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Ounce of Prevention: Short Stories To Keep Your Marriage Healthy and Happy

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The following is a portion of the Growing a Marriage Garden Short Story.

Growing a Marriage Garden

Looking at the wedding picture, she thought bitterly that that had been the happiest day of her life. She and Peter looked so happy in the picture, excited to begin their lives together and share the bliss that was marriage. Unfortunately, their happiness had gone downhill from there. Peter had gone out after their last screaming match and probably wouldn’t be home for at least an hour.
Beth sighed and went outside to water her plants. They were the one bright spot in her life. As she filled the watering can, she mentally reviewed the fight. She couldn’t easily identify the spark that had ignited it. Over the past two years of their marriage, they had engaged in increasingly regular shouted battles. There were so few things that she remembered about why she fell in love with Peter in the first place. Though, she and Peter had dated for two years and had a six-month engagement, she now felt like she didn’t know him. She thought she had known him as much as anyone did and loved him, so they got married.
Beth started soaking her precious flowers carefully and started a conversation with her petunias about her husband.
“He is so self-centered,” she muttered. “He doesn’t even seem to notice how hard I work to save money. He only notices to complain when I spend more than a few dollars, even though he regularly buys frivolous things.” Beth continued to mumble aloud her husband-related frustrations, getting increasingly heated.
“Good afternoon.” The intrusion of a human voice startled Beth out of her disgruntled musings. She looked behind her to see her neighbor peeking over the fence and blushed deeply.
“Sorry for startling you, but I couldn’t help hearing what you were saying while I was weeding, and I didn’t want to overhear something I shouldn’t,” Beth’s neighbor said with a smile.
“Oh, it’s okay, Jane,” Beth replied wryly. “I shouldn’t be talking to myself anyway.”
“Sometimes thoughts and feelings just need to be expressed,” Jane said. “I find that I talk to myself more often than I would like to admit.”
“Sorry to bother you.” Beth started to turn back to her flowers when Jane stopped her.
“Oh it’s okay I was about ready to take a break anyway and check on Emma. Hey, I’ve got some cold lemonade; why don’t you come over and we’ll have some.”
Beth hesitated, feeling the need to be with her plants to work out her frustrations. She opened her mouth to decline the invitation and found herself accepting. Still wondering at why she was going to visit with her neighbor, Beth went through the gate and followed Jane into her kitchen.
“Just have a seat and I’ll get that lemonade.” Jane set down the baby monitor and started opening her cupboards to get glasses out while Beth sat down at the kitchen table. The phone rang and Jane picked it up. Beth couldn’t help but hear half of the conversation.
“Hello…How’s my handsome husband? ...Good. I’ve just been weeding and invited Beth over for some lemonade. How is work going? …Good….Okay. I love you too.”
“What did Jim want?” Beth asked when Jane ended the phone call.
“Nothing in particular. He calls me everyday just to say hi.” Jane smiled and brought the lemonade over to the table.
“Really?” Beth asked incredulously. “Every day?”
“We miss a few here and there but almost every day,” Jane replied, still smiling. “It brightens my day and his and helps us stay connected and in love.”
“You seem to really love your husband. How long have you been married?”
“We have been married for five of the best years of my life.”
“Wow,” Beth said softly. Jane looked at her with concern, and a wrinkle appeared on her forehead. She opened her mouth, hesitated, and then released her breath. She paused again, then seemed to gather up her courage.
“Beth, I couldn’t help overhearing a few of your comments while you were watering,” Jane started gently. “I don’t mean to intrude but is everything okay between you and Peter?” When Beth didn’t respond, Jane continued. “Every couple has disagreements; we’re all human. But I get the feeling that you aren’t very happy in your marriage. Is there anything you want to talk about? I’m told I’m a pretty good listener.” The silence stretched out then tears started to well in Beth’s eyes.
“I have to talk to someone,” she blurted out. “Whenever I say anything to Peter
about what he is doing that bothers me, he just yells back at me.” Jane reached over to the kitchen counter to get some tissues and silently handed one to Beth. “He is such a frustrating, self-centered egotist. He thinks that everything he does is perfect and that I am worth nothing. He never asks my opinion of anything or takes me out anymore. He treats me like a door mat. We keep fighting more and more about everything. We have such different ideas that we never should have gotten married. His family is so irksome and frustrating, and he defends them. He never sees that something might be different from the way he does things.” With every sentence, Beth grew more upset and her voice slowly got louder. The baby monitor on the kitchen counter lit up, and a few whimpers interrupted Beth’s tirade. “Oh, Jane, I’m so sorry I forgot about your baby sleeping,” Beth said in a softer voice, “I should go.”
“Nonsense, it’s about time for her to be up anyway,” Jane replied. “If you promise not to go anywhere, I’ll go get her.” Beth promised, and Jane soon returned with a sleepy eight-month-old.
“I’m sorry I woke her up,” Beth began apologizing again. “I didn’t mean to get so loud or burden you with my struggles.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jane urged. “She normally gets up about this time anyway.” Jane made a face at Emma who smiled and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. “See, she’s fine.”
After watching Jane interact with Emma for a few minutes, Beth hesitatingly asked, “Is she why you and Jim are so happy?” Jane looked up surprised and then her glance softened with understanding.
“Yes and no,” she replied. “Yes, she definitely contributes to our overall happiness though at times she tries our patience considerably. However, Jim and I were happy before we had her. He is a wonderful man, and we love being with each other.”
“Maybe I just picked the wrong man,” Beth said almost to herself.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Jane said. “I watched you when you first moved in; you were both so happy and in love.”
“Well, we fight more than we enjoy each other’s company now. Something isn’t working out.” Beth sighed and put her forehead in her hand. “We’ve even contemplated divorce though neither of us wants to admit we have failed at marriage.”
