Our first year of marriage was really hard.
In one sense, you might have looked at our first year of marriage and wondered how we couldn’t have been blissfully happy.
We were living on the twenty-first floor of a beautiful condo building overlooking the ocean in sunny south Florida. Our wall-sized sliding glass doors opened to a balcony where we could watch the sunrise every morning. Any time we wanted, we could wander downstairs with coffee and books—to our private beach—and dig our toes into the sand.
But there were also a few outside circumstances that made our otherwise luxurious surroundings less-than-comfortable. First of all, we got married pretty quickly. Only four months passed from the day we met to the day we got married. Then, nine days after our wedding, I moved from Portland, Oregon (where I was from) to South Florida, where my husband was living and working at the time.
In the blink of an eye, my whole life changed. My city, my family, my friend group, my church, my job, my last name. Everything. It felt like my entire identity had been stripped away in the blink of an eye.
We fought about everything. Stupid stuff, mostly. How the dishes really should be loaded in the dishwasher. If the clothes should be divided in the washing machine. Whether a kitchen garbage can belonged under the sink or out in the open. We had conversation after conversation, working hard to find our balance, hoping that we would someday figure out a solution to (at least) live peaceably together.
But for reasons that had nothing to do with the washing machine, dish washer or garbage can, I would always walk away from our arguments, seething, thinking the same seven words to myself:
“I don’t deserve to be treated like this!”
Those words became like a mantra for me, like a fixture in my brain, almost like an obsession. The sentiment they represented was, in my opinion, the obstacle, the enemy, the problem that needed to be fixed. How could I get my husband to treat me the way I deserved to be treated? What I didn’t realize was that while the words were the obstacle, it wasn’t in the way I assumed.
It wasn’t marriage advice that changed my mind about those toxic 7 words. It was business advice. My husband and I had, together, started a small online magazine and I was determined to find a way to make managing the publication my full time job. I hadn’t ever really aspired to be a business owner, but since I really wanted to work from home, doing what I loved, I started devouring business books.
I had to figure out a way to make this work.
One of the books I read during that process offered this interesting sentiment: Too many small business owners who can’t get their products to sell think the customer (or the market, or the law, or the “overhead” or whatever) is the problem. A lack of personal accountability, this author argued, was tearing businesses down before they could even be built up.
This idea really struck me.
Could my lack of personal accountability, in my marriage, be tearing my marriage down before it even had the opportunity to be built up? Could the seven words I thought pointed to the problem I was facing actually be the problem themselves?
So I decided to try something different. I asked my husband a dangerous question. I said, “are there ways you wished I treated you differently?” In other words, I wanted to know if (and how) he felt he deserved to be treated better. He hesitated, waiting to make sure I was serious about asking.
Then, carefully revealed several ways he wished I would treat him differently.
At first, honestly, I wanted to protest. He would say something I said or did felt disrespectful, and I would think to myself, “You’re just being too sensitive.” Or, “That’s totally jumping to conclusions! I didn’t mean that the way you think.” But the more I tried to silence my defense to hear his case, the more I realized I could do a much better job of treating my husband the way he “deserved.”
And, in that sense, I suppose I didn’t “deserve” as great of treatment as I thought I did from my husband. After all, I hadn’t offered him the simple thing I was longing for myself. But since the day we had that conversation, we’ve made a truce to treat each other not the way we deserve, but better than we deserve.
Our marriage isn’t perfect, but I can safely say it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Rethinking those 7 words has made all the difference.