Monday, April 30, 2012

Bad Stuff, Take 3: Teen Gossip and Marriage Counseling...

This entry is a continuation of the "Use Everything, Even the Bad Stuff" blog entry from a few days ago, and I know this is the entry some of you have been waiting for.  It seems like the blog that will be the juiciest or the "laundry" that will have the most stains on it.  My teenage gossiping days and my days of going to marriage counseling probably will be the most viewed...maybe the most read...but probably not the most entertaining.  I am slowly turning my life's profile to a less photogenic side and showing my "bad stuff" in hopes that it can be used to help someone, so can use everything, even your "bad stuff."  Warning...this blog entry could change your mind about me.  I am going to be honest and very open. 

4. I enjoyed hearing and sharing gossip in JH and HS...

Most people love a good gossip story.  People Magazine sells more copies per year than Self or even Good Housekeeping.  This is the world as we know it...watching Inside Edition or Entertainment Tonight each night to get the latest scoop on people we don't even know!  But, the "inside scoop" on people we do know...that is so much more alluring.  I admit that I was caught up in this in my teen years. 

As an adult, I like to catch up on people's lives, know how they are and what they are doing.  I do not yearn to know all their business or the secret things.  That is not to say that I am not finding myself in the middle of a gossip session from time to time, but I will find a way to exit the conversation. 

What I mean is that there is a difference in hearing "Gertrude has 3 kids now, got divorced last year, and is struggling to find a job now that she cannot be a 'stay-at-home' mom anymore" than in hearing "you wouldn't believe what happened to Getrude...her husband left her for someone at work.  I cannot believe she didn't see that coming because she did not fix up at all and stayed home all day...poor thing has to go back to work but cannot find a job because she doesn't have any skills except taking care of kids, all because she dropped out of college when she got married..."  There is a difference between finding out general information presented in a non-judgemental way than gossiping. 

My pet peeve...the thing that irks me so much is the gossip that is disguised as a "prayer request."  I will go as far to say that I HATE that hypocrisy; saying, "I have something for you to pray about" to preface your disguised gossip session about someone else is so much worse than just talking about people openly over coffee and bagels. 

Gossip serves no benefit to hear.  How many people can say they are uplifted by finding out that Jennifer Lopez is thinking about getting married again or that the new movie out with Zack Effron isn't any good because there wasn't enough skin showing in their love scenes.  I admit it though...I read all the covers of the magazines at the check out stands, and I rationalize purchasing them from time to know, the ones with the future king of England on's historical, right?  :)  Seriously though, when was the last time reading that celebrity gossip actually benefited my own life?  (I am thinking ahead to purposefully decide what book I will bring with me to the pool this year...maybe even a book of pleasure like The Great Gatsby, yeah!)

Gossip hurts.  I had a turning point from gossiping; it happened the summer between my Senior year of high school and my Freshman year of college.  It changed me.  I worked 3 jobs that summer...daycare 8 hours a day then either to hostess at a restaurant or light office paper filing for 3-4 hours every night after the daycare job.  I hostessed on weekends too.  One Saturday afternoon, the other hostess and I were talking about the cashier who was dating one of the cooks.  The other hostess said, "Look at her...she looks like she is pregnant."  I looked at her, and to be really did, but I said, "No, probably not pregnant, just getting fat."  I cringe as I think back because I would be appalled to be in a conversation like that today, but I said it then.  I did feel a little guilty after talking about her, but I justified it because she was unfriendly and rude to us most of the time.  Here's the problem with gossip: it doesn't usually just stay between the original of the waitresses heard us talking and told the cashier's boyfriend (one of the cooks) that we were discussing his girlfriend either being pregnant or fat. He confronted us and stood up for her.  He told us that we were awful people and that they didn't "do anything" that would get her pregnant.  He told us we were mean...and, he was right!  I felt so badly about it, convicted about ruining whatever character or testimony I had with the people at the restaurant.  I knew that I should go to the co-worker and apologize.  I went first to her boyfriend who accepted my apology, but, of course, he told me that it was not really about him.  He told me that his girlfriend had heard about what we said already, so I shouldn't expect her to be happy or even willing to talk to me.  I was scared to death, humbled like never before, but I asked her if we could talk.  She said that she didn't want to talk to me and didn't want to hear anything I had to say.  I said, "I am sorry" which was all I could get out before I went to the bathroom to cry a little and gain my composure; my words, mere words, didn't even get her to look up from what she was doing. 

The next night, I went over to her as soon as I got to work and said, "I know I don't deserve even one minute of your time, and I don't expect you to forgive me.  I know what I said was cruel and wrong.  I am sorry that I said it, truly sorry.  You don't have to respond to me, but I wanted to tell you that this experience has changed me and that I will not talk about people like that again."  Again, she didn't even look up from her paperwork, and I walked away.  It was hard for me, a seemingly "good girl," to face deserved judgement from people whose "bad" behaviors I had quietly judged for months.  I was the disgusting, sinful person who'd ruined my reputation.  Eventually, the cashier opened up to me, maybe she saw that I meant my apology.  We even became people who interacted with a "strained friendship" which was more than we had before I cruelly talked about her.  The saddest part of this story is that I didn't know how deep my comment cut her.

A few years later...when I was in my 2nd year of teaching...there was a student teacher who talked about his fiancee who was a nutritionist.  She became a nutritionist after battling with an eating disorder she got in college because she struggled with her body image.  At our staff Christmas party, he brought his fiancee with him...and there she was, the cashier from the restaurant. 

