Thursday, April 28, 2016

Love, Hate, Separation & Determination... 10 YEARS as O'Briens

10 years people- this is some Special Edition next level blogging right here! 

As per ush, I don’t exactly feel ready to write the ol’ anniversary post I’ve been putting out for 4 years now. (Is it safe to say it's "annual" yet?) I mean who is ever really ready to write about their marriage?! Well besides Bey that is. Can you say #trennnding?!

If this is your first year reading the “anniversary post”, you may want to consider venturing back to my first marriage post where after 7 years of marriage I attempted to break down why Shawn and I got married in 19 days, as well as all of the struggles that came with that decision. (LOTS of cute courthouse wedding pics in that post if I don't say so myself). That blog got a great response... Hence posting again in year 8 and 9... Something’s got to keep the blog afloat, amiright?! I’m not going to go in to any of the reasons behind the “married-in-19-days” story in this post, so if you want the full effect just stop now and go back and start at the beginning. We’ve been married 10 years now so I can hardly blame anything as of late on 19 days.


One of the hardest parts about gathering the courage to write yet another marriage post is that first and foremost, I didn’t want to relive a lot of the last year. Followed by it's harder to blog when you work full time- #1 just the time involved in writing the post, #2 because these people you work with might actually read your blog (I mean who can resist a blog with a marriage title… They don’t call it click-bate for nothing!). I personally like to picture all of my co-workers leading A+ lives at home and would only hope they've conjured up that same thought for me?! (Is that what they call "wishful thinking"?)

Seriously, in my most perfectionistic way, I had every intention of getting to our big 10 year anniversary and publishing my whopping twice yearly blog saying simply, “Shawn and I fixed everything, we had an amazing year 9 since admitting to all of our issues and we plan to adopt a set of twins from the foster care system and implement world peace.” But you know… World peace is overrated when you can spend your time arguing over Target's bathrooms.

I digress. Last year, in my 3rd annual post “Because Marriage is Hard, Even After 9 Years” I blogged a couple weeks after our anniversary and candidly admitted I didn’t feel like writing about what I felt was a struggling marriage stuck in an on/off cycle of marriage therapy for years with little resolve. It’s been an entire year since that post and while I feel like we’ve had some of our biggest highs as a couple… It was a year filled with some incredibly hard times as we tried to navigate another move, Shawn taking some time off from full-time ministry and my re-entry in to a career.

I can honestly say I was pretty uncomfortable in not only my marriage but my own skin this time last year. I couldn’t find my footing anywhere. I felt like an outsider in every aspect of life, from being a wife, to running a small business with Miss Party Mom, all the way to motherhood. Nothing was coming naturally to me and it left me feeling anxious beyond belief.

Because of this and other things on Shawn’s end that only he can really speak to… We decided to put in to action a move out of Santa Barbara, a road trip across the country and essentially some [more] huge life changes. We’d come to the conclusion that more change was our only saving grace to get our marriage back on solid ground. And so we began. We began quitting jobs, packing up again and planning for another future where we could find our footing, for the 2nd time in two years. 

I remember new Santa Barbara friends saying, “Do you see a pattern here? You can’t just pack up when things get hard...” and other well reasoned thoughts about us leaving another town. The thing is, as I blogged about here- I just knew Santa Barbara wasn’t a good fit on so many levels. I knew that as hard as another move was going to be, uprooting Cormac from an elementary school he loved, saying goodbye to a new set of friends, another church, a steady income… I felt on every level I could possibly feel, that a move back to LA had to happen. That we needed to cut our losses, swallow our pride and admit our hastiness with that move all together. There were countless reasons for going “home”, the two biggest being we needed family support with raising the kids and I was ready to go back to work. LA just felt like the light at the end of a very long tunnel.

While fighting and packing and packing and fighting Shawn and I somehow decided to plan a road trip across the country, something we always dreamed of but never had the vacation time to do. Regardless of both of us being aware of our rocky marriage, a summer of travel was one thing we could agree on. As crazy as it sounds, road trips are where we function best. Even while we were planning the 6 week CA-FL and back trip, I knew ultimately that it would be a big ol’ bandage on an infection that had taken root in our marriage. An infection that smelled of bitterness, resentment, misunderstanding, and at times, anger and a dash of hate (for good measure). In a weird way, I was ready for the Band-Aid. I knew we could not only survive 6 weeks traveling the country, but thrive, before going back to reality.

The bandage would be the means to an end and it worked, without fail, as it was intended to. We saw the country as a family in our 1959 Chevy wagon and Shawn and I had moments of laughter, fun, adventure and bonding. But when we came home, back to reality: to unemployment and bills and a dwindling savings account… We came back to… The infection!

Damn that infection… The bandage was so good I’d almost forgotten it was there.