“I don’t think it is nearly time to call it quits,” Jane protested. “Every marriage has a few problems, but they can be fixed.”
“You don’t have problems.”
“Yes, we do,” Jane said with a chuckle. “We just work hard to make our marriage happy by working through our problems.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” Beth asked. “I don’t even know what the problem is. The only thing I can think of is that I don’t really love him anymore.” She grabbed another tissue and stared at the table, ready to catch her tears as they rolled down her cheeks.
“Watching you now,” Jane said softly, “I’m pretty sure you still love him.”
“What good is that going to do me if all I keep doing is learning how to hate him,” Beth protested.
Jane put Emma on the floor with a teething ring and gently put her hand over Beth’s. “There are many things that you can do to improve your marriage. One of the things that has helped Jim and me to have a happy marriage is to talk out our differences.”
“But when I do that, the only thing that happens is we have a big fight,” Beth countered.
“I’m talking about communication not arguing. Talking through differences doesn’t mean you have to raise your voices or yell at each other. When Jim and I get into an argument, we don’t get anything accomplished but hurt feelings until we calm down and discuss the problem evenly, without raised voices. Occasionally we let things get too heated and we need a cooling off period away from each other before we can discuss the problem.” Jane paused and Beth looked up.
“We do that,” Beth began. “We fight, then take a break but if we go back to the subject we just start fighting again, so I’ve stopped bringing up painful subjects. Unfortunately, everything from money to family get-togethers has become a painful subject.” Beth dabbed her eyes and continued, “We don’t talk anymore except to fight. There don’t seem to be any happy subjects to discuss. Everything he does bothers me.” Jane squeezed Beth’s hand in sympathy then took a careful breath.
“I got into a situation similar to that with Jim once. I just had to remind myself that I loved him and resolve to talk over our differences calmly. There are a lot of moments even during the discussion that I had to pause, take a deep breath, and count to ten to keep my cool. As silly as counting to ten may sound, it’s worked for me.”
“But I just feel like I dislike Peter even more after every argument. How can I go back and try and discuss something with him if I’m having trouble loving him anymore.”
“Well, it sounds like you need to rekindle your love. When Jim and I are going
through a rough patch or I find myself getting complacent in my love for him, I do something special for him to show him and myself that I really do love him.” A slobbery teething ring skittered across the floor accompanied by a shriek from Emma demanding its return. Jane smiled, retrieved the toy and went to the sink to rinse it off. “She really knows how to interrupt important conversations.”
The corners of Beth’s mouth twitched up for a moment. “What are some of the things that you do?”
“Oh, anything and everything,” Jane said as she returned the clean toy to Emma and sat back at the table. “I’ve made a romantic candlelight dinner for him with his favorite dish; I’ve made lists of reasons why I love him, both to remind me and later to give to him.” Jane refilled their lemonade glasses and continued. “I think the most important thing to keep in mind while you’re doing something is that you need to either open lines of communication or keep open those that you have. Constant, open, loving communication is the only reason Jim and I have been able to remain happy and keep our marriage intact.” Jane interrupted herself to snatch a dried leaf away from Emma just as she was about to put it in her mouth. As Jane put Emma in her high chair with a snack, Beth thought about what had been said. She felt a glimmer of hope that maybe her marriage wasn’t destined for failure. It might just work out if she and Peter could learn how to communicate. Looking back over the time they dated, she realized that they hadn’t had too many serious discussions about life or their goals. Afraid she might get discouraged, she looked up at Jane.
“I don’t think Peter and I really know how to communicate. Do you think we could learn?” Beth asked hope flickering in her eyes.
“Everyone can learn how to communicate. It can take a lot of effort; it can take a lot of willpower, but it can be done.” Jane looked at the resolve entering Beth’s eyes and posture and continued. “From what you have told me, both you and Peter want this marriage to work. I think if you talk to him softly about things and refrain from any blame-placing or name-calling, you might be surprised at the results.” As Beth sat quietly absorbing what Jane had said, she seemed to come to a decision.
“I think I will give it a shot,” she decided aloud.
“Good for you,” Jane encouraged. “If there is any support or help I can give, let me know.”
“Actually,” Beth hesitated, “I’m not sure I know how to just talk about something without sparking an argument.”
“Well, just as much as it takes two people to fight it also takes two people cooperating to discuss something. But,” Jane countered, “there are some things that you can do to try and facilitate a discussion.”
“What?” Beth asked.
“First of all, make sure that you remain calm and don’t get upset at something Peter says. Also try to avoid verbally attacking him. It will put him on the defensive and you won’t be able to get as much done.” Jane smiled encouragingly. “The best person to talk with about your marital difficulties is your husband because he is the only one who can fix anything.” Beth was starting to look a little overwhelmed, so Jane hurried to continue. “No attempt will be perfect. Even if there are a few setbacks, stay motivated; things will get better.”
“Well, I’d better be getting back home and make something for dinner.” Beth pushed back her chair and stood up. “Thanks for giving me advice,” she said awkwardly.
“What are friends for,” Jane replied. She stood up and hugged Beth. “If you ever need someone to motivate you to keep working on your marriage, I’m here.”
“Thanks,” Beth said and smiled. “You’ve given me hope that my marriage isn’t over.” After goodbyes were said, Beth crossed back over into her yard and walked up the steps to her door. She saw Peter’s car was back and took a deep breath. She pushed open the door and saw Peter sitting dejectedly on the couch.
“Hi,” Beth said softly.
“I’m done,” Peter replied. “I can’t take all this fighting anymore.”

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