While in Cleveland, one of my friends asked, “Has this trip strained your marriage or made it stronger?” She is someone who asks big questions (if you don’t believe me, check out her site www.pardonmyfringe.com) so there is never any small talk between us. It took me a minute to respond. I later asked Matt the question. It turns out we had the same answer, “Both.” It has strained our marriage because it can be tough having two strong personalities living together 24/7 in a very small space with constant childcare (and homeschooling) duties, continuous boat repairs, and none of the modern conveniences that make life easier (e.g., a fridge, washer/dryer, dishwasher, etc. – I confess to asking a Cleveland friend if I could open her fridge and just stare into it …). At the same time it has made us stronger because whenever you do something challenging as a couple (e.g., have children, take a trip), it makes you see what the other is made of. How can I not be in awe of someone who was supportive of my idea for this trip? And by ‘supportive’ I don’t just mean that he was willing to do it but that he took quick and decisive steps to make it happen (telling friends the plan before I could talk myself out of it, getting the house ready to sell, finding the boat, etc.).
The ‘both’ answer is also linked to a question another friend asked, “How have you changed internally?” I didn’t have an immediate answer. I’d love to say I’m more relaxed, cool and flowing … and that I thrive on living in the moment. The reality is that it just shines a light on how damn uptight I am. I thought leaving everything would change me but, as someone said to me before I left, “Remember that you are still bringing you with you.” I am understanding this in a new way. At the same time, I sometimes feel like a constant self-improvement project. The thing is, if you are always ‘working’ on yourself and trying to get better, it seems that your fundamental assumption is that you are flawed, not good enough, broken, somehow ‘less-than’ and that things (i.e., your life) might be better if you were ‘fixed/not broken.’ So this is part of the strain on the marriage – you are working on yourself and trying to fix your stuff while having it be SO apparent what your stuff is. You can’t escape it by going to the office. Back in March, I had a dream that Matt and I were in a two-on-two battle. We kept switching sides so we alternated being on the ‘bad’ or ‘good’ team (this made sense in a way that only dreams do). Right before I woke up, I was on the good team and so was Matt. We were ensnared in a huge fishing net that was full of a bunch of junk, essentially trapping us. I was hacking at the lines with a knife trying to set us free. After we talked about taking a second year for the trip, Matt said, “Wouldn’t it be so great if we figured out our ‘stuff’ and were really healthy after this trip?” I think that’s the symbolism of the dream – free yourself and stop dragging around your baggage (e.g., grief, disappointment, fear, anger, whatever past stuff inhibits your present). And maybe the answer is just to stop trying so hard and R-E-L-A-X. This is where faith comes in … trusting that the Universe will deliver what you need, when you need it and that the Universe’s plan for you is probably much cooler than anything you could dream up on your own.