• Empathizing with You in Marriage

    Empathizing with You in Marriage

    Dear friends, on your wedding day, I am feeling empathy in the way Dr. Brené Brown describes:

    “Empathy is feeling with people. Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I need to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling…Empathy is about connection. The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

    I know empathy is a strange word to use on your wedding day, but I am coming to believe it is the perfect word, the perfect concept, the perfect practice.

    I recognize in you feelings of anticipation, excitement, wonder, hope, love, and happiness – I also recognize the weariness and eagerness for the calm following events like these. I recall these feelings in my own experiences and am drawing connection in the knowledge of shared experience. So it is today on your wedding day – a day filled primarily with the enjoyable side of the emotional spectrum – that I will begin the practice of empathy with you in the experience of marriage. And I offer in friendship, the continuation of the practice of empathy, as you learn the practice of marriage. For David Schnarch in Passionate Marriage proposes that “Nobody’s ready for marriage – marriage makes you ready for marriage.”

    As a culture, we do a decent job of empathizing with people who are feeling desirable feelings; these are easy for us to understand, require little of us, and allow an avoidance of vulnerability. However, anxious, hopeless, angry, depressive, hurt, confused, lonely, sad, dissatisfied…people weighed down by these feelings are much harder to empathize with, because they require us to do two difficult tasks. First, we must do the vulnerable work of remembering and feeling our own difficult emotions. If it feels threatening to us to feel and acknowledge these feelings in our own circumstances, we are going to have a difficult time getting in touch with them when others feel them. Second, we need to actively challenge the myth that it is our responsibility to keep others from feeling their difficult feelings. We may try, because we don’t want to see others in pain or because it makes us uncomfortable. This is a misguided effort that results in the inability to process and cope with emotions, and additionally, fuels disconnection.

    Difficult emotion is more difficult in isolation. And to the extent that we have allowed marriage to be an isolated experience, we increase its difficulty.

    With that as an introduction to my pondering, the purpose of this letter is to say this:

    Me and my Love have experienced the spectrum of emotion in our marriage. It has been an experience full of love, anxiety, joy, hurt, hope, grief, gratitude, disconnection, fear, fun, desperation, longing, sadness, craving, calm, anger, excitement, frustration, surprise, confusion, connection, shame, and pleasure. At our best, in difficult moments, we have reached out for support; at other times, it has felt difficult to do so. We want to offer ourselves as a place to process, question, share, and be. We are still very much in process. And as our marriage makes us ready for our marriage, we are trying to find ways to create open relationships around us where we and others are free to share about our range of experience. So more than our tangible wedding gift, we offer to you as a couple, friendship and freedom to be you, even as we work at practicing our own courage in being honest and vulnerable in relationship. Marriage has not always been easy, but we would do it again. We will be here to empathize when you feel the same. And when you feel differently, we will find ways to tap into our experience of those feelings too, and seek to connect.

    We value your friendship, and look forward to watching you enjoy and grow through marriage,

    With Love, Rochelle

    {Originally written October 2015}

    I share this letter publicly as a way to say this:
    The diversity of human emotions within the context of our most meaningful relationships is normal! 
    While we would likely each benefit to find safe people and a safe place to share vulnerably about these emotions and our unique experiences with them, I propose we serve no one by pretending marriage/family relationships are easy!

    Let’s not do hard things without support!
    May I encourage you to find a trustworthy confidant and keep working towards healthy relationship with your partner.