By Heather Barrow
My husband and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary this Thursday. Last year after I published a blog on How to emerge from a health crisis with a rock solid marriage, I received a lot of feedback with most comments including the words ‘perfect family and marriage.’ Our family may take a perfect picture but our imperfection is what keeps our marriage and family strong. On my way into the HRH office this morning Tim McGraw’s song Better Than I Used To Be came on the radio and the first verse jumped out at me. For me, it describes how I have felt on every anniversary, birthday or milestone we have celebrated. I’ve gotten a lot of things right in in life but probably just as many things wrong. It is how you use the mistakes to make yourself better that counts. While I have made dozens of mistakes, I will focus on the top 10. Cheers to 10 years of marriage and 10 mistakes that made me Better Than I Used To Be:
1. Putting our kids before our marriage. Any mom of a NICU baby knows it is virtually impossible not to put your preemie first above everyone else. That experience makes you fear any future bad thing that can happen to your preemie and his siblings. You cherish the gift of your child and that makes every aspect of your children’s lives the most important thing in yours. I’ve had to re-focus my priorities knowing that if I don’t put my husband before my children more often than not, over the long-term my children will be worse off. They may not always like being second and third fiddle, but they will one day appreciate the gift of happy parents who stayed together.
2. Not taking time for myself. Take one look at my toenails and you will know this is not a mistake I have adequately addressed. I cannot find even 30 minutes in a month to get a pedicure. I will say I am on the road to recovery as I just returned from a weekend trip in Las Vegas with 3 of my childhood best friends where I had a great time and got my toenails painted! We have marked that weekend for our future annual girls trips. I realized after I refilled my tank in Las Vegas that I was able to give more to my husband and my family. I plan to make myself a priority going forward.
3. Having unrealistic expectations. I am a notorious perfectionist and Bennett thankfully is not. My expectations for how and when he handles problems that arise are never in touch with reality, and that is a recipe for disaster. I have learned that however (and whenever) he gets to a conclusion is not wrong just because it is not how I would have done it. This was (and is still) a hard one for me, but I am taking baby steps.
4. Letting my social anxiety keep us home. I must have over a hundred invitations we have RSVPd no to since 2009. From charitable events to dinners to birthday parties, the thought of having to make small talk with someone I barely know makes me sweat. My social anxiety is another unanticipated outcome of my long-term hospital stay, when for months anyone could walk into my room uninvited and I would be forced to talk as long as they wanted to stay. Bennett did not have the same outcome and actually enjoys a fun night out with a crowd, so I have made a much better effort recently. Case in point is attending a close friend’s recent dinner party for 60+, where we not only had a great time but I made some new friends too!
5. Bringing friends’ problems into our marriage. Our friends all got married around the same time as us, and through the years different friends have confided in me with problems they are having, and vice versa. While not disclosing details that may give the friend away, I would test the waters and gauge Bennett’s reaction by telling whatever was going down. I always expected he would have the exact same reaction as me, pure annoyance at that husband. Bad idea, he saw right through it and rarely agreed with me. I have finally learned not to create drama where this is none.
6. Not dealing with the post-traumatic stress we both faced after Hill’s discharge from the NICU. For six years we have not really dealt with the trauma our family experienced with Hill’s birth. Worrying our baby might die every minute of every day for three months created stress and anxiety that won’t go away without professional help, which we never got. I dealt with it by forming High Risk Hope to help other families, and Bennett dealt with it by being super dad to our kids. He does the things every day for our family that many wives couldn’t picture their husbands doing once. Not just cooking, cleaning and child-rearing but painting a yellow brick road for a Wizard of Oz birthday party. While productive and positive, these reactions are not normal or healthy. In the future we will deal with this head-on, rather than burying it under other accomplishments and obligations.
7. Not going to church enough. The couple that prays together stays together. My family always makes church a priority when we are in the middle of a crisis. My generous and unsuspecting Pastor, John DeBevoise, gave me his cell phone number in 2009 and I am not afraid to use it! I want to start going to church every week to ward off the crisis, or at least be fully prepared when one hits again. My beliefs may not be the same as yours but find something to believe in and do it as a family on a regular basis.
8. Letting external drama consume too much time. We all have family drama with work, friends, parents and siblings. It is in my nature to dissect every detail of drama from every angle imaginable, and then talk about it some more. I would bet Bennett might say this is the most annoying thing about me. He will put up with it to a point then cut me off, which drives me crazy because I have more to say. I have learned to limit my discussion with him and call my sister, mom or a few close friends, who will happily enable me.
9. Not leaving work at work. There’s not much to say about this other than I have been known to eat, breathe and sleep HRH. While I believe that is tolerable around our important events, it is not OK year-round and I need to have firm boundaries about what/when I bring HRH home (or on vacation :0).
10. Forgiveness. Although Bennett’s mom will be the first to tell you he’s a catch, he makes mistakes too. He has earned my love and deepest respect over the past 10 years and doesn’t make big mistakes often. When he does, my forgiveness needs to come faster than it has in the past because he deserves it.
We went out of town (without kiddos) to celebrate this weekend and it poured rain on Saturday to be followed by this beautiful rainbow and champagne sent to our hotel by a special aunt and uncle of Bennett’s. Hopefully a sign of many more challenges to be followed by happy times to come!