You never know what an offhanded comment will mean to someone else; you can never take back what you say.  Apologizing can lead to forgiveness, but forgetting is sometimes impossible.  Gossip does not benefit anyone, and it definitely hurts some is a snare that disguises itself in many ways...

5.  I have been to marriage counseling...

I have been married a long time, almost half of my life.  I married Eric when I was 20 (turned 20 three days before I got married) and he was 22.  He was finished with college; I was not.  We had a sum total of 1 premarital counseling which happened to be on the only topic we probably didn't need counseling on: money management.  I thought my quiet guy who avoided social settings and intimate conversations would suddenly change into an emotional strong tower the moment we said "I do."  I seriously thought we would instantaneously become close when we lived together, sharing a house and a bed.  Made sense to me... 

Fast forward 10 years...there I was, a deep thinker who longed for emotional intimacy with my husband, Eric, who happened to be a very hard worker who enjoyed surface level, fun activities and nothing too "touchy-feely."  We lived in the same house and shared two great daughters, but honestly, we were not on the same page anywhere...except maybe money management. :)  I was loving being changed by serving on short-term mission trips, and Eric was supportive but mostly along for the ride on that one.  Eric wanted things to be comfortable,  and change was something he loathed.  I needed change, and I wanted my life to be interesting and meaningful beyond the walls of my own house.  Neither one of us was "wrong" or "right," but we were not "together" emotionally or spiritually.  You can only live with someone like that so long before life feels pretty miserable, on both sides.  Eric went to stay with his parents for a couple days just so that we could live peacefully alone instead of avoiding each other all the time.  I felt broken, alone, like I had this huge weight on my shoulders, and he wasn't suddenly happier being apart. 

What to do?  53% of marriages end in divorce...divorce might be the easier route for 2 people who were a little mis-matched from the beginning.  We didn't get the support we thought we would get from some of our friends and family at first.  Someone called right away to say that s/he wanted us to keep our "problems" quiet so that other people wouldn't find out and go for counseling with his/her pastor...the meeting was already set up for us...It was pretty much, "show up at this counseling time, and my pastor can fix you guys up before anyone finds out."  My response was, "wow, all I needed to hear right now was something like, 'Are you okay' or 'Is there something I can pray for'."  Another person advised Eric to just do what would make him happy, but he told her/him that leaving his marriage wasn't going to make him happier.  Eric and I just couldn't see how to make it work out.  The ironic thing was all of our "helpful" friends and family members who were trying to fix us actually did move us back toward each other.  When I reached the end of my tolerance and had enough of the intrusions...who did I call?  I called Eric, and he came back over right away to rescue me from all of the well-intentioned people who were trying to tell us what to do.  The problem with our "helpers" was that all of them were emotionally invested in us or our marriage, and that actually was not going to help us. 

I asked a good friend for a counseling referral, and we got the name of Chuck Lynch, a counselor at Living Foundation Ministries in Blue Springs (by Con case you want to go).  I was told that miracles happened in his office, so we went.  The first session looked like sitting at one end of the couch quietly crying the whole time while Eric sat at the other side of the couch listening intently to the counselor.  We had a little homework which entailed dwelling on only the positive things about each other.  We had another counseling session about 5 days later where we sat a little closer on the couch and talked about what we liked about each other.  Chuck, the counselor, got to know us better by asking us specific questions about our likes/dislikes, etc.  I will never forget his comment, "I really like you guys and think you both are great people, but I gotta did the two of you get together?  I mean with interests so diverse and your 'perfect day' being described as reading a book on a blanket and watching clouds as you have a picnic (me) which is SO different than a 'perfect day' of watching a basketball game while getting your back rubbed (Eric)...I just want to know what attracted you to each other."  Good that moment, we remembered that we did fall in love...we did commit to spend our lives together and raise a family together...even if we were as different as the ocean and the stars.  We remembered our connection to each other before all of the "other stuff" that clutters it like mortgages, grocery shopping, gas prices, and even kids. 

The next few sessions of counseling consisted of Eric taking charge of things and making decisions about opening up emotionally which was hard for him.  I knew that it was hard for him to do that and him going through those steps willingly made me respect him so much.  Six weeks later, we were sitting next to each other on the couch, holding hands as Chuck Lynch looked at one of my scrapbooks from a mission trip.  Chuck told us that he really enjoyed spending time with us but he would feel bad about taking our money just so we could hang out.  He said that we didn't need to come back unless we needed to have his counsel some other time in our lives.  Honestly, the transformation in 6 weeks was a miracle; I went from thinking "my life would be so much easier if I was alone" to "wow, this is going to turn into something good" in that very short time. 

Chuck's parting nugget of wisdom was that we needed to join each other in our interests...very good counsel for any other seemingly mis-matched couples out there.  So, occasionally...Eric will stop and smell the roses with me, and I will catch a game with him.  We came to a place where we don't expect so much of each other, and we started to accept each other the way we are without expecting changes.  Now, 8 years and one new daughter later...things are good.  I am not saying that there aren't "those days," but there is always a rainbow after a storm...

There is no shame in getting marriage counseling when you need some help in your marriage.  DON'T HIDE when you need help!  A crack in a marriage can be mended before the dam breaks wide open to a broken marriage!  You go to the dentist when you chip a go to the emergency room when you break a go to school when you need an go to church when you need to be fed spiritually...who hides a festering sore so that no one will see it?  No one go to the doctor.  You wouldn't stop eating altogether just because you have have a soft diet while your teeth are sore.  You get my point, I think: Don't Hide your problems...learn to use everything...even your "bad stuff."    

To be continued....  :)

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