A slight adjustment to the yoke

(Blogger’s note: Still in the midst of Life Change Week.  Don’t worry, we’re getting somewhere.  Tomorrow’s entry will be the final one in the series, unless the Sacramento Kings do something totally bone-headed in tonight’s NBA draft and raise my blood pressure …)

Some of you might think that after ten and a half years of marriage, the Supermodel and I would pretty much have all the kinks worked out and everything at this point would be smooth sailing.

There’s a word that describes you if you think that.  The word is “single.”

Marriage is a constant, neverending series of adjustments and compromises, as two completely different and ever-changing people, yoked together like farm oxen, learn and re-learn (and re-re-learn, and re-re-re-learn …) how to live with each other and actually enjoy it.  Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes the two parties don’t really try to make it work and just let it fall apart, scattering shrapnel everywhere.  (Naming no names.)  When it works, there is almost nothing on earth that’s better.

In the last few weeks, the Supermodel and I have had to make some more adjustments.  Mostly I.

Part of the background to this is how each of us were raised.  I (as you now know) grew up in a functionally single-parent household with a mom who was a fully-functioning, work-outside-the-home, this-is-my-life feminist.  (Which I still think is totally cool.)  She loved me and my brother dearly and took very good care of us (whether my brother believes that now or not), but was still a thoroughly independent woman.  This was her best-case scenario after my parents split, and she made it work and work well.

The Supermodel’s parents had a different setup.  They are still married, and have been for 43 years this summer (I should hope to do so well).  Their working relationship is more of the traditional variety, where Dad went out to work and Mom stayed home, cooked, cleaned and volunteered for charity work. Her mom didn’t have a lesser role, just a more passive one — Dad was the decision-maker, Mom carried the decisions out.  It’s still this way, except that Dad is now semi-retired and usually works in a back room of the house instead of going out.  This was their best-case scenario after they got married, and they made it work and work well — if anything, even better than my mom did.  Which is saying something.

So you have a guy who wasn’t given a great example of how to be a husband (see yesterday’s post for details) who’s sort of winging it on his end, hoping for a far more equitable relationship than the one he’d had modeled for him as a kid, and largely expecting that he and his wife will both work, bring home the bacon and have lives outside of just each other.  And you have a gal who (consciously or subconsciously) expects that her husband will make the decisions, take care of everything major and tell her what needs doing and when.

Anyone else smell a problem a-cookin’?  One thing that’s helped is that neither of us considers divorce to really be an option.  Divorce is something you do when every effort to work out major intractable problems has failed, and staying together would be worse for our kids than splitting up.  (In the case of my parents, it was.)  The problems we still have are neither major nor intractable, and our children are doing quite well.  So we aren’t quitting — or as I like to joke, “We don’t believe in divorce.  Suicide, maybe, but not divorce.”  (Okay, it’s a sick joke.  I beg your forgiveness.)

Needless to say, with the “easy way out” not an option for us, both of us have had to make a lot of changes in our expectations over the last decade.  The Supermodel has had to take responsibility for different things than she’d planned, and her outside-the-home job has meant relinquishing (if reluctantly) some of the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing duties.  I, meanwhile, have had to learn a totally different method of fathering than the one modeled for me — less raving control freak, more supporting nurturer — while at the same time understanding that a perfectly equal feminism-recognizing partnership is not really in the cards.

It’s that last one that’s been the recent problem for me.  Especially since school is out until August 17, so both the Supermodel and I are in each other’s hair a lot more than we’re used to.  We’ve taken measures to deal with this, to give each other space, but they only go so far.  This leads to unintentionally hilarious situations like this morning, when she asked me for permission to get some stuff out of the office that she needed.  (“You don’t need my permission — it’s your stuff!”)  She overreacted, I overreacted, and there was a little tempest in a teacup for about forty seconds.  Looking back, it’s funny; at the time, it was just weird on both sides.

It was a similar situation a couple of weeks ago — both of us passive, her waiting for a signal to act, me waiting for her to take the bull by the horns — that led to a three-part revelation which I shared with her:

  1. our marriage was getting really boring.
  2. she didn’t seem to mind that much.
  3. I was worried that I’d be tempted to do something non-boring to liven up my life, which might really bollix things up.

See, in her family, “boring” might simply be a sign that things are working well.  In my family, it was a calm that presaged the next storm.  If her parents are quiet, they’re content; if mine were, one of them wasn’t speaking to the other.  Same symptom, totally different causes — and totally different reactions on our part.

So what’s to be done?  Well, both of us have been working on fine-tuning our perceptions since then, trying to see things from the other’s point of view.  But for me, there has been an added dimension, a case where — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — there was something I needed to learn.

And that was what leadership really means.

The example of leadership I’d gotten growing up around my dad was, “give orders, usually at the top of one’s lungs, and punish or force those who don’t obey.”  This isn’t the winning strategy it might seem at first blush.  In fact, it tends to make people LESS willing to follow a leader when he does things in this fashion (imagine that).  At the other end of the spectrum, meekly hoping that someone else will take the reins doesn’t work in my case, since with the Supermodel unwilling/unable/combination of the two to grab leadership, you’ve got two people just sitting there, hoping for a landslide to carry them where they’d like to go.

In between is the example Jesus set.  He sought God’s will, said “follow Me” and took off.  If people followed, they followed.  Since there are now approximately two billion of us that at least claim to follow Him in some way, you can’t say it didn’t work.  Look in the Gospels, and you’ll see there was almost no pressure applied, no several-step process (unless you count “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me” to be one), no immediate vindictive punishment if you didn’t.  The only people he ever got angry with were Pharisees and the like, who’d refused to follow Him anyway, so no loss.

Furthermore, Jesus communicated what He was doing to those who followed Him.  He didn’t always make sense to them, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.  In some cases (like the start of John 11) he told them three times, and the last time did the equivalent of spelling it out using really small words (little Princess Bride reset there), and only then did they get it … sort of.  Eventually they worked it all out, like I suspect He knew they would.  But either way, He kept them informed.

In essence, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, led the way a shepherd leads — walk out in front of the sheep, and they’ll naturally follow.  Occasionally you have to use your rod and staff to communicate that no, the pasture we’re going to is over thisaway, but otherwise just keep walking and they will go where the shepherd does.  You can’t drive sheep the way you do cattle; they don’t understand the idea of a prompt from behind, a shove or jab.  They see what’s in front of them and work with that.  God calls us His sheep, and in this case it applies.

I’ve been trying to put these ways into greater practice.  I left myself a little note that said, “lead — don’t follow, and don’t force” as a reminder to myself that it’s direction that will give direction, not superior firepower.  And instead of assuming that the Supermodel can read my mind, I’m working on communicating my thinking more clearly.  It’s only been a few days, but I’ve noticed that neither of us are as tense as we were, that we both have a little more focus.  She’s content with following, and I’m more at peace that at least someone is leading the way (even if it is me).

Who knows where we’ll have taken this yoke ten-and-a-half years from now.  But I’m pretty sure that it’ll be farther on than here.  We’re moving onward … and, I think, upward.

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One Response to A slight adjustment to the yoke

  1. “We don’t believe in divorce. Suicide, maybe, but not divorce.”

    I like that. My wife and I have something similar. Since we refuse to use “the D word” between each other though, even in jest, it goes something like this: “Well, if I can’t get rid of you any other way maybe I’ll just have to kill you.” Then we’ll get into a humerous discussion about making it look like an accident, how much insurance we have on each other, and/or where to hide the body.

    And hey, we must be doing something right, cuz it’s been working for nearly 34 years now. [grin]

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