I was pondering marriage this weekend. Over the course of this year four of our closest couple friends are separating (1), divorcing (2), in counseling to figure it out (1). These couples are our age (50-somethings) and have been married in the 20 to 35 year range.

It’s heartbreaking in some instances, a huge relief in others. These are people we have known for a number of years and socialize with throughout the year and various events. We have listened and been supportive of our friends as they navigate this new terrain, and it is impossible for me to remain unmoved and unchanged by this information. It reaffirms a basic belief for me: marriage is hard.

Part of my reason for pondering the mysteries of marriage is that M and I have taken some baby steps toward the next big home improvement: replacing our deck and repainting the exterior of our home. For us, these are challenging conversations. Our tastes differ wildly, our get-it-done personality temperments also scale up and down. Where I would be perfectly happy to hire out the work, M sees no reason to do so when he is able to do it himself AND he sees my willingness to spend the money on a contractor as a vote of no-confidence in his ability. Huge (for us) fights ensue.

My position has always been that when we decide on a project, I want it DONE and have no issue having a strong discussion with a contractor we are paying by the hour about getting it completed per contract. When M does a project, what might take a contractor a week or two usually takes a more than a month. I get it – he has a lot of other things going on at any given time – and I do not want to become that monsterously nagging wife to get the deck completed or the exterior of the house painted. IF we agree he’s going to tackle a larger home improvement project, I need a firm commitment that it is going to be completed within a reasonable timeframe, OCD perfectionism managed to get achieve forward progress. As of this minute, we are at a tentative agreement that M will re build the deck and we will hire a painter to paint the house. I can live with that, but again, we are in a timeframe commitment, i.e., remove the existing deck, paint the rear of the house, and then replace the deck. These jobs must be coordinated.

So we went off to seek out decking materials. M has finally come around to my way of thinking and agrees that a composite material would be better than wood. As I continually point out, we are not getting any younger, and I do not believe we will want to do the staining and sealing and maintenance a wood deck will require. On our first try of looking at decking products we found and agreed upon both a product and a color for the deck boards and have narrowed our choice for railing down to a stainless steel cable with black posts or black iron railing to match our fence. Next is the facia board and how to conceal the underdeck section, so I would say we are 85% of the way there. M still needs to determine if the foundation requires additional footings and structural support.

For the house paint, we want to paint it the same mud colored taupe we have right now. Our reasoning is that while we are not crazy about the mud color, our window frames (another shade of taupe) and general landscaping (oak forest – trees all over the place) limit the choices we would like better (white, gray). I will start the estimate process for the work once M figures out what is involved with the deck replacement.

Before getting to this peaceful compromise point, there have been many intense discussions, some arguments, and even a couple of real fights. Unfortunately, we are both passionately committed to our home and its long-term enhancements, and negotiating compromises can get loud. However, every time we have hammered out an agreement on something to do with the house, we have both been delighted with our final decision and agreement. There have been several big projects in the last almost 4 years – the roof, the flooring, the master bathroom (gut and rebuild), the lighting, peeling the popcorn off the ceiling, painting the interior, new tile in the master bathroom, the pool resurface, the concrete – and we have yelled, screamed, slammed doors, burst into tears, cooled off in other ends of the house, yet come together and figured out the best compromise that we both get some of what we want.

There are many things where we disagree, including politics (I am far more moderate and tolerant) and religious fevor. But we love and respect each other, put the other first above all else. Is that why we are still married whereas other marriages fail? Honestly, I have no idea. I hear things like “we grew apart” and “we fell out of love” or “our visions for the future changed.” Why? I listen to one side or the other, and I come away with the idea that kids are frequently the glue that keep couples together. Once the kids are grown and off leading independent lives, how little couples have in common seems to bubble to the surface.

I am quite sure I am oversimplifying complicated relationships and marriages, but it seems to be a recurring theme. For M and I, we have looked to this time in our lives with almost guilty anticipation. The kids are thriving and have partners of their own, and we have time, resources, and health to pursue our own interests. We love, Love, LOVE our family and getting together, spending time with them. We also love, Love, LOVE our time alone, together and apart, to do the things that interest us most while we still have the energy and physical ability for those pursuits.

In my first marriage, xH and I were ill-suited to each other and had no business getting married and having children. However, I do not harbor a single regret, because I have awesome children that make my world a much bigger, better, brighter place. With my xH, it was kind of destined for failure, because we could not communicate, period. When we would fight, it would get personal and it would get mean very quickly. That H would not be happy or feel satisfied with a fight until he had drawn emotional blood and made me flee or give up completely, and whatever problem or issue we were trying to resolve would be kicked down the road until the next fight. We were young and had minimal depth – how deep could I have been as a 20-something with a terrible childhood and unresolved issues I could barely discuss – so it was understandable that a delta breeze could have uprooted our marriage.

So while I have experienced divorce in my first marriage, separation and reconciliation in my second, I still do not completely understand what happens between other couples when the marriage fails. I try to be an honest, compassionate, supportive, and non-judgmental friend whether I understand or not. Marriage is hard, and I suppose it’s difficult for me to fault anyone for giving up when their personal situation makes it impossible to go on. Because I sometimes eye the duct tape and imagine putting it over M’s mouth to get him to shut up about his strongly-held opinions that differ from my own desires. This is definitely progress from visions of smothering him in his sleep to get my way.

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