Laugh your way to a better marriage

April 23, 2015

I’m back from South Africa. Wow, that flew by. I could write a blog about my trip but I feel too homesick. I love my calm, square Swiss life but I miss my friends and family. Saying goodbye was like putting my soul through the woodchipper.

An American friend wondered why I don’t go back and live in South Africa if I miss my family so much. It’s complicated. It’s difficult to explain.

During my trip I was in my element but I also wasn’t. In Switzerland being South African is what identifies, defines and differentiates me. I am Julie the South African. South Africa is where I come from, what I understand and the base from which all else is measured. There is nothing that makes me feel more South African than living in a country where everyone else isn’t.

But when I was actually in South Africa, I realised I exist in some weird no man’s land. Every time I return I have an identity crisis and the navel-gazing and deep thinking that follows is emotionally exhausting. Trips home mess with my head and muck up my equilibrium. I’m not Swiss, not British and I am also not the 100% die-hard South African that I should be. I see big problems there and I don’t have the energy or patience to roll up my sleeves and help (anymore). I want to run far, far away. I’m not saying that’s good or right – it’s just the way I feel.

SA candlesI think South Africa is like a child with a free spirit and great sense of humour. They can be a joy to be around. The issue is that they have a shady side. They keep borrowing money, have a drinking problem and can’t hold down a job. You love this child unconditionally but after a while their errant ways get to you. You help them over and over but they let you down. They do stupid things that disappoint you. Sometimes you want to shake them and shout, ‘Can’t you see your potential? You could be so much more! PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER’.

Anyway, what I actually wanted to talk about was not South Africa but how to laugh your way to a better marriage.

When I was in South Africa, people asked how I cope on my own with two kids and no family or substantial household help. It’s overwhelming at times but I manage with my mothering duties. I find I fall down most as a wife. I am so busy trying to be a good mother that I neglect being a good wife. I pour my energy into my kids and Alastair gets what’s left. Usually I ask Alastair about his day and then later I struggle to recall what he said. I fall into a dead sleep 5 seconds after my head hits the pillow. It’s impossible to lie horizontal and awake at the same time which is not ideal, marriage-wise.

I want my marriage to be my number one priority. The best way for us to love our children and give them the security and stability they crave is for Alastair and me to love one another. I want to parent through my marriage. Alastair and I and our relationship are first and then come the children. I like this healthy, biblical family model. I just have to put it into practice.

laugh marriageThis is why I was so excited when my aunt showed me a DVD called ‘Laugh your way to a happy marriage’ by Mark Gungor. This talk is a fun, gentle and forgiving prod in the right direction. You MUST watch it – I highly recommend it.

Al and I watched snippets over a few evenings and the discussions that followed were precious. It is our 7 year anniversary on Sunday and who would have thought that, after all this time, we are still learning things about each other. This talk helped us understand why our differences drive us crazy and why they don’t need to drive us apart.

The first session was about an assessment tool called The Flag Test which is a summary of what you love about life and what is important to you. It crystallizes what you more or less know about yourself already but couldn’t articulate. It costs $15 and it was worth every penny. It is one of the quickest, most accurate, most interesting “personality” tests I’ve ever done. It helped me understand how the way I am wired drives how I give and receive love. Pity I didn’t have this kind of self-knowledge at age 18 and then I wouldn’t have launched into my career in much the same way a Labrador jumps into a swimming pool – with exactly that much preparation and foresight.

Alastair and I are both perfectionists. We want to get things right. We are different in that he wants to get things right from a tasks angle and I approach it from a people angle. I have expectations about how people should BE whereas he has expectations about what people should DO.

This Flag Test assessment ends off by creating a flag of your top five drivers. This got me thinking, which was appropriate since ‘deep thinking’ is one of my top motivations.

According to the Flag Test, I am idealistic. It’s probably right. I also score high in creativity and then the penny dropped. It’s my head. Not just my head but my overactive imagination inside it. It’s Narnia up there in my skull and, while it can make life rich and fun, it can also be destructive and disappointing because people and real life can struggle to measure up to the world I create and the standards I set in my mind.

This is my flag:

Flag

It’s no shock to see I have zero leadership talents. I wish I did but sadly I don’t. I’ve learned the hard way that leadership is for the birds and I suck at it. It saps me of all energy possibly because I don’t suffer fools (maybe that’s why South Africa drives me insane sometimes). You see what I’m saying? This stuff is fascinating!  It’s such fun!

One more thing before I go. Mark Gungor also has a session on how to have incredible sex which is one of the best birds and bees talks I’ve ever heard. I think all young people should watch it in preparation for life and marriage.  This session is particularly relevant to wiped out young mums so take a look.

Here is the talk. Tada!