Valentine’s day

1 Cindy Atkins

The picture above is the woman I love, now, since May 20th, my wife.

It’s a good picture of her, a perfect moment of opportunity and light. She uses it as her facebook picture. It’s the one I often show people who want to see my new bride.

I think she’s beautiful. What you see in this picture, I see every day, whether she is dressed up or crazy casual, made up or au natural. She often seems utterly unaware of her own beauty. A lot of us are like that.

Before marrying her, I lived on my own for about 12 years. After a marriage gone bad, and a relationship that failed, I was pretty sure I was done in the relationship department. The truth was, I was scared of the whole idea. And my life was full enough that I’d be fine without one. I have friends, groups to serve in, good work, great kids, lots of nature to walk in, a rich spiritual and creative life, and a sassy cat. That was enough, I thought.

As if.

Thanks to this woman, I have relearned love. How to love, and just as important, how to be loved.

I am not a list maker when it comes to love. I am, thanks to my mother, a list maker for pretty much everything else in my life. But in terms of someone to love, I’ve never had a list. I trusted my gut.

The people around me had their lists for me. Sometimes it seemed like they were more concerned that I find the right person than I was and they had a clearer idea of what that woman should be than I did.  But me? I never sat down and made a list of what I wanted to have in a relationship, much less a wife.

If I had, however, my bride would have checked off all the boxes. Smart? Check. Compassionate? Check. Fun? Check. Trustworthy? Check. Courageous in love? (Check). Able to be silly? Check. Able to work through serious issues. Check.
Yep, build your list and check them off. This woman has so much going for her.

And she’s beautiful to boot. Sign me up.

What I did not know is how much being with her would change me and challenge me. She sees the world differently than me. She trumps me in compassion. She is an encourager par excellance, while still able to see and deal with, the issues and conflicts that happen.

That’s a big one. Huge. Monumental. I have spend much of my life avoiding conflict. I learned about conflict with my father and his alcohol-fueled anger. The lesson learned was that conflict was always, always destructive. I carried those lessons with me into a marriage, where I mostly avoided conflict. So did my ex-wife. We know how that plays out – badly. The stuff that needs to be worked through piles up and piles up and one day the dam breaks.

We got a 25-year run, most of it (in my view) good. But stuff that could have, should have been easily worked out never was and all of a sudden I became a horrid, despised creature, all my sins and mistakes, real and imagined suddenly unleashed in an ugly, ugly time. There was no conflict resolution – just anger.

It took me years to recover from that. Years of therapy and years of lesson, but the experience had made me even more leary of conflict. And the relationship I came into, and was in for years, didn’t help. It was a great relationship in many ways, but conflict turned ugly. We never learned to deal with it well.

By the time I met the woman I love, I was relationship shy and conflict shy.  But she had something I had never really experienced – the ability to talk through conflict, be gentle, and always reminding me even in the process that I was loved and valued and important.

She brought something I had never fully felt. Safety. Emotional safety. I’m still learning, but each time we talk our way through the rare disagreement or hurt feeling, I can feel something in me changing. For the first time, maybe in my life, I feel emotionally safe.

It’s a new feeling. A wonderful feeling. It’s a partnership feeling, wonderful and rare and jumping for joy good.

I’m not over the fear completely. No, you don’t undo a lifetime of fear in a few months of marriage, or a few years of relationship. That takes time and will take time. But the change in how I feel, the general relational fear level has retreated. I felt that safety the first time we met and her kindness and honesty has just built on itself.

I don’t even think I fully realized what the roadblock was until we were married. So I didn’t appreciate the value that would add to my life.

She likely did. She tunes into people quickly and mostly accurately. It’s uncanny and at times a little unnerving to have someone so tuned into you.  She’s not always right, mind you, but often enough I know now to listen to everything she says because the odds are she has seen something I haven’t.

So now we are 3/4 of a year into our marriage. I was told this morning that the “honeymoon phase” of marriage is officially over after a year. I don’t think that will be the case for us, at least not for me. Rare is the day that I don’t discover or rediscover a layer of who she is that deepens my love for her.

She’s not perfect (Neither am I, believe me!), but she is something better. She is wonderful. I still pinch myself some days. (cue music: “Dreams can come true, it can happen to you.”).

Smaltzy? Yeah. But also honest. I could write every day about some aspect of her that I am crazy grateful for and feel utterly undeserving of. It’s Valentine’s day and we’ll celebrate our love and our love story in an appropriate, private celebration. We have a lot to celebrate.

Oh, and did I mention she’s beautiful?


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