As I sit here, editing the thoughts I’m about to share, one thing keeps coming to mind: how do I share the stuff that almost destroyed my marriage—TWICE? This is the stuff of books, not blog posts! To try to summarize it in less than 1500 words just doesn’t seem fair to the lessons we’ve been able to glean.
But I’m going to try, because the journey that has saved our marriage could be the journey that will save others, too.
Our story starts with me, 8.5 months pregnant with our third child, about to launch into the life of parenting three children under the age of three. I distinctly remember the heat of July that year; it was literal and metaphorical all at once. David’s new career in insurance was hardly off to a stable start; my company was dying a painful death; and here we were, parents with a rather large line item for diapers on the budget.
It should have been fine. This is marriage, right? For better or worse, this is the stuff you wade through. Together. Decisions, together. But it turns out that decisions, even if made together, when based on an incomplete picture of facts, can be extremely detrimental.
My so called sweet husband had only been giving me half the picture.
We didn’t know about Onsite then, as an aid to help us wade through what we now refer to as The Year of Epic Failure. We did our best; David ‘fessed up, got three jobs. We scraped to keep everything else together while I went through the agonizing process of closing my business. One year later, I thought we were out of the woods.
I try to accept blame in situations where I have been participated in misperformance. Even though David had made the choice to deceive me about certain financial circumstances, I wanted to help him shoulder as much as possible. So I thought we had both applied the lessons we had learned; and I was certain that we would not be doomed to a repeat.
Not only did David repeat his actions; he repeated them twice. There have been two additional occasions over the past six years where he has chosen to keep less than optimal financial information from me. It’s usually about some debt that I don’t know has occurred. It’s taken years for me to explain debt is bad enough in the first place; lying about it increases the misdemeanor to felony status.
The last time it happened, I was fed up. I’d been mad on every occasion before. But this was a final straw. It wasn’t the volume of debt that frustrated me; it was the volume of lies. I was out of grace; out of forgiveness; out of third chances; out of hope for change. I had to face the fact that if I wanted to stay married, for my kids sake, David had some serious work to do.
This is where Onsite enters the picture. An experiential therapy retreat center, one week at Onsite counts as up to two years worth of therapy. It’s an investment, but I justify it by realizing that it’s cheaper than two hours a week sitting in a therapist’s office. (Nothing against some really awesome therapists out there—my life just doesn’t have time for that every week.)
After the third round of lies, I told David that he had to go to Onsite, or else. It wasn’t a threat; but I simply wasn’t going to foot the bill for payroll and unpaid business taxes if he didn’t get some serious help. I had been a few years earlier to their Living Centered program (because I adore therapy and eat it for breakfast). But therapy was never much in David’s wheelhouse; I think, to him, it felt vulnerable and uncomfortable, and I think he just filed those under bad emotions, shove under rug. I know he didn’t realize the value of leaning in to that discomfort and allowing it to grow you and change you and better you. And that, frankly, broke my heart, and was breaking our marriage apart.
I talk about stuff like this when I coach people: we cannot separate our actions from our beliefs. If we don’t like the results we are getting in life, we know we have to change our actions. Most of us attempt for a while to change our actions through simple brute force, only to fail time after time until they resign themselves to a “this is the way life just is” mentality. What a lot of people don’t understand is that to change our actions, we have to change our beliefs. And if we’re not even aware of what our beliefs are, well, it’s a long journey to self-awareness and personal growth.
I know this was the journey David was about to find himself on. I knew it was going to be hard, but I also knew that it was going to be necessary, to save our marriage. And he at least knew that, too, thankfully.
So off to Onsite he went. The week he spent there taught him about two kinds of trauma. We call them “little t trauma” and “big T Trauma”. We all have trauma, and amazingly, all trauma is dealt with using the same therapeutic practices (all of which Onsite leads the nation in helping discover and practice.) Big T trauma stuff is the worst of the worst. Little t trauma consists of things that you may have seen, heard, or been taught in your past, and come to accept as okay, or acceptable behaviors or practices. In fact, however, these small things can combust into a series of horrible actions and choices that can derail your life, family, marriage, or business.
Very simply, any time of trauma, if left unchecked, begins to hurt those around us. This is the situation David and I found ourselves in.
Acknowledging our trauma is an vital step in personal growth. I have dealt with much of mine in recent years, thanks to Onsite. David, however, was pretty good at ignoring his, and even as his wife, I wasn’t really aware of what his traumas were. Thankfully and amazingly, at Onsite’s Living Centered program, he was able to identify the root of his issues. He had seen other people deceive their spouses, and had come to believe this was acceptable and justafiable behavior.
In his 9 days at Onsite, David’s counselor and friends supported him through a healing process and in dealing with the emotional baggage that was coming from years of bad decisions. In his words, “The process is pretty intense, but VERY effective. Your group leader walks you through some exercises that help you recognize some things that you may need to deal with. Once you figure those out, your group and leader help you deal with them and support you after the program to stay emotionally healthy. You learn how to express your emotions in a healthy way, you learn how to say “no” or “that doesn’t work for me” and use the very powerful tools to create genuinely healthy relationships and, therefore, good emotional health.”
I remember picking him up after his week at Onsite. Having been through the process myself, I knew what it felt like to be experiencing emotions for the first time in a long time. One of the first things he told me after he got in the car was that he wanted to go back and do their Coupleship program with me—a long weekend retreat where you work through similar therapeutic practices with your spouse.
I didn’t realize until a few months later that I needed another round of Onsite myself. Walking through a third round of lies with David had had it’s own traumatic effects on me. I was grateful to now have a shared perspective of mental health with my husband, but I had some work to do to forgive him.
