4 Keys to Reinventing Your Marriage by Tori Bradford
Over the last year, I’ve written several times about the changes my husband and I have experienced in our relationship because, well, it’s completely different than it used to be. It’s been reinvented or transformed.
We’re approaching our 14th wedding anniversary and, as I look back over our time together, I see the many transformations. Bitterness has been replaced with understanding, the bleak future now looks hopeful, and respect took the place of blame. Love fills our home leaving little room for spiteful words or hateful tones.
Steve and I have been blessed with health, but we have experienced our fair share of troublesome times. One such time started in our first five years of marriage. The “housing crash of 2008” was not friendly to us, and some decisions we made left us with no business, no rental properties, no cars, and no home. If it weren’t for the kindness and generosity of family, we would have been on the street with no money in our bank account. You see, Steve loved to take risks, and we were young, naive, and excited about the future. We saw owning property as a way to make our fortune because, after all, that’s what we were destined for. Everyone told us so. I grew up hearing that I was special, and Steve grew up telling himself he was “charmed.” Seriously.
We thought the world couldn't touch us. We thought our fortune was within our grasp so, instead of buying one rental property, we bought three. Then, since we needed a place to live, we bought our townhouse in the suburbs of Chicago. In those days, you didn’t need much to get a loan. Then, once you owned the house, you could refinance and convince the bank to give you more money than the house was worth. We were living large with money in the bank, three properties bringing in rent every month, our own townhouse, a new car, and a nice big truck for Steve. All our dreams were coming true.
The downfall of our “fortune” seemed to start slowly at first. But, looking back now, I see it was spiraling out of control much earlier than we were willing to notice.
First, a tenant’s child chewed on the window sills in our turn-of-the-century farmhouse and got lead poisoning. Doctor’s bills and the invoice for replacing four exterior doors and thirteen oddly-shaped windows left us without savings. "It’s OK," we thought, "everyone is still paying rent." Famous last words. One by one, our tenants stopped sending checks. It felt as though they'd held a planning meeting to discuss skipping out and who would go first. Like clockwork, our house on Fourth Street stopped paying, then Simms, and then Rowell. Within three months, one house was abandoned with no notice leaving the house destroyed, and the other two had more people living in them than were listed on the leases. Yet, not a dime was coming in.
The trouble is we were already bleeding money every month because we weren’t charging enough rent to pay the mortgages. Remember how I said we owed more money than the houses were worth? Yeah, not so good for the monthly budget.
We were in a pickle. We were scared, naive, and ignorant. We didn’t know what to do.
We thought getting jobs would help, so we poured ourselves into that idea, although neither of us had a college degree or any real job experience. Consequently, we made only a few dollars an hour, definitely not enough to make any headway.
We watched as my car was repossessed, followed shortly by Steve’s truck. By that time, we had lost our townhome and were living with my husband’s parents. We had no bank account, and bills were piling up.
It was the lowest point in our lives.
Steve blamed himself and felt ashamed at the outcome of his “great rental property" idea. To make matters worse, I blamed him, too. I blamed him for not protecting me or providing for me like he promised he would on our wedding day. I blamed him for not being smarter, for not having an education, for not having any prospects outside of this one great idea. I blamed him for the same things he was blaming himself for. We also took turns blaming everyone around us - the realtor, the tenants, the creditors, and the banks. "Everyone should share some of the responsibility," I thought. "It’s because of THEM that I am in this situation."
As you can imagine, this attitude affected our marriage, and I didn’t know if we would make it to our 6th anniversary. I was ready to run, and I said that to Steve in a not-so-nice way. He looked as if someone had just hit him in the stomach with a baseball bat. Through all the hard times, he'd never questioned my loyalty, until that moment.
Something broke inside us that day.
We tried to patch things up and move on, but we did it superficially, with no real understanding of what transformation was.
Over the next six years, our marriage became pretty standard. We stayed together, started a new business, and had two children. We had our highs and lows, like every couple, and I thought everything was fine. Sure, we would fight; sure, we would avoid certain conversations with each other; sure, we would skip over important details in our day just to keep the peace, but who doesn’t? At least, that’s what I told myself. I began to think the romance I longed for, the partnership I had always dreamed of, and the oneness I'd read about in books were all ridiculous and made up. I denied those parts of me because, without those hopes and desires, I was able to be "happy" in my marriage.
Thankfully, my story doesn't end there.
Through various resources, I found that there was another way, and it started with me. The blame I placed on Steve and everyone around me seemed perfectly reasonable at the time because, after all, they did everything TO me. I had no say in the matter. Or, did I? Was it possible that I had created exactly what I didn’t want in my marriage?
“No, that couldn’t be,” I would tell myself. But, after resisting that question for three or more years, I finally decided to look at it and give it an honest answer. Was it possible that I was doing things to remove the romance in my marriage? Could it be that I wasn’t willing to let go of the blame that was driving the wedge into my relationship? I’m so grateful that I started talking with a transformational coach and decided to get honest and see my contributions to our marriage.
The transformation began slowly, conversation by conversation. I recognized that reinventing my marriage was fully within my grasp, and it all started with a vision. Now, creating a vision was very challenging for me at first because I didn’t even know what I wanted. But, I finally discovered that I desired intimacy, fun, honesty, and respect. These four words would roll over and over in my mind, and one day I was willing to talk to Steve about them. That conversation was the starting point of something new for us.
You’re probably expecting me to say that it worked like magic, and we’ve been madly in love ever since, right? Not so.
It’s taken a significant amount of energy and commitment. We’ve both done a lot of interrupting of old patterns and habits. And, we wouldn’t be nearly as far in our reinventing path if we hadn’t both been working with our transformational coaches. It took us both admitting what our current life looked like. We had to decide what we wanted our life to look like. And, finally, we had to recognize what needed to shift in order to bridge the gap between our current reality and our vision. We had to reinvent our marriage.
The four areas we reinvented are:
Our beliefs - When I chose to let go of the belief that Steve would always react like I expected him to or handle adversity as he did in 2008, it instantly opened up the possibility for something new.
Our vision - We became willing to dream about the future again and not let our past weigh us down, limiting what we thought was possible. When we each owned what we wanted to experience in life, we began to see provision that hadn’t been available before.
Our transparency - Letting the other person see the things we didn’t want to disclose was impactful. The act of being fully honest with each other meant there were no shadows in our relationship. Things we had previously kept from each other, like addictions, hidden woundings, secret feelings, and hurtful thoughts were brought into the open. We risked everything to share what was really going on, and because we were both willing to stay in it, our marriage transformed.
Our conversations - This one comes with a disclaimer. Our conversations are the most difficult and continuously labor-intensive for me. But, engaging in them yields a huge impact. Being willing to have any and every conversation, being willing to listen without judgment, and being willing to have a conversation even when we don’t feel like it, is what reinventing our conversations is all about.
As we began reinventing these four aspects of our marriage, we discovered a new relationship was available. Like most inventions, it gets worse before it gets better, but the better is there….
Nope, not better.
A new and fulfilling partnership is on the other side of reinvention if that is what you and your partner really want. It takes honesty, patience, and "stick-to-itiveness," but it’s totally worth it.
Share in the Comments what thoughts this message brought up for you.
P.S. Watch my conversation with Tori and Steve here:
***If you can't hear the audio, adjust it in the bottom right corner of the video window.