It was heartbreaking to see them reach a point where they were pretty much resigned to live their lives almost separately.
So how did they get out of the rut?
Here’s the last part of the story:
ON FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES:
Dondon: I remember one huge fight we had early on and I just wanted to give up. I walked out and blew off some steam in my parents’ house only to be scolded and told to never run back to their house and speak to them so angrily about my wife.
I was told that though they understand that I am angry, I might regret painting a bad picture of their daughter-in-law to them. I went back to the house and we eventually sorted it out. That advise made so much sense. Who doesn’t want their parents to love their spouse after all?
Over time and with a lot of help, not just from our parents, but also from friends who had similar values, being married became so much more than what I initially expected.
Margaux: What really helped for us was joining the Worldwide Marriage Encounter Movement early on in our marriage. We learned different techniques and tools of dialoguing with each other, and most of all learning how to fight so that it is more productive than destructive.
This has allowed us to grow more in intimacy with ourselves and with each other. It also brought us in a community of couples who share the same values on relationship – people who are rooting for us to work out.
LOVE IS A DECISION:
Dondon: The most crucial thing that we’ve learned to live up to over the years is that Love is a decision. It is a CHOICE. It’s choosing to set aside my own feelings first to truly be attentive and fully present to Margaux. It is a decision to love Margaux unconditionally.
I remember one time Margaux and I had another big fight concerning our finances. The discussion could have ended quickly perhaps even peacefully, but like most of our fights, it escalates not because of the issue but because of how we judge each other’s tone, each other’s words, and even our body language.
“Bakit ka galit?!” usually is interpreted as a declaration of war or, “Bat ka sumisigaw” or “Bat ba ang sungit mo?”
That night, of course we had our backs turned on each other in bed as usual. Margaux as always, could not be sleep dwelling on the negative feelings of the fight. Ako naman di makatulog kasi alam ko galit pa siya at pag tinulugan ko siya lalong mahu-hurt. We were up for a long night.
But that evening something was different… for a brief moment in my struggle to stay awake, naisip ko siya, naisip ko how insecure she must have felt when she stopped working to take care of all of us.
I also remembered how great we once were. I remembered how our bed and our home felt like when we were starting out. I remembered how we used to enjoy each other’s company so much. Sobrang na miss ko yun.
I then saw Margaux’s kind heart, her caring and generous nature…how I endearing her passion for charity is… how funny she is in her corny kind of way… how adventurous she is and how she wants to share those moments with me… I remembered how good my wife is…
Although I was still very hurt, I felt her pain too and at least for that moment, I could not stand seeing her in pain anymore… I risked to reach out my hand and touched her back. She did not react at first, but her body softened a bit.
That provided an opening for us. Our defensive stance went down. Afterwards, we were able to talk in a more calm and loving manner . We did not really agree with each other completely, but at least we were able to sleep that night without our backs turned against each other.
That night was for me a glimpse of what a seemingly simple act of reaching out, of deciding to love Margaux, of focusing on her goodness rather than wallowing in pride, can do for our relationship.
That evening made me feel hopeful again. It felt like a spark was lit again, a little ember that could turn into a flame.
We were a long way from where we started but at least for that night out of so many nights, it didn’t feel like we were spiraling down and simply “tolerating” each. Kaya naman pala namin.
Margaux: With all the disappointments and disillusionments, it was not easy for me to decide to love. It was against my nature to reach out to someone who in my eyes was causing me all this hurt.
When Dondon reached out to touch me, I hit the pause button and let the dilemma run through my head – I was still so hurt and I wanted him to know that, but at the same time, I also longed for the fight to end. I didn’t want to be apart from him anymore.
At that moment, I had a sudden glimpse of the Dondon I loved. How lambing he is. How unashamedly affectionate he is, even when I am embarrassed. And most of all, how he has now managed to love me even in the middle of a fight.
I started to appreciate him, to be grateful for his unconditional love. In the process, I started to try to make myself more lovable in his eyes. Allowing myself to be loved is also part the decision to love, especially when I am angry, tense or hurt.
LEARNING HOW TO CONFRONT
Dondon: Margaux and I are a fighting couple. But we soon learned that there is a way to fight fair. Confronting can be done lovingly for the sake of our relationship.
In our effort to choose to fight fair, we avoid name calling and criticism. Blaming each other will lead us nowhere. Instead of using up our energy in determining who’s to blame, we choose to work at moving forward to get out of that trap.
Margaux: We learned that fighting does not signify the end of marriage. On the contrary, it helps make our relationship healthier. It gives me the golden opportunity of choosing to love Dondon no matter what. It helps me to recognize my own responsibility and irresponsibility in any difficult situation.
It is not an easy decision to make. Sometimes I just want to stay angry, especially when I think I’m right. But I remember the peace and tenderness I have experienced when I would decide to let go of winning and choose my relationship with Dondon.
ON CHOOSING TO HEAL THROUGH LITTLE THINGS:
Dondon: We soon realized that although hurts are inevitable, choosing to heal each other is an important choice we must make for the sake of our relationship.
One of the choices I am making is letting her Margaux on the latest with the things I am involved in. I try to keep her posted and in many cases, even directly involve her- which actually worked out great for me since now I have help. What was pushing us apart before turned out to be activities that often bring us even closer now.
As a bonus, I noticed Margaux has become less anxious, less doubtful, more understanding and most of all, more supportive of me.
The little choices I now make – like randomly calling her or messaging her during the day just to let her know she is on my mind; dropping the computer and ipad or switching the TV off to cuddle up in bed; going with her to the PTC, and even doing my share in keeping the house in order- meant a great deal pala.
