Marriage Maps

The Gottman Institute is a research based approach to relationships. The Gottmans and their psychology disciples promote practices of mindfulness that seek to promote healthy marriages. By striding the line between the art and science of love, the Gottman Institute seeks to help couples in a time when 50% of marriages fail to love, appreciate, honor, and problem-solve together. I was introduced to this group through a few sessions of marital counseling last year. David and I, as I shared previously, were struggling to navigate our different views on how large of a family we each wanted. Motherhood is amazing and I want to be covered in babies, but for David family-size is a little more practical. When weighing considerations like finances, energy, time, lifestyle, and our ability to create opportunities we both feel are foundational for our children, David felt like two children met those limits. On the other side now of many of those tensions, I still get a few positive reminders of the “work” that is needed to continue to have a healthy and loving relationship through these Gottman minutes I receive via email once a week. Often they are a bit cliche, but every now and again the little activity they suggest around have deeper or more playful conversations, makes me smile. Today’s for example asked do you know your basics:

What’s your partner’s favorite food?
Who does your partner hate having to deal with at work?
Who is their best friend?
What is their biggest life dream?

My understanding of David:

  • pizza truck Thursday, Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, burgers, good BBQ, kale salad, apple honeycrisp; ******; ME!;  Traveling the world and living abroad and being together as a family.

David’s understanding of Me:

  • Pickles, sauerkraut, Thai food, sushi, coffee; *****;  me, Laura, Kaelin; to be a model of love, paid to learn pottery or cooking

Now is this the stuff that saves a marriage on the total verge of collapse? No. But was this fun and did it make us laugh on a raining, work morning totally. Did it make us take a minute to think of the other? Yes. And seeing that the other was so “spot on” felt good. They listen, see, know, and love. And that always feels good.

models of love….

Ten years ago, David and I would lounge in bed in our pajamas and nap all day long and watch various movies or TV series and talk about plans for the future and our ideas about the spectrum of ideas. It was luxurious and we felt self-important in our lovely perfection of love. Sometimes I would turn to David and say that all I wanted was to work as a “model of love,” where we could just exist like this, be together, adventure, and never have to worry about money or jobs or bills. Maybe if we win the lotto we can revisit that!

This morning we woke up after getting to bed too late, and being disturbed from our blissful slumber by a little three year old seeking some help in the bathroom, and after the alarm sounded to say, “The day begins.” It was less luxurious but even in this moment of sleep-deprivation, David was the person I rolled over to see through bleary eyes. We might not be modeling the best of ourselves all the time because life gets in the way of life when two tiny humans are thrown into the mix of things, but we are still modeling our imperfectly perfect-for-us-kind-of-love and I am grateful and appreciative and very much in love still with this partner of mine. And yes, Hallmark made me reflect today on these sentiments with their manufactured Valentine’s Day, but when we get busy and overwhelmed it is all too easy to forget our beginning and how awesome these ten plus years together have been. The soft-spots in our marriage are inevitable, but I am so glad that I have an opportunity to reflect and love that same man who swept me off my feet. So cheers to the sappy holiday and cheers to renewing our commitment to being “models of love,” (and allowing our love to shift and change and ebb and flow through the different stages and phases).

Shepard’s Pie

On December 18, we eat sausage and rice casserole. David’s birthday request is a standard meal from childhood. A dish full of family folklore and a recurring request across all birthdays on David’s side. It is a simple and direct meal with few ingredients and even less prep. It is delicious and not a grain of rice is left after mealtime. Clearly, it is a birthday request meal I can easily stand behind. Then David said, “I think this might be my new favorite meal for my birthday!” What could this meal be? What dish could possibly unseat the casserole that has stolen hearts and minds for the past 36 years?  Hold your breath…’s shepard’s pie!

I know what you are thinking: Really?  Yes, really!

