The Marriage Series: Communication is Key
1. How long have you been married?
I have been married for almost eight years.
2. Did you love your spouse when you first got married? Do you love your spouse now?
I love my husband. The people whom I love the most are my children and then my husband. Love is a tricky word and it has multiple meanings including multiple feelings.
When I first married my husband, he meant everything to me. Our future together was the reason I worked hard. Do I love my husband now? Yes. But the love is definitely different. I won’t say I love him less, but I will say the love I have for him is more mature.
I don’t have butterflies when I look into his eyes and I don’t feel fireworks igniting throughout my body, but I do feel a great amount of appreciation for my husband. I love him for his patience and for his presence in mine and our children’s lives.
3. Do you have children, and how have children affected your marriage?
We have two beautiful kids together. We had our first child in our second year of marriage. Before our first child, we were focused only on each other. A day in our lives early on consisted of waking up, going to work or school, coming home at the end of the day, eating together, showering together, going to bed together and repeating the same routine 24 hours and seven days a week. We felt on top of the world. All we needed was one another. This sounds very cliché of what love looks like or feels like and it is! We married at ages 19 and 20, too early.
When we had our first child, our lives changed dramatically. Our love and marriage was tested. My body began to change, my routines had to change, and my expectations changed. It was a wakeup call, a good one. It was a reality that was rough but one which we both needed to grow psychologically and spiritually.
I felt alone in my pregnancy journey. I felt defeated trying to go to school full time, working part-time, attending pre-natal visits to the gynecologist, and returning home as a young nyab (daughter-in-law) to cook and clean. Cooking and cleaning were the least of my priorities, but it was mentally exhausting trying to please others while sharing a space that I didn’t belong in. What made my pregnancy felt especially lonely, was the fact that my husband was a mama’s boy. He was not mindful of the life we were building together and the little life we were about to bring into our lives. He was comfortable, too comfortable. For these reasons, we drifted apart.
Within the first month of our child’s life, I resented my husband. I was bedridden and felt helpless and less of a human being. Our laundry bucket piled up over the days, the room became crowded with too much, and my child did not want me which made me feel worthless. I felt depressed. I thought these were the most difficult days of our lives as parents, but I was wrong.
Trying to raise your child up around people who have different values, different lifestyles, and different parenting approaches is complete chaos. Trying to raise your child while silencing your own voice was an outrage. What was most upsetting was my husband who did not help me in setting boundaries. Our toes were stepped on, as a matter of fact we were trampled on like carpets.
As I matured and aged, I began to discover my voice and began to speak up for my child. The cost of speaking up for our children and my marriage? A bad nyab. That is a title I can live with. I’ve learned “how you think of me is not my responsibility.” I learned in those years, if I wanted my child to grow up with a voice and be comfortable enough to be himself, his mother needed to model that for him. A great mother once told me, “no matter what we do, we will instill values in our children anyways. We might as well choose them wisely.” I needed to start instilling the values I wanted my children to have, not the ones my husband’s family was covertly or overtly instilling.
I didn’t think my husband and I would ever overcome this dip in our marriage, but I am grateful that we experienced this and climbed over this small barrier in our marriage. We are a married couple that is a work in progress, and we are now in a beautiful place in our marriage because of our early challenges. Having our children has helped me psychologically and spiritually. I am the woman I am today because of my children. My husband is the changed man he is today because of our children, our little family.
4. Do you live with your in-laws? If so, how does that affect your marriage?
My husband and I lived with his parents during the first half of our marriage. I am grateful for his family because we married at a very young age and at a time when we had nothing but ourselves. We had a bed and a place to call our temporary home. However, with that said, it definitely came with challenges and they were expected. We were living, or I was living in an entirely different place with complete strangers or as we like to call it, my new “family”.
There were definitely the good, the bad, and the ugly and like I said, these things were expected. I am in someone else’s territory. I had to learn to live an entirely different lifestyle and in doing so, I lost my voice and my identity. How?
- Asking my husband to do anything for me was wrong.
- Asking my parent-in-laws to care for your child a certain way was wrong.
- Any conflict with my husband made me wrong.
- Opinions, were welcomed, but not welcomed. They were all wrong.
Amidst all of this, as a young adult, you lose your identity. You struggle with your voice, your needs, your happiness, and with pleasing others. What did my husband do? Nothing. He reaped benefits from this sort of lifestyle, he always had.
This really affected our marriage. I became resentful of my husband. I expected him to stand up for us. I had a lot of expectations for him. I do admit now, I had a lot of power I didn’t realized then and for that reason, I was part of the problem. I had choices that I didn’t make out of fear. Now that I am older and I look back, if I would have said no more often than yes, my marriage would not have been so affected while living with his parents/family. But again, I am grateful for those challenges.
How did that period of our marriage affect our relationship? Well, most of the decisions we made were not the decisions we would have made if we weren’t living with his family. Most of the choices my husband made probably would have been different if we didn’t live with his family. My husband probably would have been more responsible during and after my pregnancy. I can’t change what happened in the past, but I am thankful we both worked hard for the future we now hold in our hands. We live on our own now and with that there are new challenges but challenges as a result of our decisions, no one else’s.
