Certainly Uncertain

As published on the Huffington Post, and Relationship Advice Cafe

I know my way around uncertainty. Namely in the form of marital crisis. I wrote an essay and a memoir about a particular season of my life in which my husband wanted out of the marriage. I felt that he was in a deeper crisis of self, brought on by career failure. And rather than “kick him to the curb,” as so many have told me would be their reaction, I chose to hold the space for him to get through it. I had limits. I wasn’t going to go on like that forever. But I loved him and had twenty years invested in the life we’d created together—two wonderful children, a farmhouse in Montana, a life we’d so deliberately built. I privately gave him six months and stood back while he behaved in ways that challenged me to the core. I practiced living in the present moment, focusing on what I could control and what I could create, letting go of the rest and trying not to take his actions personally. My commitment was not to suffer emotionally. This was his issue, not mine, but when you are in a marriage, the actions of your spouse are likely to ultimately affect your emotional and even physical safety, especially the overall climate of the family. It was my job to keep my children’s life as normal and safe as possible, hold down the “fort,” as it were, and communicate with them throughout. We can love and respect someone, but not necessarily love and respect their choices. Life isn’t always black and white. Crisis does not have to be your undoing. These were the concepts I tried to model for them.

It was a fine line I walked…between taking a stand for myself and my own well-being, (as well as that of my children), and giving my husband the space to work through his crisis. Three years later, things are not all tied up in a pink bow. Not at all. I don’t look at marriage like that. Marriage is about ebb and flow. And some marriages are meant to end. Mine has never been a strategy to stay married. Mine has been a philosophy about how to live your life during hard times, especially when you are dealing with rejection—something I know all too well from being a writer and dealing with the publishing world. People like to use my story as an example of how to save a marriage, but to me, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about living in the grey zone and how to cope, moment by moment.

For whatever reason, I have been given the opportunity to learn much about crisis and have often asked myself: How long is too long? When is it time to move on? Even if you still hold hope that your spouse is going to heal and come back as an equal loving partner, at what point is it taking a toll on your well-being and even your health? At what point do you model graceful endings to your children? There is no rule. There is no road map. Each marriage has its complexities and mysteries that cannot be understood from the outside. Or even sometimes from the inside. It’s a fruitless pursuit to judge that which you do not understand, even though people seem to consider it a lusty sport on the internet.
I do know this for sure: life is ever-changing, ever-evolving. Ever-uncertain. When the kids were little, it felt static. My life was measured by nap times and play dates. Now with one in high school and one in middle school, each day brings last minute “surprises”: “Mom, I just remembered, I have a soccer meeting tonight at 7:00.” There goes the roast chicken/dinner around the table fantasy. “Mom, can I spend the night at Ryan’s tonight and then go skiing tomorrow with his family?” There goes the family game night/popcorn fantasy.

It turns out that a lot of what I have built is in fact, a fantasy, or in laymen’s terms: goal-driven. And while those fantasies/goals might have been sustainable when the kids were little, they aren’t now. Everybody has their own needs now and voice them boldly…and we dance together to meet them, not always well. Life has turned into more of a democracy in our home than anything else. And there is always the knowledge that you just might get voted down. What was familiar and felt “safe” not long ago, has been replaced with surprises. Some bittersweet. I have been there for my children every step of the way. Very suddenly, that changed. The last two years I’ve been travelling, promoting my memoir and doing speaking engagements. I’ve worked a long long time for career success and on top of it, we need the money. Because I live in rural Montana, that means I can’t commute into New York City to do a reading at a library while the kids are at school, or pop up to Boston to speak at a fund-raising luncheon. It means that I am on tandem-airplanes, thousands of miles away from home and usually for at least three days. The constructs upon which I co-built this family are different now. We have been through upheaval. We have learned that upheaval is the natural course of life. It doesn’t have to be “bad” or scary or resisted. There is no such thing as the perfect family. But no matter what, we know that we love each other.

Life is ever-changing, ever-evolving. I have learned that when we accept the “groundlessness” of that, as the Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron says, when we breathe into it and find that there is actually comfort in the not-knowing, it’s easy to hold that space. For going slowly and not projecting into the future, worrying about the turns life might take. I read a quote recently: Something to the tune of—“if you worry about something and then it actually happens, then you’ve worried twice. And if it doesn’t happen, you’ve worried in vain.” I want to live my life like that. Not in an ode to what I had envisioned. But to what’s actually happening. Right now. In this moment. Certainly uncertain.

