Not a TV Husband

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband

When I got married at 19, I thought I knew how to “wife”. While my then fiancé and now husband and I had a good understanding about doing away with the traditional gender roles a husband and wife play, I didn’t know there was a poisonous thread of preconception I was trying to weave into our marriage. A preconception of what it means to be a bully in a marriage.

 

Growing up, I knew I was fortunate to have parents who loved each other. I saw them sacrifice for each other, spoil one another and love together. But I never saw my parents fight, for they preferred instead to fight quietly and behind closed doors. This wasn’t wrong of them and I don’t resent them for it; however, when I began seriously dating my now husband, I was very behind in knowing the loving way to argue in a marriage.

 

After my mother died, my models for marriage came from my friends’ parents and from movies and TV. Other friends’ parents didn’t make it a habit to argue in front of us either, so I unconsciously began learning patterns of arguing from romantic comedies and TV series. When I laughed along at the antics of Jill and Tim the Toolman Taylor, I unconsciously stored away the pattern of Jill’s to roll her eyes at Tim and for Tim to always admit that Jill was right in the end.

 

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Photo Credit: Diana Ratcliff, Sweet Plum Photography

Across television, these wives berate their husbands in the form of jokes, insults and passive aggressive teasing. There’s always something that the husband has done or said wrong and it is only the husband that is responsible for the wife’s happiness, with no regard for the husbands. The idea is that the husband should be happy that he has his wife, no matter what, and there’s nothing that she can do wrong.

 

Regardless of the two genders or two nongenders in a relationship, the idea that one person has dominance or authority over another should always be wrong. Women’s suffrage of the early 20th century in this country taught women that they have a voice and a right to be heard. But now it seems like the traditional idea is that there’s still one person in the relationship whose voice is quieted for the other to be heard.

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband Bruges Belgium
Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium

 

And I am guilty of repeating this mistake in my own marriage. Dusty and I have been married for seven years, five of them with me in a wheelchair and six years in the military.

 

While stationed in Missouri following our return from Germany, Dusty and I both went through a transformative period. For the first time since the accident, I was purposefully doing physical therapy just to stay healthy and not to continue to try to walk.

At this point we’d been married 6 years, together 8 years, and been together through family crises, my accident that left me a paraplegic, moving for school, moving for the Army, long trainings, long distance loving, and countless events that began to shape our identities. He learned how to dress me, stretch my hip flexors, stand by in case when I became independent, and how to be a soldier with a disabled partner. I learned how to be second to the Army in his time, yet feel secure that I was first when given choices. We grew up in our adulthood together.

 

Like young friends do, we also teased each other. Made fun of each other’s failings, jokingly at first but always with an element of our true feelings. Then it began to happen in public, at dinners with friends or with our families or even when meeting other couples for the first time. “Don’t ask Dusty, he can’t make choices,” I’d answer for him when friends would ask where to meet for dinner. Joking? Sure. Truthful of my own frustrations with some of his mannerisms? Yes.

 

And for the first six, Dusty simply absorbed this undertone of belittling and patronizing that I had brought into our marriage. And he took it because he too only knew that it was the husband that was wrong and was constantly needing to get his act together. It breaks my heart to know the man of my life and the hero of my story felt this way for so long. It didn’t matter how tirelessly he worked to make my life accessible, to tune all the kinks from my wheelchair whenever it needed it, to watch for mental and emotional roadblocks in our military life and prepare us for them; if I was unhappy, it was Dusty’s job to fix it. How miserable of a marriage.

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But Dusty went through a minor quarter-life crisis in realizing that he simply was not happy. He couldn’t put his finger on the reason, he loved his position in the military at that time, he was hiking and camping all throughout the beautiful Ozarks on weekends, he was enjoying CrossFit… but still he wasn’t happy. We prayed together, I prayed for him and he prayed. And God replied to me, through an article I found on Pinterest. (God totally talks through Pinterest, I’m sure it was His will that wanted me to turn into a wooden pallet sign label maker for our house). Reading through the article, it forced me to ask myself this question.

 

Would I want to be married to me?

 

If I was married to myself and played the role of Dusty, would I appreciate the things I said to myself? Would I want to have the responsibility that I’d just shove over to myself without another thought?

Of course not. I’d make myself miserable after a day. No wonder Dusty was unhappy. It wasn’t that who I am as a person made him unhappy or that he didn’t enjoy being with me or we didn’t love each other or anything in that thread of thought. It was the patronizing and belittling comments that had eaten away at his self-esteem, confidence and happiness with who he is. And I crumbled when I realized it had been my mouth from which those comments had come, no matter what my intention had been.

