Going to Seminary | Part 17

by Elouise

1976 Jan Elouise with Scott and Sherry in park walk

On a happy outing with D and our children, somewhere on the West Coast, 1976

It’s now 1975-76. I’m in the last year of my master’s program at Fuller Seminary. D and I were happily married when we arrived at seminary. In fact, my happiest memories up to then are about my relationship with D. A little conflict is to be expected, right?

Yet now the partnership I thought would make me happy forever was changing. It wasn’t about what happened between us. It was about what was happening in me, and what wasn’t happening between us.

As much as I appreciate challenges and complexity, I didn’t know what it would take to maintain an equal partnership marriage. Especially given harsh realities that can’t be changed via a magic wand or forever promises.

Back then I thought most, if not all our problems were connected to old expectations about roles of women and men in marriage. Yet none of that appears in my list of what I didn’t know or appreciate back then.

  • I didn’t know how to have tough conversations with D. I believed he was the one person who would always understand me. No matter what. Personality differences? What are they?
  • I didn’t know how to have tough conversations with anyone. Not a good sign.
  • I felt increasingly distant from D except when we were on family outings or road trips. It didn’t occur to me to ask why that was so. Was it because we were getting away from the daily routine? Perhaps in part. That wouldn’t, however, mean this was a cure for cracks in our relationship.
  • D’s new full-time work load with international travel became a target for my anger, frustration and growing belief that D did not appreciate me. Though D’s work load didn’t make things easier (except in our bank account), it wasn’t the root of our relational challenges.
  • I never made a clear connection with my traumatic childhood and teenage years. Nor did I understand what it meant that D was a child of divorce. But so what? We left all that behind, didn’t we?

Because we didn’t fight, I thought we were doing OK, all things considered. No shouting matches, no name-calling, no physical threats.

Instead, we talked. Not once or twice, but over and over. Always the same basic script. It often ended with me bursting into tears. The Talk-Don’t-Fight rule may sound wonderful, but it did nothing to help me move from my increasingly lonely, disenchanted perspective.

I thought our decision to become equal partners was the beginning of something new. I wasn’t prepared for internal or external pushback. I underestimated the power of old habits and unexamined assumptions about marriage roles. And neither of us had grown up in settings that resembled what we now wanted in our marriage.

I was vulnerable. I began thinking D might be the enemy after all. One of ‘them.’ Men who didn’t understand that they were the problem! I resented his new job and international travel that left me alone, holding everything together.

So if D isn’t my dreamboat, who is? There were plenty of men around, especially at my male-dominated seminary. No, I didn’t give myself away. I did, however, take comfort in a male friendship that stole time and emotional investment away from D. What was going on here? I didn’t have a clue.

I wish I could say all this was resolved while I was a student in seminary. But it was not. We loved each other; we loved our children; we loved being together on great adventures; we enjoyed doing work projects together.

But was I deeply satisfied with our relationship? No. Neither was D. And neither of us, despite all our words and great ideas, could fix the cracks. Furthermore, I wasn’t about to talk with strangers or even trusted friends about anything so deeply personal as this. It would pass.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2016
Photo credit: DAFraser, January 1976