20 Comments

Filed under Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Motherhood, My Posts

20 Responses to Certainly Uncertain

  1. Well done, Laura. I don’t think there exists a marriage that can be tied up in a pretty pink bow. Perhaps Ken and Barbie. But then one must remember that is a platonic union due to Ken’s unfortunate birth defect.

    I, too, am at the democracy phase especially with my college age daughter. What that has taught me is recognizing that I have (largely) done my job with my kids and it is essential to validate their input into the dynamic. Though that is very difficult at times. I call it learning to “un-mommy”. NOT “un-MOM”. They can wipe their own noses and their play dates are their own schedule (with parental knowledge and approval). I have good kids. That is a testament to the strength of our marriage through the good and a couple of very rough times.
    Buddha also said that to gain “control” is an illusion. One must give up control to find peace and happiness. But, then, that’s certain uncertainty, isn’t it?
    Well done. Great piece.

    • lauramunson

      Un-mommy, here I come..Thanks for reminding me of Buddha’s words. So much of life is illusion. Success. Failure. It’s all in the creation, I’ve found. yrs. Laura

  2. cindy Pitre

    Laura,
    OMG, hit the nail on the head… I am so worried about my son getting a job in his field right now I could throw-up…. He is a registered Nurse’s aid but he failed 2 ‘entry tests for a job in 2 different hospitals( got 75% – need 80% to pass)- some sane people would say that now he knows what they are
    looking for now and he will pass the next one but I can hardly breath
    I am so afraid….. I don’t know who to be good to myself and just do all I can do which is wait… this is his life…. although his life is still costing me money,,, but believe me money is not the issue here,
    Any words of wisdom would be appreciated Laura…

  3. Shannon

    Your post really struck a cord with me. My children are still quite young, but certainly becoming less dependant on me. I have completely built my world around them and I have recently come to the realization that it is time for me to rediscover me. Not an easy thing to do, mostly because I am scared, but I believe I will be a better mom for it.
    I loved the quote you referenced about worry. I often remind myself that worrying about something is like wishing for it to happen. It can be a challenge to put those worrisome thoughts in the corner, but a good exercise nonetheless.
    Thank you for being so honest and raw. I can completely relate to your post.
    I recently read on a blog a beautiful story. It made me reflect and appreciate the little things in my life (even for just a moment). Here is the post:
    Recently, I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport. They announced the departure. Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said, “I love you, and I pray you enough.”
    The daughter replied, “Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I pray you enough, too, Mom.”
    They kissed and the daughter left. The mother walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there, I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on her privacy, but she welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?”
    “Yes, I have,” I replied. “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?”
    “Well…I’m not as young as I once was, she lives so far away and has her own busy life. I have some challenges ahead, and the reality is- her next trip back will be for my funeral,” she said…
    “When you were saying good-bye I heard you say, “I pray you enough”. May I ask what that means?”
    She began to smile. “That’s a prayer that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more. “When we said, I pray you enough, we wanted the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them.”
    Then, turning toward me, she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory.
    I pray you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.
    I pray you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.
    I pray you enough happiness to keep your spirits alive and everlasting.
    I pray you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.
    I pray you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
    I pray you enough loss to appreciate what you possess.
    I pray you hellos to get you through the final good-bye.

    In my humble opinion, that just says it all.

    • lauramunson

      Okay– that prayer just had me in tears. I emailed it to my husband immediately. Thank you, Shannon! Thank you. yrs. Laura

      • Shannon

        The last line should have read, “I pray you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye”.
        Glad you liked it. I too was very moved when I read it.

  4. Jennifer Revi

    Laura, your original Fighting Words essay and subsequent book were life-changing for me. This essay adds even more meaning. I have been “holding down the fort” for a beloved who is uncertain about commitment for a long time, trying to explain to others in my world why I am doing such a “difficult” thing. I am trying not to suffer, and I decided recently that I do not need to explain! As you so rightly say, “Each marriage has its complexities and mysteries that cannot be understood from the outside”, and the “kick him to the curb” solution so vehemently suggested by some of my friends is not the most soulful sollution. Thank you for being a voice of compassion and openmindedness.