But Maybe She Wheel Not a TV Husband Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark

And so together we learned how to communicate both the negatives and positives of each other. We’re still learning how to build each other up instead of cutting away the edges we don’t like. And we’re going to be just alright. We have a foundation of communication that has carried us through my accident and more and now we rely on that to teach us how to fight fairly.

 

I urge new couples in a serious relationship to practice fair fighting when tempers run high and expectations are skewed. A couple that doesn’t fight could be pushing down the life force of communication that love between two people need. When I’m angry now, I talk honestly instead of passive aggressively belittling his choices and person. He feels affirmed that I think he’s the incredible, strong amazing man that he is when we’ve finished an argument and I feel the same from him. We now know what is a healthy conversation and what isn’t and that’s an education for which I couldn’t be more grateful. Because I’m not married to a husband on TV. I’m married to true person with a spirit like myself.

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Losing More than My Mother

Losing More Than A Mother But Maybe She Wheel Julia Rodes

 

 

A week ago marked the 10 year anniversary of losing my mother.

 

These past ten years of grief have shaped how I see relationships. I’ve fallen in love, made the lasting friendships that’ll stay with me, became a wife, a sister and an aunt. But in the first six years after she was gone, I also endured the worst experiences I know I’ll ever live to have. There wouldn’t be any waking up from experiences harder than assault, a traffic accident, a spinal cord injury, waking up to a paralyzed body. What I missed most in those moments was the ability to call my mom, have her take me into her arms and make it all better.

 

I’ve learned I grief much more than just not having my mom in my life; I also grief not having A mom in my life. Because when you lose a mother, you lose so much more than having that person. You also lose the security that a mother gives her child, the comfort that there is someone wiser and always available to help. When a daughter loses a mother, she loses the relationship between mothers and daughters AND she loses the security a mother provides her daughter. My mother surrounded, protected and loved, sometimes judgmentally or intrusively, but with well-meaning and adoring  intentions. I miss the person my mother was, but sometimes more than anything I miss knowing my mom would be there any time I needed her. And how I’ve needed her.

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I needed our mother-daughter relationship when I fell in love with a soldier and made the choice to be an Army wife. I needed the security my mother would’ve brought when I couldn’t pull pants over my paralyzed legs. I needed her smile when I embarked on mentoring other disabled people on traveling, a passion I inherited from her. I needed her wisdom in medicine to help me manage the chronic nerve pain. I needed her pride when I walked across the stage at my college graduation. I needed her for every milestone in my life and for the lives of my siblings and now her grandchildren. What losing her meant that she’ll never be there to see the adult she helped shape me to become. And I’ll never get to turn around and thank her.

 

In the Hindu religion, time is thought of differently. Hindu’s believe time is not linear like most of the Western world believes, where days and months march forward minute after minute. In Hinduism, time is cyclical and revolves through the four phases, or yugas, of Sat (or Krta), Treta, Dvapara and Kali that repeat themselves endlessly. Think the only period of awkward insecurity is when you’re a teenager? What if we revolved around a period of awkwardness in the circular time when we’re 15 and then revolved through time to again move through that phase at 24, 43, and 68 years old? What if I moved back through the childishly sweet phase of falling head over heels in love with Dusty when I’m 31 and 59 like I did when I was 17?

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If time is circular, then I will continue to move through phases where I have a mom and where I don’t. Her death is a permanent fact of my life, but that never meant my life would be absent of her presence. As I revolve around and around the circular timeline of my life, I’ll move through periods where her presence is so acute it’s as if she’s alive and then phases where her absence is like a widening void. It’s comforting to think that when I feel her presence, it may be because I’m revolving through a past time as a teenager or child when she was alive.

 

In the linear timeline of my life, my mother is gone and abruptly removed. But in the circular way of thinking, I both have a mother in one phase of a revolution and then do not in another phase. For fans of the Big Bang Theory, this is what I’d call my Schrödinger mother. In circular time, her presence will still be there at each milestone. Her absence will be felt but her presence will still be alive. I can have the relationship, but still have lost the realistic security. I can still look up and thank her.

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I am an overly fortunate person in that I’ve had multiple women step in and provide that missing security of a mother. Army wives all over the world have taken my husband and myself in to provide comfort and help during our crises, actions that I will not soon forget. Her fellow nurses were there when I fell in love and married my soldier, hosting bridal showers and hastily tying the back of my wedding gown so I could dance. The wives of Army chaplains were there when I awoke paralyzed, patiently explaining that everything would be okay while they fed and comforted Dusty. They were also there to smile with pride when I graduated college two years later. I have incredible, strong, and passionate women who have surrounded me and won’t be quick to let go.

