Tag Archives: marriage counseling

From love to joy

Last Wednesday I talked about how the arrival of one baby coincided with the death of a dream (at least temporarily) for another.

During the first six weeks of Dominic’s life, doors with traditional publishers continued to close one after another. I received a lot of positive feedback from editors about my writing and the book, but no one was willing to take a risk on it in the current publishing climate.

It was difficult not to let this disappointment dominate my thinking or taint the joys that other areas of my life were handing me. When it comes to compliments and criticism, most people seem to be hardwired to pay attention to the negative – good marriage counselors will often tell you that it takes about five positive comments to counterbalance a single negative comment in a marriage. For me, this dynamic can come into play in other ways as well. A single negative can sometimes seem to overshadow a whole fistful of joys.

I’ve been thinking about this anew this last two weeks. Life in Laos can dish out both intensely good experiences and intensely frustrating ones and some days it’s a struggle not to let the frustrations (circular saws screeching right behind the house all day, ant bites in unmentionable places, sore neck and back, no ingredients or oven to make chocolate chip cookies when the mood strikes, crying baby) overshadow the good things in life.

So as we transition from love to joy in this series, it seems fitting to catalog some of the things that have helped fill my joy cup this past week.

  1. The cool weather appears to have arrived to stay for the next couple of months!!
  2. A husband who took the baby in the 5’s on Saturday and Sunday so that I could sleep.
  3. Two hours of uninterrupted writing time on Saturday.
  4. Walking down by the river in the cool dark of evening with Mike, pushing the pram and chatting.
  5. Celebrating Halloween with friends here with a perfectly behaved baby, the charming movie Stardust, and big bowls of kettle corn (how have I reached this age and never before experienced the deliciousness that is kettle corn??).
  6. Mike arriving home by bicycle for lunch every day this past week.
  7. Friends here announcing their engagement.
  8. Not having to do the many loads of laundry Dominic generates (how is it possible that one small being can triple an entire household’s weekly laundry??)
  9. Cointreau, tonic water, lime, and ice.
  10. Eliciting Dominic’s first real laugh (it took about 200 repetitions of peekaboo, but let’s not dwell on that).
  11. Watching Dollhouse episodes while breastfeeding.
  12. Chocolate ice cream at AB bakery.
  13. Lime green walls and passionfruit sorbet.
  14. Coming to a decision about the future of book baby (come back on Writing Wednesday for the next installment in that tale)…

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is joy.

Over to you: Do you find that the negative in life disproportionately influences your mood and thinking? And what has helped fill your joy cup lately?

Advertisements

Speaking of families…

Last week I wrote about the extended iterative dialogue that it takes to co-ordinate a McKay family holiday (or a trip to town to get bread for lunch). When Mike read the post that night he laughed.

“That’s ten conversations and four emails you put out before I emailed my parents about this,” he said.

There were at least two reasons for this. The first of those is that Mike is considerably busier than I am at present. The second is something I’ve learned since getting married…

[Drum roll, please]

Not all family systems operate the same way.

I know, it’s a total revelation, isn’t it?

Mike and I met for the first time, after three months of letter writing, in Australia. He flew over from PNG while I was home for holidays and came to stay at my parents place with me for ten days so that we could figure out whether or not we were going to date.

On his first morning there, my Dad marched out onto the porch and handed him the phone.

Mike looked at him blankly.

“You can give your parents a call and let them know you’re here safely,” Dad said.

“Uh,” Mike looked confused. “I emailed them. They know where I am.”

“But don’t you think you should give them a call?” Dad asked, while I tried not to giggle.

“If I call them from here, they’re going to think something’s wrong,” Mike said.

“But they might be worried about you,” Dad said.

At that I did giggle. Mike had spent much of the last two months on remote islands in the South Pacific, and I had been in Ghana and Kenya. Neither of us had rung home during any of these trips.

I knew what Dad was doing. He wasn’t just trying to assuage any worry Mike’s parents may have been feeling about his safety. By handing Mike the phone and inviting him to use it to make a long distance call he was less trying to send the message, you should call home, than the message, our house is your house, make yourself totally comfortable.

The problem was, Mike was only picking up on the first of those messages, and he was starting to look a little hunted.

“But if I call them they will be worried about me,” Mike said.

As I recall this ended in a stalemate. Every couple of days for the first week Mike was there Dad would wave the phone in his general direction and Mike would look confused and a bit uneasy.

Now the following is offered with the disclaimer that I still have a lot to learn about Mike’s family. I may not exactly be on target with this, but here’s one thing I think I’ve learned so far: Mike’s family tends to be more direct than mine.

If Mike’s family wants to make you feel at home they say, “make yourself at home.” When his Dad wants to make me feel part of the family he gives me a hug and says, “welcome to the family.” His Mom says, “I hope my son is treating you right and, by the way, if you have any arguments I’m on your side.”

When Mike and I decided to get married I expected (in theory, anyway) to learn things about Mike’s family – ways of doing things, styles of interacting – that were different than what I’d grown up with. What I didn’t expect was that I’d learn almost as much about my family.

They warned us in marriage counseling that, when in doubt, we should rely on the spouse whose family it is to interpret what’s actually going on and what the appropriate course of action might be.

“You should each act as mediators and translators for your own family of origin,” they said. “It can take five or ten years, maybe more, to really understand the family culture your spouse comes from.”

At the time I thought that was a little extreme. Ten years? Seriously?

But now, watching my own family through two sets of eyes, I’ve seen enough operating system collisions involving them and Mike that I’m not so sure anymore.

Don’t get me wrong – these have not exactly been “two oil tankers meeting at high speed on a freeway” moments. They are usually more “two rowboats drifting past each other in the night” moments. But one thing they have taught me is that while my family can be direct, we are also, often, very indirect.

A couple of months ago Mike and I were with my parents on a ferry in Canada. It was crowded and busy, so Mike stood in line and got us both all some food while Dad went to find a table. Mum and I wandered over when they’d gotten everything sorted.

Bacon cheeseburger, as requested, and French fries. (Yes, there were many valid reasons for finding – when I weighed myself on a baggage scale in Vancouver airport the night we left for Laos – that I was five pounds heavier than I had been one month earlier).

Anyway, back to my burger. My burger that had mayonnaise on it.

When I opened it up and saw this I said, “Oh yuck,” and proceeded to scrape off the mayonnaise.

About ten seconds later, my mother leaned across the table and said to Mike, “When Lisa says ‘yuck’ she doesn’t mean, ‘you screwed up’, she just means that she doesn’t like mayonnaise.”

“But I did screw up,” Mike said, “because I knew that, and I could have asked for no mayonnaise. But what you’re saying is that I shouldn’t take it personally when Lisa’s not happy?”

“Yes,” Mum said, not even glancing in my direction.

“Oh Mike,” I said, leaning across the table beside Mum, and grinning. “That’s one of the things Mum is saying, but it’s not even the most important one. The primary message in what she just said wasn’t for you at all, it was for me, and that message was: When Mike has stood in line for twenty minutes to get you lunch don’t you open up your burger and say “yuck” you little ingrate.

Mum laughed.

“You’re very good,” she said. “That’s exactly what I was saying.”

“No!” Mike was dumbfounded. “How could you possibly get that out of what she just said???”

“How could you not get that???” I asked.

Mike took a bite of his own burger and sighed. “I don’t understand how you – an Australian – managed to grow up mainly in Africa and the US yet turn out to be so Asian in your preferred communication style. On the bright side, I guess you’re going to fit in well in Laos.”

Share