When we got married, our dear friends and officiants gave us this great little sign that reads, “Kiss slowly, forgive quickly.” I literally look at this sign every day, but didn’t get the depth of its instruction until reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.
I’m talking about forgiveness, as in your ‘daily bread’ variety. People talk about it all the time like it’s the key to everlasting relationships, but I never understood what the big deal was. (Sometimes, I can be a little thick-headed. I like to think that I’m not, but yeah, I can be.)
The dictionary says forgiveness is, “to cease to feel resentment against.” If you’re in a relationship, you’ve probably met resentment. It’s the cereal nugget that sticks on the side of the bowl every morning because he doesn’t wash it out. Or the underwear that I don’t want to pick up again. It’s the shaving cream splash on the bathroom mirror. Those moments where you (I mean me) clean up and quietly store away that little resentment so when the opportunity comes to lose my temper, I can unleash it in a tirade of “you nevers” and “I always.” Oh, so not a good place for an argument to go. Typically those swirling conversations (the ones that go around and around) lead to the relationship going down the toilet. Well, I’m committed to make this marriage of mine work, so I don’t want to go there.
But I did.
Our last argument (which happily doesn’t happen very often) ended with me pulling out the list of “I always” and “you never” regarding how we can or should spend our money. Upon reflection (and some lighthearted laugher from watching “The Marriage Ref”), I could finally find some humor in the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” In our latest spat, Husband was only coming from the place that is so totally and reliably him: frugality, security, fiscally conservative, caution, etc. In other words, he is always looking out for our best financial interest. He’s wise with money in ways that I was never taught. In our quarrel, I was only doing what I always do, which is to “put the idea out there,” “trust in the universe and it will provide,” “make big plans and dream big dreams.” I can’t imagine why we don’t see eye to eye [smirk].
Sometimes I just need to remind myself that we are on the same team — the kind of team that needs to kiss more slowly and forgive more quickly. Gilbert talks about “learning how to accommodate your life as generously as possible around a basically decent human being who can sometimes be an unmitigated pain in the ass. In this regard, the marital kitchen can become something like a small linoleum temple where we are called up daily to practice forgiveness, as we ourselves would like to be forgiven” (italics mine). I need to stop collecting those little nuggets of resentment. They are weighing too heavy in my pockets and are making my hips look fat.
It’s a bad habit. I need to click and move on. Now, if I can keep my self-awareness, next time I’ll just laugh and shrug my shoulders and say “yep, there’s Husband, being himself again.” I do know what I signed on for, after all. Husband’s stability is high on the list of qualities that I fell in love with. It is ironic that my favorite qualities about him are the very ones that I throw back at him when I’m angry.
Gilbert continues, “Maybe creating a big enough space within your consciousness to hold and accept someone’s contradictions — someone’s idiocies, even — is a kind of divine act. Perhaps transcendence can be found not only on solitary mountaintops or in monastic settings, but also at your own kitchen table, in the daily acceptance of your partner’s most tiresome, irritating faults.”
Forgiveness and acceptance are the only ways I can see releasing the resentments that pile up and weigh me down. I don’t want to fling “you nevers” and insults to my lifelong partner. We won’t make it all the way if I keep that up (or “go all the way” either, if you know what I mean). I don’t want my words to wound.
“Forgiveness,” writes Gilbert, “is the nurse who knows that such immaculate mergers are impossible, but that maybe we can live on together anyhow if we are polite and kind and careful not to spill too much blood.”
Thank you, Ms. Gilbert, for sharply driving the lesson home for me. Now, I’m gonna get off the cross. Husband will want to sell the wood.
by Expert Mommy, Jen Hibbits