Our first marital fight lasted five minutes and was about the television. Does the watcher turn it off when another enters a room, to focus on them—or does the intruder keep quiet to respect the watcher? We unwittingly moved this fight straight into our new apartment from our childhood living rooms.
John Gottman says marital disagreements remain the same throughout a marriage. If a couple came into his love lab as newlyweds and again at year ten, they’d be talking over the same conflicts. So if we are married to our spouses and our issues, we’d better make peace with them both. See if you recognize your issues in ours, amplified, perhaps, by our impending change—move number eight.
Our last fight took place during three whirlwind days and was about which house to purchase in IL. Our kind realtor Eric witnessed how it played out and who won. I’m not sure when he caught on to the battle being waged (maybe sooner than we did!), but he was patient and unafraid to add light-hearted moments in the midst of our competing visions. Three days straight with strangers looking at 22 houses within 13.6 square miles can’t be easy. We three share this in common: we all love Jesus, we parent high-schoolers, we have a history of Young Life zaniness, and we like to tease my brother Troy, so we enjoy an instant bond. We talk about faith, work and family. Eric tells us what his mentor used to say, “God doesn’t waste his gifts. And sometimes you’ve gotta get out of God’s way.”
Since Palatine is a subdivision suburb, at least four of those houses are one model and three are another, in various states of repair. Our wish list: two-car garage (yes, ranked first for guess who) with three beds, two baths, and a family room or finished basement. As we walk into the first house, Ken heads straight for garage and basement, noting storage for skis and surfboard. I’m wandering the kitchen and living room looking for bright, white paint and lots of light. Eric is bouncing between us, sizing us up, part counselor and part salesman.
67,000 people have successfully moved to Palatine before us, so we know it can be done. Even so, after morning one, we are in despair and in need of caffeine. Is our price point too low? We regroup in a local coffee shop to rework our plan. Next three houses, bingo—hope rekindled! I find what I am looking for—a sunny, small home with a screened, sun porch to boot. Next house, Ken does a happy dance over a cathedral-ceiling. When we tour an 80’s colonial, I surprise us all, snapping at Ken, “Nope, don’t like it—too big. Or buy it and hire a house cleaner and lawn service—or clean it yourself. Time for practical choices.” And clearly, time for lunch. Next, Ken finds his heart’s delight—perhaps double the size of my earlier dream house— vividly painted, large rooms, with a big garage, yard, family room—and did I mention, space? Eric looks at me, “Well, you apparently like this one, because you’re not complaining that it’s too big.”
“No, but Ken does, so I think I can, too. And I’m finally catching on that he doesn’t like ordinary, cookie-cutter homes.” Ah hah! We begin to realize our unspoken, competing visions, as they pop out in the open:
I am picturing us 5 years from now as empty-nesters in a cozy, easily-managed home with little yard that is affordable. I work at a church primed for growth and Ken golfs obsessively (which, yes, I will be learning), so we don’t waste any spare time on upkeep. And we’ve miraculously eliminated all Ken’s junk… I mean, we’ve whittled the pile down to his most valuable stuff. (Oh yes, that’s a fight we’ve moved from house to house. Eight times. And will keep moving until our BIG move to heaven!)
Ken, as a retirement consultant, is picturing us 15 years from now in a larger home, with our children and families visiting. Our four, future grandkids with their dimples and lanky frames need a sprawling backyard and a basement to play in (and bonus—that means plenty of room to store his 3+ sets of golf clubs and surfboard.)
Back in the car, Eric tries to find common ground and figure out how to help us, “I can see you both like screened porches.”
”Yes, we do. Screened porches rule! God created the world good, with screened porches. Screened porches just might be the key to our happy, mosquito-free future.”
Last stop at 7pm: a way-overpriced, remodeled ranch on the north end of town, with some access issues. We walk into the open-format house and Ken instantly loves it, grinning from ear to ear at the 70’s-relic, double-sided fireplace and step-down living room. Eric and I are confused, “What is this room supposed to be? And why, oh why did they put in a football-field of speckled-gray marble flooring?”
