Being a Married Individual: Tips to See the Person Beyond the “We”

Hello Human Being. Today’s post is a follow-up of sorts to my last post (Being in Transition). The conflicts I wrote about in that entry have given rise to a realization about my life and one of my most prominent social roles, that of being a married individual.

I was married in October of 2010 and let me tell you something; if you want to reach the pinnacle of lovers bliss, get married. I have never been so absolutely elated and gleeful. I’ve never felt so new and fresh and as if my personal lease on life had been renewed. I felt absolutely powerful and strong. I felt secure and for the first time 110% comfortable with another person outside of my family… and the best part is that I know that feeling was mutual. My husband felt it too. And in fact, we still do.

In marriage you find yourself suddenly two instead of one. It seems so obvious, right? I mean, clearly you are committing yourself to a second person for the rest of your life. But despite that, I found myself waking the morning after our wedding feeling totally in awe of what we’d done the day before. It felt surreal, and magical, and empowering. And let me tell you, those feelings pervade. They stand the test of time if you’re willing to stoke the fire, nurture the blaze of chemistry between you, and envision your vows as an eternal flickering flame, that must be constantly tended, watched over, and sheltered.

What I’m saying is a good marriage is an amazing experience. But there is this caveat, something that I don’t think I was fully aware of when I ventured down this path of eternal matrimony.

When 1 becomes 2, I becomes we. And in the eyes of others our “we” is their “they”.

In my world Adam and Emily were suddenly “The Burkes” and down the road, we have found ourselves treated as a singular commodity, as a solitary unit. It is as if our individual personalities have become a sole “thought collective” in the eyes of others.

I am finding in certain instances that in others’ eyes, his thoughts are perceived to be mine, and vice versa. This is rarely a problem, because generally speaking we do agree on most everything. But, as in all relationships, you will not always see eye to eye. Your opinions may clash. Other times your opinions may be in sync, but your choices in how to react in a situation may differ.

This often hinges on our individual life experiences, the nurture part of our being (versus the nature side- our biological side). No two people are absolutely the same in thought, appearance, or action. This is a pervading truth, yet, in marriage, I have found that this simple concept is sometimes forgotten.

I have written about a conflict recently among my social circle. Again, I will spare the details, because they’re not relevant. Conflict is conflict is conflict. We all handle conflict differently. My husband and I, who are often so very in sync that friends and family consistently remark on our togetherness, find ourselves divided when conflict occurs.

I am a peace keeper while he is a warrior of his own heart.

In some instances we balance each other quite well, but often in action this translates to a polar dichotomy that I believe confuses our friends. My husband is sure of heart, and tends to react more decisively. He reacts quickly, while I take time to ponder my thoughts, wrestle with a never-ending pro and con list, and seek out the absolute best resolution possible for all involved, even at the expense of my own heart’s truth. I often take the wound or burden upon myself in order to keep peace. In short, I avoid conflict as much as humanly possible, while my husband does not mind conflict if it’s something that moves his soul, and lives in his heart. Truth be told we are both so very mellow, until a certain breaking point.

This happened recently, and I’m learning that as a married couple, others have a really hard time seeing us as individuals, with individual feelings, thoughts, and motivations. In this particular situation, we are at odds with another married couple. I have been friends with the husband since grade school. The four of us have been very close for about 7 years. And yes, I believe this is a “seven year itch” scenario. Sadly, I’m only half-joking. It has been a long and sometimes challenging road with these two people.

So my husband and I, our frustrations are the same at the base level, but somewhere along the line there is a divergence based on our personal experiences with them, AND our individual interpretations of the events as they have occurred. My husband responded to this “last straw” in force, removing them from social media, his phone and sending an email lining out his actions. He had taken one final personal offense from them and he would have no more. Truth be told he had every right to be offended by what they did to him, but I’ll digress from that point.

I, on the other hand, in an attempt to try and maintain (or rather regain) peace, decided to have a conversation with the husband, my old friend. I thought I could see both sides of the situation. I thought I could have a heart to heart with my old friend and that we could work it out like adults. Unfortunately, I learned that  he assumed that my husband’s thoughts were mine as well, in totality, despite the fact that my husband told him we had a difference of opinions. We were The Burkes and one representative of The Burkes had already spoken on our behalf. Anything I had to say was treated as subversive backpedaling. I found myself speaking with someone who wanted to further the disagreement by twisting my words and using contradicting statements to confuse the issue further. He refused to answer direct questions, and refused to speak his heart. Instead, his ego pervaded and I found myself defending my husband instead of talking about our individual struggles, person to person. It was as if he could not see me individually.

