I’m knitting a blanket.
Late last week, I began a section that was all the same kind of stitch. I went on autopilot and wasn’t paying close attention. At the end of the first row of that section, I had a feeling I’d missed something. I glanced back and didn’t see anything off. Apparently I didn’t look closely enough. I should have checked again a row or two later, because sometimes you can’t see mistakes until you’ve laid a little more yarn down.
A few days later, I finished that section and started in on a section with a pattern. I discovered that I had one stitch less than I needed for the pattern. I counted the row several times to be sure. I looked back at the last few rows, hoping to find a hole (evidence of a missed stitch) just a row or two before. Nope. It was eight rows back, at the beginning of the row–right where I’d been when I had the feeling I missed something.
It would have been nice to just pretend the missed stitch had never happened. (“Hey! It’s personalized. It’s how you can tell it was hand-knit!”) However, I knew that the hole would mar the value of the blanket. I knew that when I looked at the blanket, the hole would be all I could see.
I considered unraveling the whole blanket and starting over—but I’d already put so much work into the blanket and I didn’t want to have to do a complete do-over.
A more experienced knitter could have repaired the errors without having to un-do anything. A braver knitter could have ripped back eight rows and picked up all the stitches. Not me, though. I had to unknit all eight rows. It was over 1000 stitches (1056, to be exact). I had to painstakingly lift each stitch off the needle, one at a time, until I got back to the hole I’d left when I wasn’t paying close attention.
It took me several hours. When I finally got back to the hole where I’d missed a stitch, it took me five seconds to fix.
Only five seconds to fix. More than two hours to undo everything in order to apply that fix.
Maybe you aren’t a knitter. Maybe you don’t do any craftwork at all—but I think most of us have had the experience of realizing we’ve missed something in the process. Have you ever missed a spot when you’re painting? Have you neglected to write down a bill you’ve paid? Have you put off maintaining a car or appliance? Have you forgotten to pretreat a stain on a shirt, only to pull it out of the dryer and realize that now the stain is set in and will be even harder to get out?
How often do we face something similar in our marriages?
We don’t notice something, or we put it off until later—and then we realize that we have even more work to do than if we’d done it right in the first place or worked on things earlier.
What does my night of 1000 stitches suggest that we do with problems in our marriages?
Pay attention. When you think there may be a problem, do more than glance at it. Unwork what you need to until you get to the point where you can determine whether there was a problem and actually work it.
Don’t think you can avoid doing the work. I often want to think that if I avoid dealing with the problem, it will go away. I know it isn’t true, but I want it to be true and sometimes pretend that it is. I knew that I wasn’t going to enjoy the unknitting—but I also knew that doing the work was the only way to fix the problem. When I faced problems in my marriage and began to suspect that I needed to work on things, I avoided it because the work sounded so hard. It turned out I was right. It would have been easier had I take care of it before my habits became as solidified as they were.
Expect the untangling to be time consuming and frustrating—and valuable. Sometimes undoing something requires even closer attention than going forward more carefully. It takes me longer to lift a stitch off a needle than it does to put it there. Fortunately, there is value in the un-doing. When I undo my knitting, I try to figure out what I’d done that caused the problem in the first place so I can work harder on avoiding that problem in the future. It’s usually being on autopilot that leads to my knitting errors. The work I’ve done on myself and my marriage hasn’t been easy, either, but it’s been very valuable. As I’ve unraveled who and how I am as a wife, I’ve learned so much about
When there’s a problem, deal with it as soon as you realize it’s there. If you suspect there might be a problem, pay close attention for a while. Sometimes a problem’s existence doesn’t emerge until you can see it as part of a pattern. You might need to pay attention to other aspects of the marriage to help confirm that there is a problem.
It helps to have a milestone. I marked my knitting hole with contrasting yarn. This was partly to ensure that I got to the right spot. It was also to help me quickly see my goal so I could measure my progress. When I was working so hard on my marriage, I would set myself one small goal at a time, and I was always sure to figure out how I would know when I got there. When I was working on learning to say “yes” as the default to sexual initiation rather than “no,” I thought about how that would look for me—and I decided it was when I no longer had to take a deep breath before answering. Knowing ahead of time what to look for made it easier for me to recognize when I’d arrived.
When we avoid dealing with the marriage problems, not only do they not go away, they usually get worse—and then we have an even bigger mess on our hands. And no matter how wonderful everything else is, when we look at our marriage, the mess is all we can see.
Fortunately, when we work on our problems—even if that means painstakingly undoing lots of habits and patterns and putting in lots of time—we can watch something strong and beautiful begin to emerge.