It was a slow death.
Not a major trauma—like a shooting or stabbing—that killed the marriage.
More like a terminal illness that could have been cured with early detection.
Despite having lived with my wife in my house for seven years, the daily surroundings don’t trigger memories and emotions within me the way one might expect.
But the opposite is true of places we visited together.
I took my son yesterday to a learning and discovery center geared toward teaching children about plant and animal life on farms.
While we waited for our friends to show up, we spent time playing on a little playground near the parking lot. The last time I stood there, it had been the three of us. The family. Dad. Mom. Son.
And it was a little heavier than I wanted it to be.
I didn’t feel it in the morning at the house in which we lived together.
I didn’t feel it looking into the eyes of our beautiful son who we made together.
But I did feel it standing on this relatively nondescript playground in a place I’d only visited a few times.
It’s because those are the moments. Sometimes they don’t feel like they matter now.
But they often feel like they matter later.
This Fleeting Life
My rhododendron bushes have bloomed.
My house looks particularly nice from the street for about two or three weeks each year. That small window is now.
The bushes stand there, green, nearly all year round. But during this short period as spring gives way to summer, they bloom, their vibrant pinks and purples providing a rare splash of color to enjoy each time you pull in the driveway.
They’re here today, gorgeous in their rarity.
Soon enough, perhaps even from the next hard rain, they won’t be. Because I watch this cycle year after year, I’ve learned to appreciate the moment. I’ve learned to appreciate how special and fleeting their simple beauty truly is.
I’ve learned to pause. To look. And look.
Willing the image into my mind. Willing gratitude into my heart. Willing more growth into this body.
Because these little things are the big things.
These moments are life.
How We Break Connection With Those We Love
I’ve written several times about my favorite book on male-female relationships—How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.
I think the reason I believe it’s such an insightful, helpful book is because it, within the first 25 pages, absolutely nailed the way my marriage (and certainly millions of others) ended.
Authors Patricia Love and Steven Stosny wrote this about the female tendency to practice fear avoidance and the male tendency to practice shame avoidance, and how that instinctual behavior and dynamic poisons our relationships.
“Women build alliances with other women by doing what they learned in early childhood: exposing vulnerability. Marlene doesn’t have to mention to her girlfriends that she feels sad, unhappy, lonely, or isolated. They infer from her body language or tone of voice, just as she can tell if something is wrong with them. As soon as one woman senses a friend in emotional need, they become more interested and emotionally invested in each other.
“But what do you think happens when Marlene tells Mark that she feels bad? (She has to tell him—his defense against feeling failure and inadequacy has blinded him to her emotional world by this time.) You guessed it—once she forces him to face her vulnerability, he feels inadequate as a protector. He responds with typical shame-avoidant behavior: impatience, distractedness, defensiveness, resentment, anger, criticism, or ‘advice’ that sounds an awful lot like telling her what to do.
“After a while, a woman will stop exposing vulnerability to the man in her life and turn more to friends, allowing the emotional void in their relationship to fill with resentment. Marlene doesn’t know it, but she already has one foot out the door. The probable catalyst for their breakup will be one of the following. Marlene becomes ill or depressed or loses a loved one. Feeling inadequate to help her, Mark withdraws emotionally yet again, leaving her to face her ordeal completely alone. When she recovers, she will see no need for such an unreliable alliance and leave him, thinking that they have grown apart. The other likely breakup scenario has one or both of them starting an affair, Marlene to ease her sense of isolation and Mark to prove his adequacy. Fortunately, a breakup can be avoided by paying attention to each other’s innate vulnerability.”
And so we’ll think back on all that time together.
What destroyed my marriage?
And you have the tendency to think about how the relationship changed when your child was born.
Or how the relationship changed when you lost your job.
Or how she completely changed when she lost her father.
But those are just like the highlights on your curriculum vitae. The real job experience was gained going to work every day in each of those listed positions.
Those traumatic moments were opportunities to temper the marriage in fire. To make the relationship stronger than before. An unbreakable force forged in a little bit of sacrifice, a little bit of paying attention, and a whole bunch of choosing to love every single day.
It wasn’t the big events that changed my life.
It was the seemingly inconsequential ones. The things we take for granted.
But life gives us occasional glimpses of truth to help us keep our minds focused on the right things.
Like a random playground.
Like the fleeting beauty of a rarely seen blossom.
Like the very next time you speak with your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.
An opportunity to make better, wiser choices.
An opportunity to take nothing for granted.
An opportunity to stop, to breathe, to look, and cherish all the beauty that surrounds us.