Warm Flannel, Cold Hearts
January 11, 2019 • Marriage • By Joanna Teigen
Meet ‘Red’. This flannel nightgown is celebrating her 10th birthday this January, the same month we moved to Michigan ten years ago. When we showed up in the middle of that freezing winter (with snow piled higher than my head at the end of the driveway), I knew I had to crack open the Lands’ End catalog for some flannel to survive.
Red keeps me cozy on chilly Saturday mornings, along with mugs of hot coffee, our two dogs, and Pinterest. She lets me pretend I’m Mrs. Claus long past Christmas day. For an inanimate object, she’s got a lot to say. Her loudest message is to my husband, Rob – “Not tonight, honey.”
See, Rob isn’t a huge fan of Red. When I mentioned my need for flannel ten years ago, his face said plenty. He made it clear he wasn’t going to enjoy his wife in what is essentially a shapeless cotton sack. With a little spite in my heart, I figured I might as well go all-in with the fuzziest, reddest, warmest neck-to-toe version I could find.
That attitude pretty much sums up where we were at that point. Feeling criticized and unsupported, he wasn’t very into me no matter what I was wearing. I felt bitter and lonely, believing I took a back seat to his goals and interests. Our opinions on all matters—not just flannel—were unimportant to each other that January. The chill between us matched the winter snow outside our door.
How did we thaw the ice in our relationship?
Here are three ways we brought warmth, closeness, and love back into our marriage:
We hadn’t moved so far apart overnight. Daily choices over months and years had done their destructive work. We had put our marriage on autopilot, thinking we could survive too-busy schedules and mixed-up priorities without any consequences.
One day our discouragement and frustration came to a head. We took a few hours that evening to sit in a coffee shop and start naming our mistakes.
“I said such-and-such, knowing it would hurt your feelings.”
“When you felt stressed and overwhelmed I wasn’t there for you.”
“I didn’t ask for help and treat you like a partner.”
“The kids were my first priority instead of our marriage.”
“I gave you the silent treatment and dirty looks instead of sharing my feelings honestly.”
“I looked to friends and personal interests to get my needs met, instead of you.”
“My words and actions disrespected you.”
“I was selfish and cared more about my own needs than yours.”
Confession opened the door to understanding, grace, and compassion. We were able to apologize sincerely and receive forgiveness from each other and from God. It brought us back to praying together so we could put things right. Confession is a powerful tool to take ownership of our behavior and honor the other’s feelings. Those hours of confession were the turning point to move us toward each other again.
In the busyness of a job requiring months of travel every year, homeschooling four kids, serving at church, and moving cross-country, we failed to give our marriage the time and attention it needed. To heal and grow together, we recommitted to spending quality time and working to connect every day.
Rob and I started dating again, recapturing our sense of fun and romance. We enjoyed weekend getaways to explore our new state and re-explore why we fell in love in the first place. We called and texted throughout the day to keep in step with the little things. Slowing our pace and limiting outside commitments kept our marriage from becoming shoved to the margins. Putting each other first on our minds and schedules went a long way to creating warmth and closeness again.
“Us” instead of “me.”
Somewhere along the way we gave up teamwork for a divide-and-conquer approach to life. We tag-teamed in our parenting instead of giving our kids a united front and shared memories as a family. Tasks and errands were delegated so we rarely tackled projects together. We set personal goals and pursued friendships that let us drift deeper into separateness. This led to me-first attitudes and unhealthy independence from each other.
Our first steps back to togetherness were simple, like checking in before making our own plans. We teamed up for daily, ordinary to-do’s like trips to Costco and the gym. Efforts were made to be generous and thoughtful, whether dropping off a sack lunch at the office or picking up a new book for the other to read. This led to greater partnership so we could parent intentionally together and cooperate on home improvement projects in our new place. Eventually we began writing and volunteering together in a wider variety of ways. The “us” we cultivated then allows us to serve God more fully today.
These days, ‘Red’ is an inside joke instead of an irritation between us. (Just like Rob’s scratchy thermal long underwear!) That freezing, difficult winter is just a memory and we’re thankful for a better season of life to love and enjoy our relationship. When we feel a bit distant or cold toward each other, we’ve learned what it takes to warm up again. By God’s grace, we’ll sustain the honesty, quality time, and oneness that have made all the difference.
Send us a message or comment to let us know how we can pray for you in your marriage. May God bless you and keep you close to himself and one another!
Therefore, as God’s chosen people,
holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.