5. Describe the cycle of your marriage, from the beginning, middle, to where it is now. What were the hardest times? What were the best times?
At the beginning of our marriage, we were 19 and 20 years old, naïve, in love, and fearful. We were like two peas in a pod and did everything together. I supported him in his hobbies and he supported me by being present. We became very comfortable with each other halfway into our marriage and I believe, it is when people become too comfortable that problems arise. This is a result of not being present, appreciative, and grateful. Halfway into our marriage, we argued a lot, especially with children. We were probably 22 and 23 and exploring who and what we wanted to become. We were both overwhelmed with work, school, children, marriage, and life. We were both young and super inexperienced. This is not an excuse for our poor choices but it definitely played a huge factor in the successes and failures in our marriage.
With every new day, we grew further apart. We didn’t have the tools necessary to communicate our feelings and to fix our marriage. We didn’t say “I love you” anymore or kissed each other goodbye and goodnight. We drifted far apart. We were in a place in our marriage where I actually hoped he would commit adultery so that I could actually leave. I don’t have the words to describe what it was like other than “miserable”. We were both miserable and it was unfair for me, him and our children.
Our marriage is in a constant cycle of highs and lows. During our highs, we are happy, we are hopeful, we are present and mindful, we are productive, and we are supportive. However during our lows, we can be at our worsts. The most difficult time in our marriage happened two years ago. My husband and I had stopped talking. We could be in the same room, but made no effort to acknowledge the other or to hold a conversation. We slept in different rooms and intimacy in our marriage stopped entirely. Two months into the silent treatment, I threw in the towel. We separated but remained married.
I love being Hmong but being a Hmong woman had always meant that I was at a disadvantage. Our political systems had always been structured to the advantages of Hmong men. When we separated, I was the problem and I was wrong, I was always wrong. His family quickly rushed to his assistance and made sure he was happy, safe, and provided for. My family loved me but my parents felt ashamed. I was encouraged to go back and ua siab ntev (be patient). His family said, “seek counsel in us when you are both in trouble” but what they really meant was:
- Make sure she doesn’t file for child support
- Make sure you get value from the house if you both divorce
- Make sure you fight for custody
- Make sure you take everything you own
- And we will make sure this “leech”, me, does no harm to you and our family
We separated for two months and it was a struggle trying to readjust what was normal for us, me and my children. But, in those times apart we both learned to communicate, appreciate, protect, and fight for us, our family. When the tension between us ceased, we sat down and reevaluated what we wanted for our little family, our marriage, and our future. We silenced the pressures from his family, the hate, the discouragement, and negativity. We both put aside our ego and agreed to move back in with each other. We whipped together a letter stating what we commit to bring to our marriage and what we commit to let go. This was what helped our marriage, us. We helped each other reconcile our marriage, it wasn’t the relatives or our families.
We both could not have imagined ever climbing out of that dark rabbit hole, but we both did. We overcame all the challenges and potholes in our marriage. We are now close to being 30 and cannot be more thankful for each other. What I appreciate the most about my husband, is being by our side during all those times. I didn’t see that we could ever work again and despite him not ever showing it, he truly believed we would make it out of this dark period of our marriage. We did! We are now at a good place in our marriage. We continue to have challenges but these days it is different. We have both matured and have the tools necessary to reflect versus react. We still love each other and love the life we have built together with our children.
There were definitely hard times, especially during the birth of our first born but in those difficult times we also had our best times.
6. What advice do you have for young couples? What advice do you have for struggling couples?
My advice for young couples is to communicate with each other. Never assume the other person knows what you want and need. Never assume the other person knows how you are feeling. All these assumptions is what leads to a false reality. All these assumptions is what leads to resentment and contempt. If you feel disrespected, dismissed, unloved, hurt, or anything at all, communicate that to your significant other. Communicate in a way where your spouse will understand that you are coming from a place of love, not a place of lack. If your spouse feels unappreciated, compared, and unvalued, that creates a greater problem than the actual problem itself. Practice communication together by creating family rituals. Dedicate a specific day and place every week for the family/couple to gather and verbalize their emotions. Create a space where they are heard and feel safe to be heard. This is a great start to building great communication between you and your love.
My advice for struggling couples is to find the good in all of the bad. It is so easy to focus only on the bad stuff, but if we focus on the good stuff, we will find that there is more good than bad. Believe that your significant other only and always wants what is best for you. The little things can be overlooked when we become too comfortable. For example our spouse taking out the trash every time, driving us places, paying for dinner, putting down the toilet seat, etc., but these little things are just as important as the big things. If we pay attention to these little actions and believe they are done from a place of continuous love, we would love our spouse more every day. We would have many reasons to love and appreciate our spouse versus reasons to be upset and resentful. Fixing our relationships with our significant other always begins with us. What inner work do we need to do? By noticing all the beautiful and good things about ourselves, we are equipped to appreciating the beautiful and good things about our spouse. Believe in abundance and you will receive. Believe there is good and you will receive.