Spring Cleaning

“When you pick a partner, you pick a story. So what kind of story are you going to write? You are the editors of your life stories. Write well and edit often. And remember … a life story is not a love story. You can love a lot more people than you can make a life with.” ― Esther Perel

Recently my husband Scott went away on his own for a week, to go rock climbing. For my birthday.

We made this plan for him to go alone because as our relationship has evolved over 20 years, it’s so clear how different we are. I am an entertainer. I enjoy having people over. Scott is an introvert. So I gave him, and myself, a gift.

I said, “I’m going to have a birthday party, and I want you to leave.”

The guy I married was an adventurer, he was always going on rock climbing trips. He worked as a paramedic, saving people from fires and such. I fell in love with that adventurous man.

But, as we settled into married life and became parents, he stopped living that life. He essentially bookmarked that version of himself. He had a story that he couldn’t do adventurous things anymore because he felt he had a moral duty and obligation to make sure he kept himself alive, so that he could take care of his family

As much as he loved being an adventurer, he gave it up. And that was really kind of the kiss of death to his soul.

Now that our kids are older, he has given himself permission to go on adventures again.

I had planned my birthday party to take place in his absence, then the novel coronavirus shut everything down. So I canceled my party. And then he came home. And we had a family dinner for my birthday instead.

We hadn’t seen each other for a week.

That night, we were laying in bed, next to each other. And I was really wanting to connect with him.

In general, he doesn’t like to talk about his feelings. And he’s had this low-grade headache for a long time, from an old concussion injury.

I’m thinking, he’s been gone a week, I’ve been holding myself together while he was away, dealing with the kids, COVID and fear. And then, when he came home, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I thought we’d have this amazing homecoming, but instead it was tense between us.

And I thought, I desire to have the same level of intimacy and connection in my marriage that I have with my friends!

So, lying there next to him, I asked him if he was willing to play with one of my Mama Gena tools with me, “Spring Cleaning.”

With my sisters, when we do Spring Cleaning, I don’t bring story or judgment to my conversations with them, especially with those who are trained in the tools of Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts.

In that program, we learn to be in full permission of each other; we are invited to be our messiest selves and to hold space for our own and each other’s messes, because we know that every human has their wisdom, and they will access that if given the right space and witnessing.

Sometimes, when we are trying to witness someone, especially if that someone is our spouse, we show up with these stories of this person. We think we know who they are; instead of meeting them as a new being — where they are now — in every moment.

My husband and I assume that since we’ve been with each other for 20 years, we know what the other person is thinking.

But the truth is, in every area of our lives, we never know what another person is thinking.

So, enter Spring Cleaning. With my husband.

I’m not gonna lie. It was kind of a mess at first.

I had to work to stay patient, to try to explain the tool. I felt frustrated that he wasn’t as cooperative and easygoing as my girlfriends are…

“Would you be willing to Spring Clean with me?”

He was cautious about the invitation.

And I was feeling sad.

He just wanted to tell me about an experience he had where he really felt cut off, at dinner.

I told him, “If we use the structure of the Spring Cleaning tool, it will allow me to keep my mouth shut and hold space for you to have your experience.”

So, he did it.

He said: “I know it was your birthday dinner, but I was in the middle of sharing stories….”

The boys had asked him to talk about his paramedic days and I had interjected something, and he felt silenced. My interrupting was silencing him. That was his experience.

He said: “You have a lot of rules about how we are supposed to communicate.”

There are a lot of things my husband and kids feel they are not allowed to say. Because in general I don’t want to hear people complain, they end up feeling cut off and they can’t come around to understanding themselves.

(I don’t allow it or give it space, because I get scared. I think, not only am I dealing with my own emotions and my own shit, now I will have to hold space for them, and I barely have enough capacity to hold space for myself! It’s hard being a human. But I didn’t say all of that.)

Because we were doing Spring Cleaning, I simply said, “Thank you. What else do you have on feeling like you can’t say what’s true for you?”

At first he said, “I’ve said all I’m going to say.”

And I said, “Tell me more. What else do you have on feeling like you can’t say what is true for you?”

“No. I’ve said it all.”

“Thank you. What else do you have on feeling like you can’t say what is true for you?”

He said, “I’m afraid that you do it to the kids, and you silence all of us by interjecting, interrupting, controlling.”

(My inside voice is like “Fuck you, no one else says that to me!  I’m a great communicator! All my friends tell me so.”

But that’s not my family’s experience of me. Whatever they want to share that sounds the slightest bit negative, I come back at them with some recording, a YouTube video, Listen to this! No. You’re wrong.)

My ego was in complete chaos, hearing all of this.

He really went for it.

He really said what was true.

Because I love and trust him, and I know in the end he wants the same thing that I want, which is connection, he was truthful with me and I was able to allow it by keeping my mouth shut and sticking to the rules of the game.

“Thank you. What else?”

It was amazing. We got to the other side of something for him.

He shared with me things that were hard for me to hear about myself.

I felt vulnerable. Growth is painful. And yet, if we are willing to sit and listen to somebody’s interpretation of the parts of us that are less than pleasant, there are great gifts in that.

It takes a lot of trust. It really takes sitting in the discomfort, but I did it because I knew that the other side of it could be a deeper and more intimate connection with my guy.

And that is what happened

And then I did the same thing.

I said, “I would like to do a Spring Clean on what’s true for me which is that I desire intimacy and connection with you, and I feel misunderstood.”

So he said, “What do you have on feeling misunderstood?”

I went for it. I said everything I could ever have possibly said. Things came out of my mouth that I didn’t even know were true for me.

On the other side of it, I felt like that conversation was the highlight of my birthday. Because all I want is to love and be connected with my husband. But in daily life, I find myself not sharing things or not saying things to him, because we have a history of making each other wrong so often.

He thinks I’m Hippy-dippy.

I think he’s over-analytical.

I think he’s really rigid and judgemental and critical, and guess what? He thinks the same of me.

We are absolutely mirrors for each other. It takes real slowing down and real wisdom to be able to see that.

Recently, I heard Esther Perel say, “Do you want a love story or do you want a life story?”

Love stories are often short-lived.

Life stories are love stories transformed. People who have epic lifetime relationships do that by being willing to do the harder thing.

If there’s anything true about Scott and me, we are willing to do the hard thing. (This is a Glennon Doyle reference: “We can do hard things”).

Scott and I really are willing.

We’ve navigated financial upheaval, Scott’s lifelong negativity bias, and my very short fuse for victim language and anger and judgment — my father was so-much-that, that the moment I see it in Scott, when he demonstrates any hint of those behaviors, I’m like a vigilante; NO, not in this house, you may not!

We have done so many things wrong, but we’ve also done more right than wrong, and that’s what makes this such a good marriage.

I have felt like I wanted to punch him sometimes and I also wouldn’t trade him for the world. I know the same is true for him. I can drive him fucking crazy, but he adores me. And all that makes for a passionate, connected, and interesting marriage. Divine Hustler on Relationships

Our marriage works because we are both willing to tell and listen to each others’ stories of what’s wrong. And — what is equally important — we are both willing to contribute to writing the story of the life we want to create together.