It hurt me. I have always prided myself on my individuality and I thought that this person, of all people, could still see me standing beyond the conflict. We have a friendship that spans more than two decades after all. But I’ve learned that people quickly forget or maybe they choose not to remember certain details.

I’m realizing that we married individuals need to learn how to fiercely protect our individual nature, and take care to make our individual thoughts, feelings, and opinions heard. We must speak our own heart. We must help others to see the nuances of our own personal being. Otherwise we run the risk of feeling objectified, overshadowed, and outcast.

I am also realizing that being a married individual also means asserting your individuality within your relationship, as it promotes dialogue in important situations. Your partner will know that speaking with you about important issues before reacting is key to good communication. There will be less assumption, and more clarification. You each must weigh in on your own thoughts and then discuss how you want to handle the situation at hand, because regardless of your efforts, people will see you as one, versus seeing you as a couple of individuals who loyally support each other. Speaking to your partner in life fosters even more togetherness, kinship, and openness.

joseph-campbell-quote

I want to share these 10 tips on how to honor your relationships with the married individuals in your life.

1. Listen carefully- Observe them as you would a single friend:
When a married person is speaking try to pay attention to their individual character traits and communication style. Pay attention to their likes and dislikes, their passions and their frustrations, their feelings and their fears. See them as themselves. We each have unique gifts, motivations, and interests.

2. Don’t forget that sometimes opposites attract:
Are your married friends opposites? Think about your experiences with them and notice the differences. Maybe one is more vocal, while the other more reserved. Maybe one is more happy-go-lucky while the other is more serious and intense. Nurture the individual qualities that you like in each person, by connecting with them on common topics.

3. In conflict, always see each person as an individual:
Do not ever assume that your married friends don’t have their own opinions. Unless they have made a united front totally evident, take care to hear each individual’s own voice. You will learn things that will not only help your relationship to grow, but you will be better equipped to resolve conflicts with each person.

4. See each person’s individual talents, struggles, and milestones- and celebrate them:
Again, take cues from how you interact with your single friends. Talk to your married friends individually about their dreams, ambitions, and achievements. Pay attention to what is going on in their lives.In the realm of coupledom, it is easy to rely on a married individuals partner to let you know when there is cause for celebration, to sing the praises of their partner’s hard work. But if you’re true friends, join the chorus.

5. Don’t remove yourself from the support system of your married friends:
It is easy for us to assume that married people have it easier, because they’ve always got another person to rely on. And yes, in some cases that can be true. But, we all need our friends. Married individuals can feel alone in their togetherness. We all need an ear outside of our marriage. And I think that many married people will agree that often the role of support system becomes a bit heavier after our vows are said.

In being The Burkes for example, it is assumed that Adam has my back, and I have his. Yet, that can be taxing on an individual. For example, when I lost my grandmother, the supportive role fell almost completely on my husband. This was hard on him, I know. And it would have been a benefit to us both to have our individual friends reach out, to sit with us, to listen, or to share a hug or a meal.

Be that person to your married friends. Wouldn’t you want them to know that you are there for them? Wouldn’t you want them to feel safe coming to you with their greatest achievements, worries, and grievances? Foster a relationship of mutual respect, openness, and safety. If you don’t, your married friends will begin to feel that their personal struggles are a burden to you.

6. Take people as they come:
Following my grandmother’s death, we experienced a string of bad luck and I found myself in somewhat of a depression. This is when I began to have health problems as well. And the sad truth is that despite all the friends that I saw on a regular basis, no one knew this struggle, except for my husband. It was as if I was expected to bounce right back, and I was never asked how I was feeling. I was never given a safe space in which to say “hey guys. I feel like shit. I might need some time.” Instead, it was as if I was supposed to resume business as usual, and if I was not myself, it bred feelings of resentment, anger, and frustration on the part of my friends, where understanding, concern, and empathy would have been much more appropriate.

In their eyes, my husband seemed fine, so why wasn’t I? In their eyes I was being a moody bitch. They did not see that I was depressed and grieving. They did not see that my anxiety was a driving force behind my  interactions, or that darkness licked at my peripheral vision, and sound filled my ears to the point of disorientation, for some months after she passed. Going out and putting on a happy face was a tax on my soul. My heart was broken and the contents were flooding out. I was drowning in sorrow, and no one seemed to have the time, the perception, or the concern to see that. I felt utterly alone and misunderstood. I felt like I had to put up a front or risk losing my “place” in the hierarchy of our social network. And I couldn’t keep up the facade. I broke, and no one could understand it. No one tried.

7. Ask questions, lots and lots of questions:
It is your duty as a friend, to ask questions and reserve judgment. If you don’t take the time to understand another person, the fault is your own. Your judgments and perceptions if not validated by facts, are merely a projection of ego and emotion.