We both were looking forward to the weekend away. Once you know the benefits of therapeutic work on your soul, it’s a delight to dive back in. No phones, no internet, no TV, no kids, nothing but good work in group sessions, learning to understand each other, fight appropriately, and resolve the conflict in a loving way.
We stayed in one of the brand new cabins that was gorgeous and comfortable. At the Coupleship program, each couple has their own private room and bathroom. The mattresses were comfortable, the sheets were soft, the decor was lovely—and our room had a cozy fireplace!
The first night of the program is an orientation, of sorts. The main facilitator gives attendees lay of the land, ground rules, basics. If there is one thing Onsite is good at (and there are several), it’s making sure your every need is accounted for: snacks, tylenol, tea, etc. They’ve got you covered.
The way Onsite works is interesting, if not contrary to what you would expect. There are signs everywhere reminding you to “trust the process”, which means, don’t back out if this starts to feel uncomfortable. The staff works overtime and around the clock while you are there to make sure to it that every need you have is met. And I mean EVERY need. They encourage you to ask for what you need, are quick to provide a medicine cabinet full of toiletries, in case you forgot something, have snacks out all the time, plenty of water, tea and coffee. Onsite feels like the safest place on earth, and that’s intentional on their part, because they need you to be able to open up, and trust their counselors that they will guide you through to a result that means progress for your life. As I said to David before we left for the Coupleship program, “I mean, we trust them, right? They’re not going to open a wound they can’t help close.
On day two, which is really the first full day, it started like all the other days at Onsite: breakfast, a group meditation, a teaching talk in the “big room”, and then break into small groups for a little bit of work before lunch. There were four other couples in our group, and our counselor was a seasoned professional named Eli.
And so, little by little, David and I worked. We listened, occasionally relating to each other with a comment here or there. We told our stories, acknowledged our pain points, admitted our faults, committed to each other to work through them. We listened to other couples work through the same issues, offering in return our encouragement, standing with them in their pain and their hurts and their fears. And that’s the magical part about Onsite, if you can call it magical at all. Healing comes through being seen and heard and known, but it also comes through seeing and hearing and knowing.
There was lot of laughter, both in our small group, and in the bigger group, with David and with other couples we met. There were tears, but I know now that tears are good. Tears are important because they represent the meaningful stuff, the stuff that you’ll fight for, the stuff that you’re there for.
It was on day three that the leaders introduced us to the handiest tool I’ve ever used for conflict resolution. With Eli’s help, we worked through the mechanics of a tool called Carpman’s Triangle. In our small group, each couple got a turn to present their own issue and used Carpman’s Triangle to “fight fair”. When it was our turn, Eli turned to us.
“Frame it up for me,” Eli said. I took a deep breath, and scrambled through my brain, wondering where to start. Do I tell the room that David lied? That his judgement sucks? That I feel like I have a fourth kid sometimes? That I’m tired of fixing things? That I’m tired of begging and pleading and being a parent? That all of this just feels awful for me, and that’s not what I want?
I went with the lying. “He made some financial mistakes, and instead of telling me about it, made it worse by lying about it. It left me to clean up the mess.”
Little by little, Eli began to coach us through it. “Set boundaries,” he told me. “I can’t, not when it comes to the IRS,” I replied. Eli nodded in agreement.
“Be accountable,” he told David, and David, like he has a million and one times with me, looked at Eli compliantly and said he would try.
As we moved along the triangles taped to the ground, I felt like our situation was hopeless. Doomed to repeat. The help we were getting was good, but my fear was that it was not enough. That I was stuck. Not in a loveless marriage—we did truly love each other—but in a marriage that wasn’t what I had dreamed of—a man providing for me, and my kids. I’m left to hustle for my worthiness. I have to provide, I have to rescue. It’s my job, and it’s not the job I wanted. But it is my job. From victim (woe is me, I’m married to a fool!) to ownership (I’ve gotten myself in this mess, I guess I’d better make the best of it).
My fear was that it would keep happening. The job changes, the leaning on me for bailouts. Me the rescuer, wanting to set boundaries, but unable to, because of the consequences it would mean for our kids.
But little by little, Eli’s wise facilitation made progress possible, and it was amazing and empowering to stand by other couples and hear them out and encourage them on their journeys.
Our final day held one last little personal conflict for David and I. We finished up with our small group and hopped in the car for the eight hour drive home. I was mad and he knew it. We were both quiet, until finally I couldn’t take the silence anymore and started to ask for closure on our disagreement.
I had told David that I trusted Onsite, that I was sure there wasn’t a would they would open that they wouldn’t also help close. But here we were, driving away, and I didn’t feel like we had closure.
We did, however, have an eight-hour drive to try out our new Carpman’s Triangle skills, and wonder of wonders, we had resolved our final conflict within an hour.
I’ve learned, thanks to Onsite, that we all have trauma. Some of us have little “t” trauma, and some of us have all caps TRAUMA, but we’ve all got it. And where we end up in life is all too often directly related to how we respond to that trauma. Trauma wires us, usually for worse, to respond in a fashion that sabotages our desired end result. But if we can recognize our triggers and responses, we can make a choice in the moment to respond differently.
And that’s pretty much how the week is structured. There’s a lot of laughter, both in your small group, in the big group, and with your spouse and other couples you’ll meet. There are tears, but I know now that that’s good. That’s the stuff that means something to you. That’s the stuff that you’ll fight for. That’s the stuff you’re there for.
So, dear friends, if you find yourself in a similar situation, please don’t stick your head in the sand. Find help through your church, a therapist, or reach out to Onsite. Your family, marriage, or mental health could depend on it. Our journey is not unique and I know some of you reading this have that feeling in your gut. Listen to it! I hope this was encouraging and you now know that you are others out there trying to fight the good fight to save what they love.