But there it sat, ready for treatment, ready for some magical RX. Ready for someone to acknowledge that something wasn’t right and the fighting and the silent treatment and the walls… They had to give. The infection had taken over and the Band-Aids were all gone. The store wouldn’t even sell them to us anymore.

So after weeks of settling in to our new home in LA, with yelling and anger and downright awful communication… After so much thought it hurt... Shawn and I decided to try a short term separation.  (Every good friend of mine I didn’t tell is currently all WTFFF!!? Sorry the Christians are like WTHHH!!?). I really don’t want that last sentence to come across blasé like I think separating is some mild thing. No, nothing about that decision was easy. It was mind blowing hard. Like I don’t even know how people survive a divorce hard. Telling the kids was the worst thing either of us has ever done. I felt like my chest was literally caving in some days at the thought of us not living in the same house- at the thought of ruining two thriving children. But like our move back to LA, we knew that separating was crucial to the marriage surviving.

I’m sure some people didn’t get the separation. I’m sure some of you reading this are thinking maybe there could have been another way- that God doesn’t desire marriages to separate. Personally I felt the separation was a turning point for us and a gift from God. Trust me, I get the irony that Shawn left Santa Barbara as a pastor, and a few months later we were separated. I’m not here to convince anyone, Christian or otherwise it’s what they should do if they’re in a struggling marriage- or that any of things Shawn and I do are for anyone else! We march to the beat of our own drum and that beat isn’t going to be for A LOT of people.

With the separation, there was no more showing off the Band-Aide as the solution. When someone moves out, it’s for the world to see that things have gone to shit and you’re not even remotely interested in faking it anymore. No one separates because they’re doing great. They separate because they feel like the space might be the only thing that can save them. We separated because we couldn’t be in front of the kids without yelling and blaming and speaking condescendingly to each other.

In the midst of the separation, our friend (who happens to currently be our pastor) showed up, quite literally, on our door step. It’s funny because in the course of our marriage we’ve had younger couples ask us to “mentor” them or provide marriage insight/counseling and I’d always say NO NO NO… We are not professionals; we don’t have a right to tell anyone about their marriage- you need a certified MFT (Marriage Family Therapist) to help guide you. And while I still hold to that in so many ways… It turns out when you’re in the midst of crisis, what’s most important is that you just have someone to listen to you. All great advice aside… Our friend just listened to us. While I yelled at him outside a Starbucks that he wasn’t going to dare tell me I couldn’t get a divorce because I was a Christian! and lots of other awesome things I’m very proud of… He listened first, prayed second and gave some light advice third.

When I had felt like he’d done all the listening I needed him to do, I turned to the advice. His advice was to go to a marriage boot camp called Relationship Lifeline for 4 days. I didn’t like the advice so I said no. I cried no. I told him I was done with counseling, NO.

I went home, cried some more, told God no 100 times… And woke up the next morning and got all of the info we needed for this so-called "boot camp".

With a new goal in mind of attending what I could only imagine as a "super serious 4 day marriage retreat", we decided we would remain separated until it was over. While Shawn saw the kids daily, obviously nothing about any of it was easy. The kids would cry at night. I would get frustrated. It was a reality check to say the very least. We kept communication simple knowing we didn’t currently have a foundation for anything deep at that point. We scheduled a couple of date nights with nice distractions like movies, and went to church as a family on Sundays. Essentially we were waiting in limbo for the miraculous boot camp. In my head I had conjured up a retreat weekend with cucumber water and group sessions where you talk about every fight you’ve ever had and how you did it wrong and practice new ways of doing it right. That sounded about right.

The boot camp ended up being about me. About little ol’ individual me and why I am the way I am, and how I got here. I don’t even really know what Shawn took out of it because by the end, I didn’t really care- as long as he got something. I got everything out of it. It was 4 of the hardest days of my life, digging up things from my childhood that I’d buried so far down I needed a jackhammer to access. I learned about my triggers and how uncomfortable anger makes me. I learned that I have walls that I put up to help me cope and that once the walls are up you’re going to need to do some sort of American Ninja Warrior moves to scale them. I learned that Shawn and I still had so much love, but had let the last 2 years of stress bury on top of all of the love. The boot camp was like removing rubble from an earthquake only to find a sweet baby still alive under it all. 

We came home and Shawn moved back in. 


Nothing with us is ever going to be perfect, or dare I even say, “easy”. We’re both strong headed, opinionated and quick to be right. We have different ways about spending money (he thinks food is important, I think home decorating is important), different ways about spending time, etc. The boot camp helped us learn about each other on a level I don’t know if most couples know their spouses on. I know that sounds braggy, but I truly don’t know how a person would ever get to know their spouse this intimately without going to something along these lines, forcing yourself to uncover and share things about your formative years and how they’ve shaped you in to the adult you are. Walking through meditation and forgiveness exercises and letting go of things you've been holding on to for years.