8. Don’t treat people as objects, commodities, or place holders:
I mentioned in the text of #6 that I felt like if I did not show up, and put on a happy face that I was going to lose my place in the hierarchy. It has come to my attention recently that some people see their friends in terms of the roles they play. For example, I know a girl who has to have a “bestie”/BFF/best friend. For her, that role can be filled by anyone who fits a certain set of criterion. For awhile, I fell into that role, because I matched her list of pre-requisites: fun-loving, party girl, can hang with the guys, somewhat lazy, willing to do whatever she wants when she wants, always their for her, and never puts themselves first.

I did not realize that my attributes were being stacked up against this list until I began to have bad days, days where my depression overwhelmed me. Suddenly, this girl whom I’d gone great lengths to support in her time of need, was no where to be found. You see, she was on the rebound from her own depression, one that I’d battled with her, via long conversations over text, web chat, face to face conversations, and impromptu meetings in the middle of the work day, in which I’d drop everything to go to her place of business and console her when tears and sorrow were her constant companion.

I was so happy to see her rebound, and to find a happier state and way of being, yet, in her rebound she lost sight of our friendship, and my needs. She had become self-involved, and all she wanted was to have a good time. I was too sad for her. I was “bringing her down”. Suddenly, my place in her life was up for grabs, and would be awarded to the girl who is most willing to stand by her side and do shots, party, and generally act as if life was all fun and games. She did not have time for me because she found it a burden to be there. Time spent at my side, was time she could have spent cutting up and having a good time with the next most willing person.

But that’s not how friendship works. You have to be willing to sit with your friends’ sorrows. You have to be willing to let the good times take a backseat in order to be there for another person. Sometimes you need to help another person climb out of the darkness, instead of kicking them down and as you clamber for the light.

At the end of the road, if you’ve treated everyone in your life as an object or a placeholder, you will find yourself a product of your own consumption. Depths of soul and depths of connection come from riding out the highs and the lows with your friends.

9. Accept “no”- drop expectations:
When I was a single girl, I flew by the seat of my pants in a lot of situations. I was my own person, and I said “no” when I wanted to. And that was generally o.k. It did not make or break friendships. But now, as a married individual I’ve found that “no” becomes less acceptable. People assume that if you’re married without children, that you have a heck of a lot of free time on your hands, and that you should always be available.

Suddenly, people expected us to have a damn good excuse if we weren’t going to attend this or that function, party, or event. It has been a bit of a troublesome process to help our friends see that if we decline an event, it’s not a slight against them. Some people can be rather sensitive about these things, but consider this- when you are single, you have one agenda to manage (unless you have children of course), but when you’re married, you have at least two. In my family, for example, our parents live in different areas of the country and we have large families, so suddenly we have multiple holiday events for every individual holiday. We have birthday parties and family functions galore. We constantly feel as if we are juggling these events, while maintaining our social circle.

Sometimes we (married couples) say “no” because one of us isn’t feeling up to it. For me, if Adam is not interested in going out, I usually stay home too. It’s not because I don’t have my own mind, but for me, it is a matter of respect for him, and as well it is important to me to spend time with him. Yes we are individuals, but we are also committed individuals who see the importance of occasionally blowing off plans for pizza and movies with our sweetie. That should be o.k. with your friends. If it’s not, talk to them. Help them understand.

It’s also important to remember that even the best couples disagree. It is none of your business when they do, unless they choose to tell you about it. Consider that their may be issues they’d rather not share, that affect their ability to participate in your event. Respect their privacy needs, but be there when they open up.

It’s not that married individuals don’t need their friends as much (I’ve heard this a few times), it’s that we have more on our plates, and some of us need down time to decompress, to do our self-nurturing self-work, to reflect and to enjoy kicking back with our soul mates. We sometimes just want a weekend to ourselves. Making demands of your married friends time without trying to understand their obligations and individual needs is selfish. Setting up unrealistic expectations, will eventually damage your connection to your friends. As I said before, take them as they come, understand when they don’t. Have faith and trust in the bond you’ve built. Don’t let petty shit, destroy your relationship with another person.

10. Don’t rely on social media to show a person that you care:
This stands true for all your interactions with others, not just married people. I think we can all agree that while social media is a helpful tool, it will never replace real interaction. It is a lazy convenience. Put some thought behind your interactions with others. Make homemade gifts (I often make mix cds for my nearest and dearest), write letters and postcards, and spend time with them whenever possible. Put your heart into it. If you want them to know that they are in your heart and on your mind, show them with your actions.

go-often

If you know a friend you can fully trust, 
Go often to his house 
Grass and brambles grow quickly 
Upon the untrodden track.”
Hávamál  (Sayings of the High One- The Word of Odin)

 

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