Here’s a post I’ve been putting off for a while. It was one of the toughest yet most raw sessions I’ve ever shot. I shot their engagement session as well as their wedding and we’ve become good friends since. Steven and Jessi were willing to share their story on the blog so I’ll just post their words here. I hope it helps someone and sheds light on a different aspect of relationships and marriage:
Open letter by Jessi –
“This year has been the one of the hardest of my life so far, full of learning and growing in the most painful ways. I guess that’s how things tend to go sometimes – the harder things are, the more I learn, and the more grateful I become for the people around me. I have been overwhelmed this year by how people have sat with me in my pain with patience and grace, allowing me to express feelings and thoughts ranging from despairing, dark, hopeful – sometimes all within the same breath. Without the pain I would not have truly understood how surrounded by love I am. An intensely lonely year humbled me to reach out and ask for what I needed in a way no other experience could have.
A month before our 3rd wedding anniversary, Steven and I carefully and quietly decided to separate and take time to decide if staying married was best for us, and I moved out of our home and in with a friend. This year would have been difficult for me on its own – my final year of my masters’ degree in counseling, the year I write my thesis, the year I learn how to sit with clients in their pain. In a way, maybe this was an ideal time for a separation – as I sat with clients, I learned how to focus on their stories over mine. As I drove home at night, I thought about how resilient people are, how they can rise through huge storms and challenges to become stronger than they thought possible. My belief in the strength and goodness of people grew and I gained new hope and respect for others and myself.
I always considered myself to be very aware of our potential pitfalls as a couple, but the concept of marriage is different to me in so many ways than on the day we promised to be together through it all. Instead of thinking back on that promise, I find myself waking up every morning deciding to commit again to loving Steven in the best way I know how. Though I moved back home, I remain intensely aware that this commitment hangs not on living together, a piece of paper, a spoken promise in front of friends and family, or even God, but on our daily choice and decision to stay with and for each other. I don’t have ideals of staying together forever, though I certainly hope we can figure out how. Instead I try to think about how to make each day the best I can, how to understand him better, how to let him understand me, how to ask for what I need, how to be what he needs. I’m painfully aware of how fine the lines of marriage are – how easy to slip into secret-keeping, how broad the definition of an affair, how quickly friends and lovers can grow distant and unfamiliar with one another. How at certain points our relationship seemed beyond hope of repair, though we continued loving each other. I humbly admit that I remain unsure of what lies ahead, and I think to some extent I always will. Since we were dating we jokingly but lovingly nicknamed each other Oak and Sparrow. Steven as the Oak is solid, stubborn, largely unchanging, but in this he is strong, solid, reliable, making a sturdy nest for the Sparrow – a more free-spirited partner, but less predictable, less comfortable with stability. They symbolize both our strengths and weaknesses.
As I talked with my friend earlier this year, I described feeling as though I was “stepping into the fog”, unable to see ahead, and there was certainly fear in this. But there is also courage with the knowledge that others have walked where I am now and will be there with me along the way. There is hope that more conversations can take place within this fog, an area I know many feel ashamed to admit they experience. The more vulnerable I become, the less ashamed I feel; the more I find myself surrounded by people who understand all too well what it’s like to feel lost in marriage for a time. And their openness has made the difference for me. -Jessi”
Open letter from Steven-
“Marriage is lollypops and candy canes, flowers and birds singing, sugar and spice and everything nice. And it is also hurt feelings and slamming doors. Marriage is a lot of work. Communication is number one. Without that, the other person is left to guess what you’re thinking and feeling, and that might not be a good thing. Leaving things unsaid is not a positive thing. Just saying “this is good” or “can I have seconds” leaves too much to misinterpret. There have been more good days than bad, but one really bad day can wipe out 30 days of good, and one great day cannot overcome 30 days of bad, and it can barely cover one. I have never been the one to open up and talk about my feelings. Didn’t really think I had deep feelings. Most of the people I know is skin deep. It was easy for me to put on the happy face in front of people when things were rocky and rough because I was never really shown how to talk about hard topics. My family blows that stuff off, no serious feelings or sad stuff. Marriage is different for everybody. For me it’s about getting out of my comfort zone and going deeper than my thoughts and feelings. Listening more and not trying to help. Doing the dishes and making dinner won’t make up for not listening or connecting on an emotional level. I used to be turned off by emotions, trying new things, food, locations, music, movies. Now I am very open to new possibilities. I like that. I was a very negative person. I used to take Jessi for granted. I would let one good deed or one night of conversation last me for weeks. When we separated I was crushed, I was embarrassed. I didn’t see the signs or heed the warnings. Marriage is work and sacrifice. A little bit of communication goes a long way. Nobody puts photos on their walls of bad times and hard days – it’s always happy, positive times. At least, that’s what the outside looks like. Every marriage has bad days but nobody wants to talk about it. It’s not really socially acceptable. too much of a downer. Marriage is not for everybody and there’s nothing wrong wth that. For me, it has been a blessing. I wouldn’t want to be married to someone like me. Jessi is my opposite in many ways, and that is both a positive and a negative – it’s how we work through it. We both are teaching each other new things. It’s still a bumpy, uphill fight, but it is worth it, and things are getting better. There is a light at the end of this tunnel, and I will be holding Jessi’s hand when we walk through it. -Steven”
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