  • 2 lb ground beef or lamb
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 8 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup  all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/3 cups beef broth
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tsp rosemary
  • 3 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  •  1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Season the beef with salt and pepper. In a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Browned the beed. Transfer to a plate.
In the same pot over medium heat, melt 4 Tbs of the butter. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic, cover and cook, stirring, until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Stir in the broth and wine. Add the rosemary. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pot bottom. Return the beef to the pot, cover, place in the oven and cook until about 1 1/2 hours. About 30 minutes before the dish is ready, oil a baking dish. In a saucepan, combine the potatoes with salted water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain well. Cut 3 Tbs. of the butter into pieces and add to the potatoes. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes while adding enough cream to create a smooth texture. Season the meat mixture with salt and pepper, stir in the peas and pour into the prepared baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Cut the remaining 1 Tbs. butter into bits and use to dot the top. Bake until the top is lightly tinged with brown, about 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Non-linear living 

Have you been watching the bachelorette? This season has been awesome. According to Chris Harrison, it is the most dramatic season in bachelor nation history (as they all are!). But there is one contestant for love who truly resonates with me. His name is Dean. Now I do not want to pretend that I know his inner workings but from what I can see from the carefully curated snippets of him, I get him and I like him a lot (although Rachel did not like this young man too much and just sent my boy packing). So yes, he is dreamy and that dynamite smile is so captivating but this last week his emotional state was what was most attractive. Dean has had loss in his life (the kind of which I have not experienced) and his family is eccentric and these two things have shaped him. It was clear after watching his hometown that his life, health, understanding of himself, understanding of love, experiences, and what he wants from his future were shaped in the non-linear path of emotional turmoil. Despite his particular mix of life giving him every reason to be jaded or cruel, he is able to walk in his raw emotions but also step outside of them and be present in the moment and explore the future possibility of love. I get that. Some people might see it as compartmented but it makes a lot of sense to me, that one can occupy both spaces at once. 

David and I were snuggled up on the couch when he asked, “How are you doing?” After my emotional rollercoaster of a week, I said fine and he was unable to understand how I could be so fragile and broken a few days ago but seemingly okay today. It is hard to say, but I don’t want to live in the raw and uncomfortable always. I am not so consumed by that pain that I am unable to be like Dean and smile genuinely enjoying the present moment. I carry both of those worlds with me. Both are real, valid, and constant but neither has to dominate or diminish the other. I love my life, my husband, kids and the bubble of awesome we have created and I live here and occupy that emotional space with eyes towards future joys constantly and consistently. Sometimes I ache but feelings, even uncomfortable ones, make us human! I can only hope that by being totally open and honest about emotional health and well-being I become more and more comfortable in my worlds and that I model for my sons how to articulate their emotional spaces and needs. I want them to have the kind of love I have with David. One in which we can get real, get to those sticking places, and continue to love hard and truly because life is complicated but being able to verbally share one’s hardships opens up so so so many doors to beautiful, real joys that go so deep. For me, sharing that emotional space is important. It is what makes the difference in a marriage. It is what helps us become comfortable in our own skin. It helps us move forward without feeling like we need to “play nice” or pretend. It is sexy! And heck, Dean is sexy. So hopefully by the time my boys are ready to go searching for their life partners on a reality dating show or in the wild they will feel ready to be open, honest, and real about their own emotional spaces and draw in the kind of person who forever wants to learn more about them and their hearts, and loves them hard – bumps and all! (Thank you, David)

Thursday moment 

Things feel a bit hard today. The travel part of my Wisconsin weekend has tired me out. My luck was just not good with those flights (but, yes we landed safely and I am grateful for that, just not for the headaches associated). This helps contribute to the rawness of all things. And last night David got his official “zero” from the procedure and I feel a bit numb. It feels as though the progress I told myself I made in these past three months feels for naught now that the reality that the procedure worked was confirmed. I am not sure how I feel. I feel some relief that now we know and there is no more waiting game to play but I also feel alone, depressed, miserable and confused. I want to run away, I want to rewind and start this chapter of my life over again, I want to not feel like an ungrateful cry-baby. I feel like the decision was selfish on David’s part (but there is no real room for compromise, you cannot have half a kid). It just really sucks being the person to have to lose out on this decision. David gets what he wants, I get told be grateful, be happy, move on. I  want to stew indefinitely, I want to be taken seriously, I want to be left alone. I want to feel like if I shared these feelings my friends and family would not be tired of hearing me AGAIN complain about my “problem.” I want to stop feeling crazy and to be able to quiet my mind. I want to believe that two kids are enough but I just know in my heart I will forever be missing someone…be missing that little person from my life.