The kitchen is beautiful, the rooms light, but the outdoor fireplace makes me think of Hansel and Gretel. Ken gets punchy and babbles about mansard roofs and crawl spaces as we tour the huge, creamsicle-orange basement, “Carly’s favorite paint color!” I’m shaking my head. By now Eric’s clearly done with us, but says patiently and hopefully, “Maybe you’ll need to sleep on this one and see if you agree tomorrow.” I pronounce confidently, “No. This is not my house. Let’s go. I will win this battle.” (Ooh, did I actually say that aloud?)
Keep in mind; I lose every debate we have as Ken out talks me every time. I lost at rock paper scissors for the first seven years of our marriage; I clutched and always threw scissors. We even chose our wedding china that way! On the day I finally realized it, Ken laughed and teased, “Yep, it’s been working great for me. Epic winning streak!
Wondered when you’d catch on. For a smart girl you’re kinda dumb sometimes.” But Ken has learned in 23 years and a sudden move to Philly, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Next day we tour and retour. Show my fav and Ken’s to Kari and my brother Troy, the former appraiser turned counselor. The top contenders couldn’t be more different, matching our competing visions for our futures. Much to Eric’s amusement, Troy asks therapisty questions like, “How do you feel in this space?”
“Depressed— it’s too dark.””Exposed—too much traffic.”“Well, I’m worried about the massive, lawn-and-garden care required.”I’m worried about the postage-stamp, soggy yard at the other place.”So Ken lets go of his fav, the spacious, dark house with the big yard on a busy corner and I let go of my fav, the cozy house with the sun porch.
Long story long. We make a low-ball offer on the over-priced, cathedral-ceiling house the next day, and then I get cold feet. (Did I mention the German rathskeller in the basement complete with bar from 1960. Retro-cool for about two weeks of ownership, then just an odd monstrosity. ) When they won’t even counter, we take another spin through three houses before catching our plane. Fewer laughs this time around. No perfect solutions ever in life. We are well past the point where winning or losing is an option if we want to go forward. We sign and leave a blank offer sheet for Eric to hang onto for us. We ask one another, “If we had to buy a house today, which one would it be?”
Fast forward two weeks. The clock is ticking off 30 days ‘till closing on the “not-my -house,” remodeled ranch with the orange basement. What? How does that happen? Hansel and Gretel aside, when we dash through again en route to the airport, it grows on me. Ken imagines aloud future family gatherings and Young Life clubs meeting in the living room. He’s compelling. He pictures furniture placement and yep, we still disagree, “No, dude, the burgundy couch definitely goes up here, not the brown one.” Eric laughs, “Did you just call him ‘dude?’” While Ken checks out the garage one more time, I sit in the living room and pray, “God, might we live here? Can we minister to our family and others in this weird, but lovable space? Will you please make that happen within our budget?” Yes. It seems possible to all of us.
Gay and Bruce Bailey
Eric asks what I think of the house and I tell him, “My mentor Gayolin Bailey used to tell me, ‘We have to eat all of our words before we die.’ All the ‘nevers’ have to go away, to become ‘maybes’ or even ‘yeses.” I may be willing to eat my words to live in this crazy house.”
Wiseman Eric just nods and smiles, “It’s a good house. The sellers are still asking way too much. But it is empty… when you make your offer is when we’ll learn a lot about how this will go, how desperate the sellers are.”
Yep. When we lay down our need to win or lose, when we drop the weapons, when we make our offers of loving compromise to each other in marriage, that is when we also learn. When we are willing to eat our words. When we stop playing rock paper scissors and listen to each other. When our “nevers” become “maybes.” I guess then our competing futures don’t have to compete after all. We get out of God’s way to teach the other and ourselves something new.
We’ll see if Troy and Kari and Eric and Susie will do us the honor of being our first guests. “Bring your teens and s’mores and make your way up here for a BBQ. Oh and bring your mosquito repellent. Maybe leave a trail of breadcrumbs to mark your way. We’ll test out that outdoor fireplace and orange basement—and our common vision of God’s good plan for our family’s future.”