Margaux: I started to see that even the little things I do count a lot in making him feel loved or not.
One choice I am making is to be more malambing. Hindi talaga ako ganoong klaseng tao. I am not touchy-feely or expressive, but I know how much it means to Dondon. The times when I say “I love you”, or when I hug him unexpectedly, have brought many tender moments between us.
Dondon: Another choice I am making is seriously blocking out our date nights in my calendar like any other appointment I cannot miss. Before, this was usually the first one that gets bumped off. Now as best I can, I commit to schedule.
Margaux: I am usually a slave to my calendar, which is why it is a big deal for me to rearrange my schedule for him. But the times when I decided to let go and embrace the spontaneity, ended up to be fun, warm and even crazy times.
ON LETTING YOURSELF SEE GOD THROUGH YOUR SPOUSE:
Dondon: Although we continue to be active in Marriage Encounter and other church advocacies, a very important lesson that we both learned is that God more often disguised as service to the church, should never take precedence over what we have to deal with as a couple.
I believe nothing will please God more than for a couple to express unconditional love exactly the way He loves us. Being intimate with our spouse IS God’s work.
By allowing fostering a deep and intimate relationship with Margaux, I actually feel God’s presence more clearly and tangibly.
To illustrate this, allow me to share some excerpts of the letter I wrote to Margaux when we facilitated a Marriage Encounter weekend:
….Remember not too long ago when I was hospitalized for months on end, how it nearly cost my life.. I was so miserable, I was in pain, I felt depressed, I felt alone, I felt resentful, and I felt very angry
Looking back, I was so into my suffering, I did not concern myself with anyone or anything else other than my own pain and misery. I knew my family and friends where there, and I knew you were there and literally never left. ….But none of that mattered to me because I was so angry.
I was angry with God mostly. Judgment ko kasi, mabait naman akong tao. Sabi ko pa nga, marami naman ako sigurong napuhunang mabuting gawain, why is this on me?!
Then one day I looked at that glow in the dark crucifix hanging on the wall and had an angry conversation with God. Sabi ko sa kanya “ok fine, I probably am not suffering like you have up there, but you are the one who got me here, and you better get me out… because I’m sure as hell can’t do it alone… hindi ko na talaga ito kaya mag-isa and you owe me that at least!” ……
And then almost on cue, Margs, you just held my hand. Not for any special reason, you just held my hand like you always did that whole time. But this time parang a “voice” inside me said… “ALONE?! Who do you think has been here all along with you taking care of all your needs, holding your hand, giving up everything and putting her life on hold just to be with you and get you through this?”
It was at that moment when I realized that God has been there with me and never left my side through you and your unconditional love and care for me.
Ikaw ang binigay sa akin ng Diyos and I didn’t see that until then. I felt overwhelmed… actually in Filipino, mas accurate … “natanga ako.” It was you all along and He never left my side.
It was at that moment that a tiny crack was pried open from all my anger to allow myself to be loved by you and for that matter by everybody else.
…..it was overwhelming kasi parang sabay sabay naipun at nabuhos…All those weeks of heavy, heavy dark feeling of loneliness and helplessness just got lifted. Suddenly I felt hopeful and was determined to get out of there, and I WAS gonna get out of there because you are helping me…
I knew right there and then that all those prayers for me where now getting through because I allowed Grace to finally come in. I felt your warm and reassuring and safe presence every single day after that until we finally got out. I felt so close to you especially when I had to depend on you so much during that time.
I will forever be grateful to you, hon, because not only did your love heal me, but your loved healed my relationship with my God! I continue to pray that I always remember to be the same for you.
I love you, Body, Mind, Soul!
Margaux: Ever since I was young girl I had been told at home, school and church that God loves me. Although I know this to be true, it is not easy to understand or even feel.
I realized that through the love Dondon and I have for each other, I am able to feel God’s love. We have such an imperfect relationship, but out of that we share in such a perfect love. A love that chooses to see the good; a love that stops and listens; a love that cries with me; a love that longs to hold me; a love that tells the truth no matter how hard it is to face; a love that doesn’t stop loving in spite of, despite of, and because of who I am.
When I look at Dondon, especially in those moments of loneliness, fear, doubt, and even regret; moments when I am so angry with him that I want to banish him from the face of the earth… I know I love him still. Why? I just do.
Maybe that is a glimpse of why and how God could ever love us. Maybe it is the image of God I see in him.
Hindi siya madali. It is not easy to keep at this “perfect love” – God’s love. It does not come naturally. I forget, I stray, I get overwhelmed. There is no magic in our relationship that makes us automatically love each other. That is why we need to make the decision to love each other day by day, minute by minute.
Dondon has this habit of asking me out of the blue, “will you marry me?” Before I answer, I stop for a second, not because I am thinking twice about staying married to him, but because I am literally saying “yes” to him again. The yes I give him means that I choose to see God’s love in him, that I choose to live intimately with him, that I choose to work on this relationship, that I choose to love him unconditionally.
I realized that the YES on my wedding day was not just a one-time thing. That YES is my decision to love Dondon every day, every encounter we have with each other (or at least when I remember :)).
The moments when I choose to reach out instead of staying angry; the times when he chooses to listen patiently instead of interrupting me to argue his point; when I send him a text message out of the blue to let him know that I am thinking of him; or when he plays with the kids, especially when he sees how tired or stressed I am.
These decisions are what make our marriage, and believe me, there really are no big and small ones – they all count.