This weekend was my fifth wedding anniversary. My wife and I traveled to the lodge where we were married to celebrate our anniversary. We have built a relationship based on love and respect. As with any relationship, it takes work to maintain connection and to communicate clearly. In the daily efforts of parenting and living life, there are many decisions we each make that come from our life experiences, beliefs, and expectations. We are not always in alignment on those decisions, and we are finding ways to communicate in those spaces to be more aligned. Those spaces are hard to navigate even with love and respect. I sometimes can’t find the words to explain how I am thinking or feeling, and I end up saying something that doesn’t resonate the way I intended. Then I can feel disconnected and unheard, and my wife can as well. Miscommunication can break down lots of relationships.
The commitment we made together five years ago merged our two lives, the five lives of our children, and our families. That is a lot of communication and lots of opportunities for misunderstanding. Particularly during the COVID-19 crisis, we are together more often, we see fewer people, and we are home most of the time. Trying to maintain a healthy and happy relationship takes honest and open communication, which involves owning your own stress, listening without being defensive, and finding words of self-ownership. That is more difficult than it sounds. It also takes a recommitment to your partner and what you are trying to build together.
As we spent time together over the weekend, I felt a renewed sense of appreciation for the comfort and connection we have built. We are different people and have different individual goals, interests, and joys in life. We also share the desire to make the world better, to feel like our work makes a difference for our communities, to raise healthy and happy children, and to spend time together.
I also was able to fish this weekend. Fishing has become an important part of my life, and my wife is very supportive of my time fishing and tying flies. She does worry when I go fishing by myself, especially if it is somewhere I haven’t been before and don’t have cell service, and when I stay fishing longer than I told her I would be gone (another issue I need to communicate better about). Today we talked about how I approach fishing by myself, trying to record my path, minimizing wading risks, and keeping awareness of animals and weather changes. We had never talked about how I try to take care of myself while fishing before, and it helped her to understand the precautions I take to make sure I am as safe as possible.
The process of recommitment also resonated with me about how I was fishing. One of the main takeaways I gathered from Devin Olsen’s fantastic book, Tactical Fly Fishing, was to constantly evaluate the depth and approach for each area of water. I am often reluctant to change my setup or approach. I wonder if I should lengthen the tippet for a dropper length with a dry dropper, or switch flies, or add split shot, or change from nymphs to dry flies. Part of committing to becoming a better fisherman, for me, is to use my knowledge to increase my opportunities to catch fish on the water. As I started fishing this morning, I set up a dry dropper rig with a beetle, and about 15 inches of tippet to a size 18 Iron Lotus. I was fishing a stream that I wasn’t sure had many trout given the season, so I checked the stream temperature to ensure it was in the 60s. I believed there were brook trout in the stream based on the write up in Trout Streams of Pennsylvania by Dwight Landis. I knew that brook trout were easily spooked but were also aggressive feeders. I thought the beetle would work well as terrestrials are starting to be on the water and because the fly was buoyant enough to suspend a beadhead nymph.
In the first few runs; I caught a brook trout; I felt like my decision on the setup was a good one. I missed another hook set in the next run. More confirmation that I was on the right track. But then as I progressed up the stream, I was noticing my drifts were irregular and sometimes my dry fly would stop. My tippet for the dropper was too long and the weight of the nymph was too great for many of the runs. I hesitated to change the rig as I worked up the stream, thinking the next run might have a little deeper and stronger flow. I think that hesitation to change resulted in many missed opportunities. I eventually switched to a small streamer near a very deep pool. I immediately caught another brookie and missed a hook set on another. I needed to recommit using my skills and knowledge to give myself the most opportunities to catch fish; I was being lazy.
I do find that my process of recommitting to be the best parent and stepparent I can be is beneficial. I try to recommit at work each Monday to focus my time and relationships with my coworkers. I think my fishing would benefit from recommitting to work on my skills with knots and rigging. I also think I need to recommit more to continually improving communication with and connecting to my wife.
What I’ve found with recommitment is that you get more good than bad moments. And as moments arise when you can be consistent, present, and/or supportive, the trust in each relationship builds, an understanding develops, and stronger feelings of love and friendship are built. When you get a warm and positive affirmation of your efforts, because you’re not expecting it, its warmth is overwhelming and feels wonderful. Often, I struggle when I’m not conscious, when I am tired, or my brain goes on autopilot. Unfortunately, when I am stressed at work or from parenting or having a disagreement with my wife, I feel I need to rest and to regroup. Those are the moments when I should be communicating the most with my wife, and I sometimes struggle in those spaces and shut down.
Growth and learning take moving towards the edge of where you are comfortable into being uncomfortable. It takes challenging preconceived notions, seeing where you are rigid or lazy, understanding when you need to be more flexible or harder working. It takes recommitting yourself to embrace the things you value, to be part of the changes you want in your life, and to strengthen the relationships in your life. Committing seems easy, like those New Year’s Resolutions that don’t make it through January but building the habit of recommitting is where I find growth.