When our marriage came close to ending, the whole of it seemed to flash before our eyes, like you hear about when people have a near death experience and their entire life plays through in an instant on a big screen in their brain. At our ground zero moment, brought about by infidelity, we immediately knew all the ways we had gone wrong and how unfortunate it was we had sidestepped our difficulties instead of facing them head on in real time. If you don’t solve one issue before the next one comes along and so on, well, pretty soon you begin to feel like you have so many obstacles you’ll never be able to overcome them all. And you might give up a little, or a lot.

I write a lot about the macro of marriage, especially my own. Broad strokes about where Erik and I went wrong, where those missteps landed us, and how we’re finding our way back to each other. In that macro is a lot of noteworthy micro. Small decisions and choices that worked against us and eroded the integrity of our marriage, but upon examination can each be flipped over like a soiled rug or a stained couch cushion. We can use the good side going forward. 

Marriages don’t usually combust over one big fight or a couple of large letdowns, but over years and years of multiple smaller, sometimes seemingly innocuous behaviors and interactions. Unhealthy patterns that if left unchecked can create a crevasse between you and your spouse, a matrimonial divide. One so deep and deterring you may look across at each other and determine it might not be worth the effort-fraught risk to cross it anymore.

One of the micro fissures that worked to create the canyon between us was not sitting next to each other when dining with friends. I told you it was micro. And it really does seem small and inconsequential, doesn’t it? But there is rarely just one thing that rips the seams of a marriage apart; it’s usually many things. Things that seem so minuscule we might ignore them. Choosing our battles and all that. But ignored, the little things have time to plot and plan together, to develop a mob mentality. Before you know it, they’ve banded together and seem so big collectively, altogether daunting and insurmountable, and then all manner of avoidance and flight behavior can ensue.

Erik and I didn’t make a point of sitting next to each other when dining with friends in the past. Sometimes we were angry or irritated with each other, having bickered in the car on the way there and we didn’t want the proximity at the table. Or seating was already decided when we arrived and we just acquiesced. But most of the time, when deciding who sat where, one of us could be heard declaring some version of, “No, we don’t need to sit next to each other, we live together, we see each other all the time, we never get to see you, so we want to sit by you.”

After all, we made plans to catch up with these people, it made more sense to sit by them because who knew when we would get to see them again? We didn’t want to come across as rude by insisting we must sit by our spouse. Even more, we might have seemed like complete weirdos if we couldn’t bear to sit apart for just one meal. Oh, the horror.

The problem here is the message we were sending to the person we married. Them over you is not a good message, even if we are sending each other the exact same message. Just because we may be on the same page and our messages twin, does not mean the message is productive. These people first, you later, if at all, is not a good telegram to transmit.

The flip side of this couch cushion is that now, when possible without making too big of a fuss, or coming off like utter pouty-pouty McPout faces if we can’t have our way, we try to make a point of sitting next to each other when imbibing or dining with others. Because while it is just a little deal, it’s a big deal at the same time. It’s one small way we can tell each other, “You first, honey, then everyone else.” It’s how we can give to each other of our first and our best, not of what’s left over; a philosophy we’re using as a tool to rebuild our marriage.

This time around, we’re working to make our marriage weatherproof. Any kind of calamity teaches us that we cannot simply rebuild what we had. We have to learn from the devastation and destruction we endured. We have to recognize the formidable power of the near total disaster that came our way and realize if it came our way once, it can do so again. To guard against that, we realized we had to reinforce our marriage; fortify it and shore it up, using new guidelines aimed at minimizing any future damage as a result of unexpected external (or intentional internal) forces.

So, my friends, if I tell you that I’d like to sit next to my husband, please don’t feel slighted or take it personally. Instead, trust me that it’s necessary and important, that I know that for sure because I learned it the hard way. And take it as a sign that he and I, we’re gonna keep on truckin’. That means continued time with us into the future and you won’t have to go couples shopping to replace us anytime soon. And for that, you are welcome.

Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and shares it with her husband and two children. As an awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine, she flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.