether it’s testosterone or estrogen at work, I think both men and women really want the same thing. They both want the other to think the best of them, to know their intentions, to call out the gold, to let the unprompted encouragements and approving glances outweigh thoughtless jabs and critical body language.

So, now that I know what I know, I’m going to try something this week. I’m going to consciously refuse to prey on the known insecurities of my husband, who I truly care about to my core. I’m going to recognize my choice—“speaking rashly, like the piercing of a sword” or realizing “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

Camping Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Have you ever been between a rock and a hard place? You go one way and that doesn’t look so good. And the alternative doesn’t look so good either. Everyone is depending on you to pull off the right decision and keep things stable, but you just feel stuck. What do you do? I realized lately that when you’re feeling stuck you’ve just got to do something, because stuck is going absolutely nowhere!

Recently I made a hard decision that doesn’t make a lot of sense on paper. But I had to do something for my own emotional health, for the good of my family, and just so I could get some stuff done. Thankfully my employer (I’ve been there 8 years) agreed to it.

We are very much a two-income family and though we live quite frugally already, I decided to take a 20% pay cut in order to reduce my full-time work hours down to 32-hours (off on Fridays). By doing that, I was also able to hire someone to do some project management for 15 hours per week in order to take off of my plate some of the details and concepting for my marketing team. I oversee a communication arts team at a very large church, and we do all of the graphic design, marketing, website, advertising, etc. for the church and all of its ministries. There are a lot of projects all at once all of the time.

This decision to cut my wages does not make good sense on paper. Josiah’s biomedical expenses are not covered by insurance, and depending on this test or that, along with supplements, the price tag can be astonishing and volatile. His organic, gluten-free/dairy free food is ridiculously expensive. We just paid $530 for his eyeglasses, for goodness sake! But, at least for a window of time–about 6 months or so–I need to do something that doesn’t financially make sense in order to be the mom and wife that I need to be for my family right now. I need to do this so I can reduce my stress and have time to replenish me for this race we’re on with Josiah’s autism challenges. We have been faithful with our money and with our tithing to God, and I’m banking on the fact that he will honor this decision.

I thought I could be the same supervisor and employee at work who hit the floor ready to deal with all of the decisions, be creative, put out fires, talk with people, manage a million projects, bring home extra work to get the job done with excellence–and do all of it with a smile to boot. I can’t do all of that any more. By the end of this last summer, I was spent. I didn’t know how to, but I wanted to walk away from my job that I had loved and just figure something else out because I couldn’t see how I could live like this. Stress can douse joy and sound thinking, and can make it very unclear how to deal with things that really aren’t as major as they can appear. Everything becomes the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

I’ve been on a quest these past couple of months to get my priorities straight. I’ve asked myself, “At the end of my life, what will have mattered?” My relationship with God. My relationship with my family. My relationship with others. My health. That’s it, people. Not a paycheck. Not how hard I worked. Not how creative I could be. Not how hard I could produce for someone else.

Some sort of crisis usually brings people face to face with what is really important, and it’s not all of the empty promises of the so-called American dream. So, I’ve prayed and thought about all of this, and I’ve decided that I’m going to get comfortable camping between a different “rock and a hard place”…

God said, “Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by.” Exodus 33:22

I’m going to believe for God to meet all of our needs, and to direct and guide us. And, at the same time, I’m going to use my Fridays while Josiah is at his school getting therapy to pick and choose from whatever the needs are: run errands and grocery shop, prepare freezer meals for my family, read and pray, clean the house, have coffee with a friend, and just restore my soul. I’m on my second Friday and I’m already feeling the stresses ease.

P.S.: If anyone has good ideas for getting the most out of your budget, let me know. I want to do more with less, especially when it comes to food. I already was happy to find my husband some really nice used sweaters last Friday at Savers–all for about $5 each!