Dom and I have been married for almost 14 years now. Before we became romantically involved we were great friends. We were vulnerable, soft, caring, and compassionate to each other. Professionally, it served us well as raw vegan chefs running our own catering company and later starting an organic CSA. Working together is a gift we share with one another. It is a pleasure each moment we plan, conspire, build, and complete projects. It was like that in the beginning of our relationship when we built a solid foundation of friendship, and that friendship has endured and grown ever stronger with each passing day. It has also given us the unique ability to work well with others who are open to real friendship. It has become so ingrained in us that it just naturally flows out to those around us.
We have always been soft towards one another. Being soft requires strength, courage, and bravery. Emotional safety is the hallmark trait of remaining soft in any relationship, regardless of whether it’s a marriage or a friendship. It means that we can be honest with one another without fear of reproach. It also means that when things get hard in life, we don’t turn against each other, biting and gnawing at the other’s very being. It means that we don’t accuse the other of nefarious activities and unpure motives, mention past offenses to open old wounds or gush on about how much we do for each other as if that is a justification for any type of bad behavior we might be exhibiting at the moment or as a way to manipulate the other person into submitting to our will.
No. That is the behavior of someone with a hard heart. A hard heart breaks easily, is offended often and is annoyed at the slightest provocation.
Have you ever gotten something stuck in your finger, like a piece of glass or splinter? If it doesn’t get infected and we don’t remove it, our bodies will begin to create a hard casing around the object to keep it from harming us. Like an internal callous, these objects can be physically felt and rarely hurt, but they are there nonetheless. They are a constant reminder that there is something foreign under our skin that we have not removed, either because of fear of pain, or sheer laziness. We can often remember just when that piece of glass entered our bodies and have stories about how it happened. We recall it easily and remark at how clever our bodies are to be able to keep it encased.
We do that with emotions and hurts too. Emotional hurts and slights become encased in bitter feelings and emotions and lodged in our hearts and minds like a shard of glass. We put layer upon layer of excuses and justifications to wrap it up tight, and at just the right moment we tell those who have harmed us to feel the bump they caused. “Feel it!” we say, “See what you did to me and all I ever did was try to love you…this is what I get in return.” We become hard. Our softness begins to dissipate, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get through the cohesion of hurt and hardness.
Dom and I don’t live this way. We never have. Staying soft when things get hard is a lifestyle choice. It means that you won’t put up defenses because they aren’t necessary. It means that he can say what is on his mind and heart, and not be criticized by me or judged harshly. If he feels I have hurt him, he can tell me without fear of reproach. I can hear him say the thing that hurts him most and offer the most loving thing I have to offer…a soft heart. There is no pride to protect, no egos to overcome, no scorecard or *one-up-manship*, and no need to defend myself when he says I have hurt him. And vice versa.
When couples are able to practice being soft and malleable, it makes it possible to face hardships that come at us. Our marriage is steeped in hardships! Not towards one another, but because of different circumstances.
We have been homeless, penniless, friendless, family-less, very sick and often very alone. One thing we do have is a softness to each other and those we come into contact with.
Softness has nothing to do with demeanor. We aren’t pushovers, nor can we be easily crushed. We are soft even in the face of great adversity.
Right now as my health declines, Dom is frantic. I’m physically weak and become out of breath just walking from one room to the next. I wake him up at times wheezing and coughing at night, and all the life is draining from my face and body. It has set him to panic mode, where he alone is now responsible for not only working 7 days a week, but also packing up the house, cooking dinner at night, cleaning dishes and doing laundry. He is doing it all while I sit weakened, emotionally vulnerable and always on the verge of tears.
He could destroy me right now. He could beg that even though I am unable to take a bath without extreme effort, I should try to do more. I can’t though. This is what happens to me in moldy houses. I begin to fade away, vulnerable and emotional. But he doesn’t destroy me in these times. Does he get upset? Hell yeah. Is he upset with me? No way! We have been through this situation so many times that it’s completely predictable. Most people fear the unknown, but when it comes to dealing with my health and mold, we see it clearly. Mold is the enemy…not each other.
There is no need to get upset with each other or take it out on one another. He understands what is at stake and has always been my protector, my shield, my everything.
We have had times when I was so sick that I needed to be hospitalized, and then coming out of the hospital after 3 or 4 weeks in intensive care, would come 3-4 weeks of home care. He would have to quit his job to care for me because I can’t even move. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened while we were living on the east coast in the early days of our marriage. Through it all, however, he has always maintained a soft heart.
Dom’s softness has often been confused with being “happy-go-lucky” and “roll with the punches” but I can assure you that is not who he is. He is deeply mindful of the emotional needs of others. He excels this way. I, on the other hand, have a very soft heart but a rugged exterior. My softness doesn’t seem apparent until after you have known me for some time.
We compliment each other well. This is how we have survived as a couple over the last 14 years. We have been dealt some pretty nasty blows over the years but as a team, we have faced those challenges head-on and it has made us even more bonded than we already are. People we have met and shared our story with have often commented on how strong we are, or that they don’t understand how we are still married, but I can say with all candor that it is our softness of heart that gives us the strength we need to endure life’s hardballs.
Hardballs can be anything from needing to get rid of everything you own because of mold, to being hurt by the selfishness of others. That happens a lot to soft people. But we don’t become hard to endure their abuse, we simply choose not to be involved in the lives of those who would harm us emotionally or try to manipulate us. Easier said than done sometimes, I can tell you that much! People are complicated creatures with their own set of values and rules. Not everyone comes equipped with a soft heart and luckily we can see that while developing friendships and make decisions about how close we want to become to others.
Hardballs hurt. They leave marks in the flesh that we don’t easily forget. We flinch at times remembering a past pain or traumatic event, yet, we stay soft. We stay resilient.
Our lives are rich and full whether we are in good health and have a house full of treasured belongings, or if we’re homeless, sick, and left destitute.
We’re ready for a good change. We don’t know yet how it will all happen, but we trust that God is in control and will make a way for us. He is the ultimate reason our hearts have remained soft through all these years.
Life is good, even when it disappoints. Love is real, even when despair causes our hearts to weep because of an unknown future.
We are soft, even when things get hard.