    • lauramunson

      People don’t understand that there doesn’t have to be a war. The real power is not in the fight. Thanks for your kind comments, Jennifer. And your open soul. yrs. Laura

  5. Catherine

    I read your book Sept of 2010 because my husband told me 10 days after leaving our beautiful daughter 7 hours away from home at college that he did not want to be in the marriage anymore. We had been working on our relationship through the summer and over 22 years at that time living in a simple home and raising two beautiful daughters, with a circle of friends and caring families. I still plowed ahead agreeing to an intentional separation to get unstuck. I clung to the familiar and your book finding great solace in it and enlightenment. He wanted to be happy. I wanted to turn the corner and grow up and grow old with him. He wanted his glass more than half full, so after less than 2 months into our agreed ‘apartness’, he chose to leave for good. Certainly, crushing. Uncertainty loomed large. I did not get the outcome I wanted! Letting go has been SO hard. Becoming unmarried and pushing through ‘un-momming’ is about more than one woman can endure, yet I am enduring. I do not have enough time to read blogs and such. I am working full time in the field that I feel called to – youth ministry and spiritual formation. I read your words just now and the others’ responses with a deeper understanding and certainly, a more poignant sense of loss and how we live with it. Love is a choice. Love is hard work. Loving is a path I choose to walk on….There is uncertainty around every bend. Certainly, the good work of people like yourself and many others is a guiding, beaming light in the darkness. Thank you, Laura. Thank you. And just for the record, for me, Jesus has been showing up and keeping me moving forward. Blessings all the way around.

    • lauramunson

      Catherine, so beautifully written, all of this pain and grace. Thank you for sharing from the trenches. I’m so glad you are working in a field that you love. That will “certianly” sustain you and help in the lonliest hours. To un-marry and un-mommy all at the same time must be terrifying. But it sounds like you are at the egde and even far into the beautiful wilderness with a faith that carries you when you can’t walk another step. Sending you all my very best. You are brave. yrs. Laura

  6. mia jarrell

    Laura,
    This post is honest and poignant. I read it several times for the words to sink into my head & heart. At times, life gets so challenging I feel myself closing up and my heart turning to stone. It seems the best ways to protect myself yet your thoughts conveyed so succinctly warmed my heart and I could feel my self opening back up as I was reading this post. Your words resonate with me and is helping me to reshape my thought process.
    Thank you for sharing your life with all of us. You are an inspiration and I look forward to your next post.
    Best, mia

    • lauramunson

      I so glad that something I wrote in my little office in Montana reached you, Mia, in heart and mind. We’re all in this together! yrs. Laura

  7. cindy Pitre

    Don’t dance with worry, interesting…..

  8. Mary Lindeen

    Amen, Laura, to your post and all the others from those who are finding their way too. Count me in. It all reminds me of one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lammott.:
    “E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ . . .That is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
    It is a lesson I am still learning, and driving carefully forward through the darkness–with occasional spurts of actual confidence–is an ongoing example I am trying very hard to set for my son. Things change, but they don’t have to be our undoing unless we choose let them.
    Now excuse me while I go sit in the rocking chair and repeat that about a million times to myself before I pick him up from school!

  9. Jan Larson Myhre

    Dear Laura, I received an email from you on my Yahoo acct. but the body of the letter was blank. What am I missing, kiddo. ~Jan

  10. Laura, I could relate to the ever-changing household as our children grow into young adults. With our older son in his first year at college – 5 hours away, we have had to learn how to “dance” again when we are all together. Now that our 16 year old son has “come out”, his confidence and social needs have grown leaps and bounds. Trying to keep up with all the changes requires adaptation and minimal judgment. Just when I think I know the way, my path turns to road blocks and unfamiliar landscapes. “Letting go and letting God” gets me past these new directions.
    Always, thanks for sharing yourself!

  11. Robin Dake

    Laura – thanks for your thoughts. Your last paragraph especially resonated with me. I too gained huge, valuable life lessons in a marital crisis, except mine ended in divorce.
    While that was abominably painful, on the other side, I find I have learned to breathe into the groundlessness and am much more whole and authentic because of it. Now the challenge becomes to move forward while holding on to those hard-won lessons with soft hands.
    Good luck and embracing the uncertainy!

  12. Laura – I have always prided myself on being comfortable with grey areas. Until they affect me personally. I’m even worse with rejection, so your words, experience and advice on controlling what you can and living with intention during those times is very helpful. Thanks for the insightful and candid thoughts.

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