But Maybe She Wheel

 

The cycles of grief have moved through me over the past 10 years and have subsided to echoing ripples in my day to day. She’ll always be painfully missed in my accomplishments, adventures and pitfalls and that’s when the waves will splash over my head. But I know now that she can be both present and absent, gone and alive, in the circular spinning of my life. I’ll be glad the next time I move through the phase where I can feel her presence again.

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you WHAT?! Arguing In Our Marriage

Marriage is an adventure, like going to WAR 

– Gilbert K. Chesterton

I love to raise my voice. Take things personal. Leave the room. Bring things up two years later. Yell at Dusty in my head all day after he forgets to take out the trash. All the terrible, awful habits of hurtful arguing, I love to do.

There’s a reason there’s good and bad arguing in relationships. The “bad” arguing are the tendencies we have to want to be RIGHT, no matter the cost, to be HEARD without trying to listen and to be LOVED regardless of whether we love in return. I’m guilty of doing all three and more when Dusty and I get into arguments. Some of the mistakes I make include:

  • saying “you ALWAYS…” I’m pretty sure there’s never anything that Dusty ALWAYS does, so it’s not fair for me to accuse him
  • holding grudges “Well, when you did this two years ago…” Holding on to a grudge is toxic to any relationship
  • not speaking up when something bothers me by saying “Fine. Go ahead.” Those three words are Dusty’s signal to run and duck for cover.

Moving to Europe is stressful. Moving and traveling in Europe with a disability as a couple is very stressful. Sure, it’s also incredibly rewarding and once in a life-time experience, blah blah blah. We frequently argue when we travel, because it’s no easy feat to navigate an ancient city with modern medical equipment. We were in Brussels for the first time (our second trip was worlds better) and I was being thrown left and right in my chair from the crazy, bad cobblestones. These walkways shouldn’t even be called cobblestoned, but instead “designated walking areas similar to walking over rubble from a stone quarry”. I had had enough and wanted to stop, Dusty wanted to keep going and was trying to carry a rucksack full of all our things and help push me. Our conversation went a little like this:

“Dusty, can I grab your arm instead of you pushing me? I think that will work better.”
“Sure, but watch out for that grate! Baby, be careful!”
“Stop! I am being careful! What does your phone say our next turn is?”
“Oh shoot, I wasn’t looking…”
“Stop watching me and navigate us! You ALWAYS watch me and it’s not helpful. Please just pay attention to where we’re supposed to go next”
“Alright, alright, I got it. Ok, we missed a turn but now we’ve got 3 blocks until we take a left and then I think there’s a train involved… is that going to be ok?”
“Fine.”

Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium
Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium

Not the best way to communicate but we learned a lot about our own limitations that trip, how much sightseeing I’m comfortable doing in one day and how to walk together in a way that doesn’t make Dusty nervous for me yet I’m still able to be independent. While it’s not the only way to grow, there is tremendous growth that comes from conflict when resolution is found. And we did grow from this conflict, enough so that the second time we went to Brussels we had one of the best trips we’ve had in Europe (click for itinerary). View more pics here!

There’s a bad stigma about arguing and marriage. There’s an idea that a good marriage is one without arguments or conflict and people count the days between arguments to mark progress. I used to buy into this; I wouldn’t admit to anyone that Dusty and I fought. I didn’t want them to think that I had anything less than a wonderful marriage and that meant they couldn’t know we just had a spat over whether to use the self-checkout at Target. I am by no means an expert, but when did knowing that growth comes out of conflict get forgotten? Dusty and I began going to pre-marital counseling when we were engaged, as a requirement to get married in my church. And we loved it. We’re two young kids in love, nothing more. We’re not marriage geniuses full of wisdom or even truly experienced in being in relationships, so how in the world are we supposed to know what to do? There’s plenty of marriage wisdom online, but the truthful answer is that Dusty and I don’t know what we’re doing so we ask for help. We kept going to counseling after we got married and five years later, we haven’t stopped.

The lessons we’ve learned in counseling helped us to navigate some of the awful things that have happened in the five years of our marriage, like my accident. We saw divorce papers flying at the rehab hospital where patients and spouses were learning how to live as paraplegics and many couples justifiably fell apart. And we loved, cried, laughed and argued our way through it.

We argue still today. Because when there’s something wrong, we speak up about it and make time to fix it. But we’re not perfect; I’m better at speaking up, but I’ve got a temper and little tolerance. Dusty’s quieter and works on speaking up, but he’s the insightful and calm one in an argument to keep us rational and on point. We didn’t come into our relationship knowing our strength and weaknesses, we were counseled. And I’d recommend that to anyone in any relationship, but being in a relationship with someone with a disability takes some real relationship tools. We’re a blessed couple in that we’ve learned about these tools and God’s given us the ability to communicate well enough to use the tools. We’re 5 years married now, but I’d gladly go through 100 years of love and arguing to spend 105 years married to him.

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