While I credit the "retreat" to steering us back towards the lighthouse, I also credit our role reversal. Me returning to a career and Shawn taking on the role as stay at home parent has been a huge eye opener on both sides. To completely switch roles in a marriage is a very interesting concept, one I'll admit I was hesitant to consider. For me to go from dishes and laundry to the stress of sole income earner… And have Shawn go from breadwinner to dishes and laundry and parenting that little devil sweetheart Birdie… I don’t know that we’d ever have gotten a taste of “the other side” without quite literally trading places.

Every year I write this I have some sort of marital advice based on our own experiences that I like to share. In the past it’s been to stop making excuses if you're having problems and go to marriage counseling... Break frame- I know! I am not going to tell you to sign up for a relationship boot camp- that is something you can gather info on and see if it's a fit for you. I'm also not here to tell you not to get a divorce or make you feel ashamed if you have divorced. If anyone understands how hard it can be, it's us. There are instances marriage is longer workable, and I get that.

But I do have this idea/analogy that keeps coming to me lately. Maybe it is because our kids are learning Spanish, but one day this concept came to me and I cannot seem to shake it.

When you get married, you’ve chosen, intentionally or not, to learn a new language. When Shawn and I first married we were thrilled we could say hello to each other in the new language… Baby steps! Yay!

But eventually you get bored with “hello” and desire to learn to speak in sentences. You haven’t yet learned the new language so you begin to speak in the language you know- because hello- language learning takes time! But the other person- they don’t for the life of them understand what you’re trying to say. They look at you puzzled and rather confused. And in your head, you’re confused- because you’re making complete sense to you!

Your spouse then responds in their language, but it leaves you downright frustrated…. WHY CAN’T THEY JUST RESPOND IN MY LANGUAGE?!

Because newsflash, they don’t know your language. IT IS FOREIGN TO THEM. Have you ever tried communicating to someone who doesn’t speak your language? Contrary to popular belief, speaking louder doesn't in fact work.

You don't know theirs, they don't know yours: a new language must be formed!

And you both need to CHOOSE to learn the new language. You have to work at it, maybe even taking evening classes if it’s not coming naturally! You have to figure out the proper grammar, syntax and pronunciation in order to become fluent. This is going to be easier for some than it is for others, but if you work at it, chances are- you will eventually learn it. At times, your accent will be terrible- so terrible you will have to take classes again… Because your native tongue is sneaking through! The new language has to be both of yours… A new way of communicating you never desired/imagined you'd have to learn! But you can learn it. If Shawn and I can attempt learning it- TRUST ME: YOU CAN TOO.

So in a nutshell, if you’re struggling with communication… It’s time to buy Rosetta Stone. What?

Speaking of languages we do not speak, we are headed down to Mexico this weekend for our 10 Year Anniversary. We married on a Wednesday morning in 2006 and headed down that weekend to Puerta Nuevo- and we’re going back! We got the first of MANY items we’ve since had stolen as a married couple on that trip (our camera) and so we plan to take lots of photos this time. (Follow our Mex-Adventure on IG here.)

Interesting fact about celebrating 10 years… When we married I clearly remember saying prior to our courthouse wedding, “At 10 years- do you PROMISE we can do a huge vow renewal with a fancy dress and all of our friends?” And of course, Shawn, beaming with nothing but ignorant bliss said, “Yes! Of course!”

Through the years I have even said, “At 10 years- we’re going to have a huge vow renewal. It’s going to be epic!”

And now, we are here at 10 years… And I can’t think of a less wise thing to do than to go in to debt over a vow renewal that I would be getting only due to cashing in on some blindly made promise 10 years before. And no matter how much I love parties and decorating and an MPM comeback… I love the fact that I’ve learned that it’s not worth it to push it. That we would suffer the effects of such an expense and the time invested in it for far longer than a night of great dancing with friends. That going to Mexico for 3 days is celebrating within our current means, even if it’d not what I had planned 10 years ago.

Plus, our mega 15 year vow renewal wouldn’t be nearly as special… RIGHT?!

My last little story is about a conversation I had with a hairstylist in TN who was doing my hair for a friend's wedding I was recently in. The hair stylist was a new-ish bride and after mentioning that I was approaching a 10 year anniversary she said, "You know what I hate? I hate when people say, 'Love isn’t supposed to be this hard'". I looked in that sweet girl's face and said, "Well that is some straight bull shit. 'Love' and marriage can be extremely hard... But hard doesn’t have to mean impossible." 

I truly feel like I have never loved Shawn as much as I do now. I have never enjoyed his company as much as I do now. We have never communicated as well as we are right now. And to get to this current place of contentment in our marriage, we had to go through some harrrrrd times. 

Because hard doesn’t have to mean impossible!


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