Marriage Interview 15: I Blamed it on Him
Patti and Jeff met in 1979. Patti and her sister had placed a want ad for a roommate, and Jeff applied. They had a great, long talk, and decided he wasn’t a fit for a roommate. Patti had just come back from Europe. She and Jeff hung out and became friends before he left for Europe six months later. Once Jeff went to Europe, they sent Aerograms (who remembers those? I have a bunch of them my husband wrote to me.).
Patty left for Alaska while Jeff was in Europe. She visited him in Europe in 1982 for a month, and then moved back to Alaska. When Jeff got back from Europe, he went to Alaska for work. Jeff moved in as a friend. Then he moved into her bed; friends with benefits.
Jeff left for Australia in late 1983, and Patti left Alaska as they had planned a rendezvous in Bali in 1984. They traveled together. This is when their friendship bloomed into a relationship. They got married in 1989; it was already a committed agreement between them, but they realized travel to Africa would be easier as a married couple, so they made it official.
Patti and Jeff went through two very difficult issues in their marriage, and resolved them both. The first was that they were living in New Zealand in 1992. Their first son was born in 1993, and Patti missed her family and the States. She wanted to move back; Jeff didn’t want to. They talked and brainstormed, stayed with give and take, and figured out how to make it work for both of them: they got dual citizenship. They both taught at Oregon State three separate times (1997, 1999 and 2002) for five months each time. It was a real compromise — and they both got their needs met. Patti was able to be with family for large chunks of time, and they returned to live in New Zealand at the end of each stint. Compromise is huge in their relationship.
The second issue arose when they lived in Costa Rica for a year in 2005. Patti told me she was close to divorcing Jeff; she had lost herself and given too much away being a wife and mother. Fortunately they recommitted to one another, and went to couple counseling. They did the work to get back on track. Patti and Jeff redefined their relationship and authority around raising their kids. Jeff was tired of being the “bad cop” with the kids, so both had to change their parenting some. One of the books Patti highly recommends is ==I Getting the Love You Want==.
Eventually Patti realized she was being co-dependent; she was acquiescing too much (e.g., he was vegetarian, so she was vegetarian). In an argument, he told her he had never asked her to be a vegetarian or to “comply” with what she thought he wanted. Patti realized that she was blaming him for a lot of stuff that were her issues — not his.
The watershed came when they finally talked about it — so much was unsaid and murky. When Patti saw the extent of her own codependency in the relationship, she did her own therapy to work on her issues.
Patti grew up in an alcoholic family that was chaotic and part of surviving that family system was to watch and read others to be safe. So Patti was doing the same thing with Jeff, even though he was not an alcoholic, and he was safe.
When they are doing well together, they are each others’ greatest champions (anchors). When there is a stressor, Jeff’s facial expressions can trigger Patti; in reaction Jeff will become monotone. Patti becomes loud and/or cries (wave), and she wants to talk and talk, and Jeff is an “I’ve got it” guy; he retreats (island). However Jeff can become “big” and be a wave when he wants to win. At times he fights to win. Then Patti will retreat to punish him. Nowadays they see this dance, name it, and move on. That is part of being anchors for one another.
One day about 10 years ago, Patti was at a bookstore with her son, looking at self-help books. Her son said, “Mom, you don’t need to read anymore of those. You need to write one yourself.” Ah, the wisdom of a child. Patti recently published THIS WAY UP: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life. It’s about creative positive reframing for life. Patti had a book signing at Books Inc., earlier this year. The book is part novel, and part workbook. It is geared toward women and how women’s close friendships are a huge part of life, yet there is a lot of powerful and useful information for men in it, too.
Patti’s Tips for Couples:
1. Keep communicating and working through it until you understand what’s beneath the issues (e.g., insecurity)
2. Decide together: Is this the relationship we want (as long as there is no domestic violence). If so, work on it with tenacity, joy, and happiness
3. If Patti had divorced Jeff, she would have had the same issues with someone else
4. Work on your individual issues, especially family of origin dynamics
5. Work on your relationship
6. Make a joint effort so you’re both in it together, and one is not dragging the other along
7. Hold your arms wide, and do your own activities (e.g., Patti is in the US now and Jeff is in teacher training in Africa)
8. Trust one another (and be trustworthy)
9. Keep prioritizing your relationship; recommit to one another regularly
10. Really like the person. Be best friends. Patti and Jeff traveled 24/7 for four years.
They wrote paper letters to each other for years, putting their ethos and energy into writing the letters. Their letters, voice and tempo changed over time.