I made the mistake in my prior marriage of attributing too much to outside factors.
(Side note: I think our words of choice are quite telling. I’ve gone from saying “my marriage” to “my first marriage” or “my prior marriage.” without any thought. Interesting. On a side side note, only 2 1/2 weeks until the wedding!)
And there were plenty of external factors to blame in the final year of my marriage. On my side, I was dealing with a horrific work environment and working long additional hours doing math tutoring. It was easy to understand why I was stressed and burned out; I allowed myself no time to relax. On my ex’s side, he was facing a scary health crisis, uncontrolled hypertension, that was defying an underlying diagnosis and treatment. He had experienced several episodes of losing consciousness and frequently felt ill.
When he seemed “off,” I blamed it on his fear and his illness.
When I seemed anxious, I blamed it on my borderline-abusive situation at work and the associated stress.
It made sense that he would be scared of his medical condition and what it might mean. It made sense that I would be carrying stress about work.
But those were merely scapegoats for the trouble within. I believe his illness was caused by the tension of maintaining the facade he created. I think I wouldn’t allow myself to relax because some part of me was scared of what I would see if I did.
The problems were inside of each of us but it was so much easier to point fingers at the outside.
But that’s not to say that the outside not impact what happens in a marriage. After all, no relationship occurs in a vacuum. I’ve been reminded of this recently (luckily in a good way!) with Brock.
When we first moved in together, I joined him in his town home. There was some stress involved. First, I was the new one in his established space – never an easy transition. Additionally, the place was on the market and so we knew that our time there was limited. The next house, the rental we just left, allowed us to jointly establish space, yet the general disrepair of the place as well as his mourning the loss of a home that he had personalized, added some negative energy. And, now for the first time, we are in a home together that we both feel good about and can establish from the beginning.
And it’s changed us.
There were certain behavior patterns or traits with both of us that I had viewed as innate, internal. But now that we are happy in our space, those patterns are changing after only a week. For the better. Although we both have generally positive attitudes about temporary situations, the stress of unsatisfactory housing had its impact.
I had been blaming the inside when this time, the fingers should have been pointed outwards.
So what’s the lesson in this?
Relationships are built upon a complex interplay between internal and external factors. It makes no sense to discount the impact of either when trying to understand or improve a situation. The outside influence can be used to your advantage, thus the often-heard recommendation to take a vacation to reinvigorate a flagging relationship. It can also harm a relationship as it applies external stressors. Don’t be too quick to place all blame on the outside but also don’t neglect its influence. The reality is that most issues in a relationship have internal and external factors. Pay attention to both.
In math, we use the acronym “FOIL” to teach the multiplication of binomials. It stands for first, outside, inside, last. This same acronym can be modified for relationships:
Meaning, first look to outside influenced on your relationship. Often times, just recognizing their impact can make a difference. Other times, you can actively work to change your environment. But then, look inside and make sure that you’re aligned there as well. If you only take one perspective, you’re only looking at half the picture.
As for me, I’m happy to be on the far side of 2 1/2 years of housing stress and I’m enjoying where we are in this moment. Both inside and out:)