I am happily married and have been for 18 years, with M for nearly 25. I am just realizing that is a really long time! Seems to me we have a pretty normal marriage, but every now and again I get a whiff or an earful of differing opinions. And mostly that’s just fine – if we were all exactly the same life would be boring. This time it was from a coworker, only married a few years and in the first painful steps of separating from her spouse and in the “men cannot be trusted” phase of that process. I cut her lots and lots of slack. Here are a few of the differences I disclosed that surprised her during our conversation.
M and I are very different people. Yep, it’s true. Our hobbies and interests are different. Our backgrounds, upbringing, and childhoods are very different. I am a city-loving girl with all its modern conveniences and he loves the remote country and would kill for a rural residence far from town. And that’s just the beginning, a bare tip of a small iceberg. However, our core value systems are very similar. What seems to make it work for us is willingness and understanding that compromise is necessary, in life and in relationships. Perhaps it is wisdom that comes with maturity and experience. We also love and respect each other, and are willing to do what it takes to put each other first and protect our marriage. Sometimes it’s really hard; perfect balance in the give and take is an illusion. The only perfect balance is that we can discuss it and come to an agreement we can both be mostly happy with.
We do not mind spending time apart pursuing individual interests. Every week M goes off and meets with his cronies for runs or running-related meetings, and as we are in trail running season, one day of the weekends he’s off running in the mountains with his friends. He loves this time of year, when the get togethers are an all day long trek on mountain trails. I live for the weekend days with the house all to myself. Maybe I’m at my desk working or on the couch (after my gym practice, of course) binge watching television or reading or both simultaneously. I go out shopping or meet with one/some of my friends for lunch or to hang out. But the mere idea of being at home all alone or able to just go wherever appeals to me. It is having the freedom to rearrange the furniture or clean out the cabinets without having him underfoot to suggest we go out or worse, want to involve himself in whatever project I have undertaken. Reorganzing the kitchen cabinets is not the sort of thing that creates live-and-death drama, but frankly I prefer to reorganize alone and not have to negotiate drinking glass placement or whether the big bowl we use once a year takes up prime real estate or is relegated to the very highest of high shelves.
We like spending time together, too. Mundane chores like grocery shopping or Costco runs we tend to do together. The only absolute exception is the Roseville farmer’s market – M is on his own in that endeavor. There are far too many tool vendors and people selling used items that we absolutely do not need that capture his bargain-hunting imagination, and I know my boredom and impatience with the scavenger-hunt-like process sucks the joy out of the experience for him. We tend drive to favorite places in the mountains (M’s choice) or on the coast (I love the ocean) to enjoy day trips and vacations. M is also everything aviation crazy, and I give up an entire week in September to sit in the bleachers at the Reno Air Races. It’s mostly a relaxing and enjoyable experience to me, but pretty far from my first choice of fun things to do for an entire week. And Reno is never going to be my dream getaway place.
Domestic choring splits work because we both pitch in and do whatever needs to get done. Because M does not work outside the home anymore, he has responsibility for cleaning and maintaining our pool, the landscaping, any outdoor chores, plus supervising any and all contractors we have at our home that require one of us to be present. He also does most the cooking and a lot of washing and drying of the laundry (folding and hanging generally falls to me). We both clean bathrooms, change beds, vacuum, clean up the kitchen, take out the trash, feed the cats, clean up the random mess of cat puke, etc. For whatever reason I seem to be the car person, in that I am the one who takes all the cars for oil changes, smog checks, maintenance and repairs. It works for us. Our housekeeping style tends to be relaxed, lived-in, and I cannot recall a time ever when either of us has bitched to the other about things not getting done.
Sometimes communicating is difficult, but we both recognize it’s important to keep trying until we succeed. Everyone I know talks about the importance of communicating, especially with your spouse or significant other. Hell, I have had that same conversation with my friends, my kids, strangers on the internet. And I mostly feel as if I am speaking from a position of experience, and just like everyone and everything else, your experience and definition of good communication within a relationship. Probably 95% of the time, M and I have healthy, intelligent conversations and discussions, even about the tougher topics. Then there are the 5% times, far too many to list, when that whole Mars-and-Venus cliche rings true. Whether it’s about the state of the world or something going on with the kids or close friends, sometimes M and I strongly disagree and cannot come to a reasonable conclusion without a massive, knock-down, drag-out fight. And because we are imperfect human beings, we sometimes say hurtful things to each other in anger with deliberate intention masked as heat-of-the-moment anger or frustration. And occasionally we are not sorry for saying those hurtful things. We are a very honest and down-to-earth couple in all our interactions; there are no rainbows and unicorns in my very practical, realistic, loving-yet-not-romantic marriage.
Forgiveness, just like love, must always be genuine. No matter what, I love M and he loves me. Despite the zillions of time each year I want to smother him with a pillow so I can have what I want without having to negotiate down to the very last detail, I love my husband and would have a very hard time without his presence in my life. As I said, sometimes we each say hurtful things, and maybe they needed to be said. But not in anger. Not hurled like a weapon across a great divide of our differences in personality and belief. When that happens, when we shoot for the heart and our aim was true, maybe we are not sorry for saying what we said, but we are remorseful for our timing and reasons behind using the hurtful words. I want only the best things in life for M; I want all his dreams to come true, and I know he feels the same for me. We want to be our better selves to and for each other, and not these monster warriors wielding our differences like a club to beat the other to death in the heat of battle. When one says “I’m sorry” to the other it’s genuine and heartfelt. Forgiveness is something that benefits both of us and our marriage. Being fake, using it to keep the peace is not an option.
As I have said, my affection for M is apparent and we have a good marriage. I think my associate was surprised I am so honest about the downside qualities that come with the relationship territory, but I always refer to M as the imperfect guy who is just about perfect for me. We went through a really rough patch and both had to grow up to grow together, and we still fall down and say and do really dumb things.C and A are getting married in a week, G and K in less than 5 months, so there is a lot of conversation about what makes relationships and marriages healthy and functional. Since I married at 20 the first time and divorced 7 years later, I kind of get that being older (C and A both turn 31 this year, G and K turned 29), more established in independent adulthood is helpful. I want the best for all of them and am not one to offer advice until there is a very specific issue for which I might have practical experience; a good relationship is not really one of those issues unless specifically asked. Life stuff, relationship stuff – I think they are as ready as anyone else for marriage and need no advice or direction or further ideas from me about how to succeed at it. As I say continuously like some sort of broken record, I really do just want them to be happy and successful in their life’s pursuits.
And to know that I love and adore them to the moon and stars and back, of course. It’s a mom thing.
Happy Friday everyone!