a marital tune-up & a happy weekend

We have a couple of spaces in our home that we don’t spend enough time in…yet. When the kids are awake we primarily exist in the playroom. A big open room filled to the brim with toys and chaos, we sit on the floor despite there being a couch in the room and just exist with the boys on their level. But, every now and then when the house gets magically quiet, we find our way into those other spaces and they are heavenly and help me center, contemplate, and appreciate. Right now Owen is napping upstairs, the laundry is folded, the dogs are resting in their beds, and David and Henry are listening to some kid music in the blue room. And I am occupying one of those little spaces: the book nook. Off to the side of the room, nestled in a corner with my feet up and my coffee beside me, I am enjoying this quiet-ish moment and the ability to reflect on some important things we are learning.

Since the big bump of our reproductive divide almost two months ago, things have returned to our normal existence. Life feels easy, loving, and attentive which feels good and in some ways having had that epic divide was important for our marriage. David and I never really had fights or arguments that lasted longer than a fleeting moment and so when our rebound time was so extended and emotional rawness was too real for what seemed too long, we needed to turn in and figure out what were the strategies we could cultivate to make sure that if big life things happened we would be able to address them more readily and get that rebound time back!

No one wants to sit in an emotional funk and our strategies for reconciliation were awesome for the little things we were used to dealing with but it was clear that they were not quite enough for this bigger things. So a tune-up was needed and thankfully David agreed. We headed off to a few sessions of marital counseling and it was really helpful to get to know our individual selves better and to get to know our marriage better by taking a step back. It was clear from the beginning of these sessions that love, trust, respect, and communication were present and healthy in our marriage and it felt good to be reminded of these foundations and to celebrate them together. But we also learned something important. David and I both experience emotional flooding and in those moments we flood differently and therefore need different things. When I flood, my emotional state heightens and like a turkey in the wild I puff up, engage, get louder, and get defensive. In the fight or flight survival dynamic, I “fight.” David though is my opposite, when a confrontation occurs, he acts more like a big cat, he watches the situation, takes a step back, and flights to protect. As you can imagine when the conflict is small this difference between our defaults is small, but when the conflict is big (like this one) then is is hard to get back to a calm place where we both are ready to re-engage, share and work: where we are able to rebound easily.

But, this marriage tune-up was so important because awareness seems to be half the battle, it has brought attention to the small moments when this happens (like when the kids are tantruming and David and I are both feeling overwhelmed) and as a result we are tackling those moments so much more effectively. Our little tension points are so much easier now, because we are both caring for ourselves in those moments that escalate AND are then better able to engage with each other by staying focused on the issue and not using unfair techniques that deepen any of the tensions. We exist more in the moment together in our marriage, we are taking more time for each other and dating, and we are genuinely learning more and more about each other and therefore finding more emotional closeness (which to be honest, I did not think was possible!). I am really glad that all of this happened because it helped us have some really real conversations, got us to the same page for our family future, and has us working together better than before. Things feel fresh, exciting, and playful because we took time to explore some hurts, heal them together, and work together.


So while I sit here and watch Henry and David, I cannot help but think about how much I love this moment, that man, these kids, this life and how taking that step together to tune-up our marriage was so painless, so invigorating, and so important. I truly hope that more couples do it because long-term relationships need us all to reflect, work, and love more authentically and to quiet the busy world around us for a bit in order to dig in, sit down, and to finally occupy those quiet places where the real growing occurs.