We have been invited to a wedding reception some distance away, the son of close friends who now live in Washington state. While we may or may not attend the event, I/we were asked to contribute to their wedding book, a best practices for a strong and healthy marriage.
I was divorced the first time out, so I feel like I am not a good person to ask, much less contribute. Yet M and I have been married for 17 years now, together for nearly 25. Maybe we know some stuff? It got me thinking about this post I began a few days ago and how it relates to this task at hand.
M has been truly amazing in our latest, all-encompassing home improvement project. This is partly his role in our marriage partnership – I am out earning income to keep us afloat, he is the in-residence projects manager – and partly because it’s what he really likes. The crew is jackhammering the crap out of our concrete? M is out there with his ear protection on and shovel in hand, helping out with the heavy-lifting and moving of the destroyed concrete. Excavator plucks trees from the yard? M is right there with the chain saw chopping it to pieces and loading into the back of the truck for disposal. Backhoe terraforming earth while other crews are loading concrete into the truck for disposal? There’s M, helping with the loading and disposal while being immediately accessible for question from the crew leader in the cab of the backhoe.
The yard is a MESS. I hate the smell of dirt and walking across it. The endless dust is making my allergies flare as well, but I’m grinning and bearing it. M, this morning, placed some stepping stones we had in the dirty dirt to the lawn so I would not get it all over my shoes to my car. Then he scooped them back up in the wheelbarrow and will put them back out again before I get home. It’s a little thing, yet a really big deal for me that I appreciate.
We are very different in tastes and in methods of doing things. As we learned in our various residence relocations, remodeling and home projects, the stressors of these outside forces can bring out the worst in both of us. We know it. We probably snipe and fight more under these conditions than any others in our lives. Being aware means we try to avoid those traps and pitfalls, be kinder and more considerate of each other, avoid the phrases and tones that sound accusatory and blaming when things do not go as expected, and there are ALWAYS events and circumstances that introduce the unexpected.
This is partly why I want to hire someone do rebuild our deck and paint the exterior of our home. M is most definitely skilled enough to do either of these jobs, but neither of them are projects he will enjoy doing. By himself both tasks will take him a very long time to complete, resulting in a lot of strife between us, until I get irritated and have a screaming mimi of a meltdown. Such events end up devastating both of us. If we can afford to hire the work out, it’s worth it to me, and possibly cheaper than long-term marriage counseling.
I am ashamed to admit that me at the end of my patience and my rope with M’s perfectionism and resulting sloooow pace is not a pretty sight. Terrible, terrible things come flying out of my mouth and in the heat of that moment I mean with all my might and send out like some heat-seeking missile to completely destroy my husband. He is equally well armed with words and ways to emotionally annihilate me, resulting in a situation where my flight or flight mode kicks in and I will be packing my bags and contemplating divorce lawyers. M is much more measured about intense disagreements and fights than I am, and we are both aware of my hair-trigger escape mode and how much it takes to bring me back to the normality of our day-to-day reality. Always it is better to deal with issues constructively and not get incendiary, especially over something relatively transitory like home improvement projects. The deck repair, sodding the front lawn … these are pretty far from life or death, make-or-break marital perils.
I was thinking about this listening to close friends describe ups and downs in their relationships. Sometimes it’s a very big deal – infidelity, unpredictability, addiction, job loss immediately come to mind – and sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding that morphs into every little resentment coupled with a bad case of PMS. I am so far from any sort of relationship advice dispensary and take great pains to not offer advice unless specifically ask. I comment. I relate. I empathize. But I try to avoid sounding preachy or anything like Dear Abby.
I suppose I have found that in 20+ years with M and having gone through a separation and been on the edge of divorcing him because I could not cope, I have learned a few things about marriage. , More importantly: I have learned A LOT about myself and my capabilities and limitations within the boundaries of marriage. I want to be a good partner. I want to be a builder-upper rather than a tearer-downer, i.e., I want to be supportive and positive rather than unsupportive and negative. I also have certain needs and expectations and finally figured out that apologizing for them, neglecting them, or pretending that I do not makes me a very discontented spouse. M and I have our “you’re not listening to me” moments that come out sounding like we’re each whining in the moment, but there is nearly always a kernel of truth in that statement. I don’t like to hear it, because it makes me uncomfortable. I’m an imperfect wife? M, say it ain’t so! We work at it, the whole marriage thing. One of my friends said recently that we make it look easy, and we laughed. If it looks easy it is only because it’s familiar and habitual; we know the soft spots and the weak links and deal with them as needed rather than trying to avoid them indefinitely.
Our concrete project is coming to a close, and thus far it has been straightforward and easy. There has been no tension, no disagreements, no resentment because of friction between us over decisions/compromises to be made. Maybe we’re getting better at the big projects, or maybe our 3 years of talking about it, dreaming about it, finally seeing it become reality has been more powerful than we realized. Either way, it’s been a good few weeks without any major drama. I have not sensed M pulling punches with me because I’m not reacting intensely enough over something, but then again, I honestly have no real opinions on the PVC to be used under the concrete and trust his judgment on the shades of gray we have discussed endlessly for the coloring. As for me, I’m glad he’s on the ground and supervising.
We are a team, a partnership. It is something neither of us take for granted, and maybe this is the key to our success. I will have to think about this for awhile longer and refine my ponderings. Whatever I submit, it will be from the head and guided by the heart.