My husband, Seth, and I sat in the dark Seattle rain, in mid November, stuck on I-5 North as we headed up to Edmonds, Wa. We were on our way to see Chris Thile, a Mandolin prodigy, (that I am obsessed with,) live at the Edmonds Center For The Arts.
Without traffic, that 44 mile drive would have taken us approximately 1 hour and 11 minutes door to door. So, we left our home around 5:30pm giving us ample time to make it there by the 7:30 curtain call.
This concert was a big deal for us, or maybe I should say...the drive up to the concert was a big deal. Seth and I had spent the last 5 years tediously repairing our nearly failed marriage, holding onto the hope that one day we would be able to look back and see our own progress as a still married, and relatively happy, couple. And that night, November 12, 2015 - in the dark and misty Seattle traffic - we were going to see if we had succeeded or not.
We dropped the kids off at Grandma and Papa’s house and hopped in the car armed with an iPhone as our mic and a whole lot of courage. We had both agreed that we should talk through the pain and the struggle of the 5-year journey that we had been on without fighting, getting angry, blaming or crying. We wouldn’t argue about who was right or wrong, we would just….talk, as openly and as honestly as we possibly could.
We would seek answers to the bigger questions that had shaped so much of our pain in the early years of marriage, but that we had been too afraid to ask ourselves during those darkest hours.
It started with uncomfortable small talk at first, the fear and anxiety present in both of our voices as we crawled up 405 and into Seattle. As the traffic grew heavier so did the questions.
“Why did you lie to me about it?”
“Why didn’t you reach out to our friends?”
“Are you afraid of me because I gave you a black eye?”
The years prior to this car ride, conversation were a nightmare of our own making….but we didn’t see it that way back then. It was 2009, Seth had graduated the year before from Seattle Pacific University with his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, we were attending Mars Hill church in Bellevue, and I had just given birth two weeks earlier to our second son in 15 months, and that was when Seth told me that he had been hiding something from me. And before I go on with this story - I have to tell you that in that phase of our lives Seth and I were tangled up in a very messy, very rules-based mindset about how people should and shouldn’t behave, what Christians did and didn’t look like and what this lie represented in our lives.
Seth had told me that he had been looking at pornography. For most of the world this statement holds relatively little weight, but for me, the wife of a therapist, the mother of a one-year-old toddler and a two-week-old baby, it was crushing. We had been going to counseling at our church and private counseling off and on throughout the five years of our marriage before this event, but nothing ever seemed to make sense.
Blame was thrown around left and right, resolution was never met, and things never seemed to get better. And now, this.
Seth’s “confession” was NOT what this car ride conversation was about, it was about the storm that followed, the storm that I created, and that he willingly walked in….for years. It started with small things: throwing the remote at him, telling him how much I hated and resented him for what he had done, fully leaning into and accepting the idea that he had done this to me, he had broken something that used to be amazing, he had ruined our marriage forever. Eventually violence entered the picture and a black eye stamped a new type of pain into our world, a black eye that I had given my husband, the man that I had promised I would love and cherish for the rest of my days.
How had this happened? Seth and I were kind and good, loving and fun, we were the last couple that anyone would have imagined would walk through domestic violence, yet here we were. Looking back now it is easy to see how off track we were, but at the time we just felt lost and flailing, grasping for anything to pin blame to or that could have been the ‘cause’ for our bad behavior. In all of that we had neglected to see that our actions were ours alone, we neglected to see that we could have chosen a different way to handle our mess, to process it, or to love one another through it, but we didn’t.
But, I am saying this all right now, with nine years between me and the day that Seth ‘confessed’ to me, two-and-a-half years between that car ride up to Edmonds and the writing of this blog post, and that matters. It was that car ride and the months and years that have followed, that have given me any semblance of the perspective that you read in my words today.
The two hours of raw audio that Seth and I recorded that night, while stuck in traffic, and wading through our past behaviors and pain, would eventually become the foundation for a podcast that we would create together, and that would change our lives. But, back then we just thought it sounded like an interesting idea.
In order to share our story, I had to learn Audio Engineering. With the help of a good friend of ours, Matt Carter, as well as a hefty dose of Googling, I learned the ins-and-outs of sound design, narrative storytelling, and interviewing that built the structural walls of Season One of the show. And little by little, over the span of a year, it came together.
But sharing and exploring our story did more to us than we had expected. It began to reshape our ideas of self, what it means to be married, what it means to share pain and love together as a couple. A podcast that we had innocently thought was just going to be an exploration into a hard season of our lives, became a transformation into a new way of seeing the world, a new way of seeing our relationships, and a new way of seeing ourselves.
The Anatomy Of Marriage Podcast had morphed into something much bigger than anything we could have dreamed up on our own. It took us from blame, fear, anger, rage, and violence, to love, patience, education, security and a deep sense of ‘it’s going to be ok’.
The podcast that we had created to share our story had also rewritten it.
Listening back over the last year of the Anatomy Of Marriage is a thing of beauty. You can literally hear the shift that our hearts have slowly made. You can hear our minds opening up to new ideas as we interviewed therapists, interpersonal neurobiologists, couples, marriage specialists, and even children to grasp a new and more beautiful understanding of the value and care that relationships have and need in order to thrive and bring us joy.
Our show has become the resource that we wished we would have had nine years ago, but it is most certainly not the resource that we thought we needed back then. It isn’t about who is to blame, who carries the most fault, who was wrong and who was right. Relationships are not that simple, they are not black and white, they are a beautiful and complex dance of give and take, push and pull, invitation and acceptance.
In a dance, the dancers must move in all directions or else they are just standing still, No one views the dancer who is moving backward as the ‘loser’, because soon enough they will be moving forward once again. The journey of making this podcast has given me and Seth the freedom to do the dance of our marriage well, without simply pushing each other off stage and without the fear of momentarily moving backwards.
With each new interview and conversation that Seth and I have, we come into a new and deeper sense of understanding each other in a more complex and wonderful way. We also gain a new understanding that no two couples dance the same dance and that is exactly how it is meant to be.
You can listen to the Anatomy Of Marriage Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts, and you can learn more about Melanie and Seth Studley as well as see their free marriage resources by heading over to anatomyofmarriage.com.