My husband and I have been married for 23 years; the same amount of time my parents were together when they divorced.
Whenever I was upset as a teen, my thoughts would always return to the pain I felt over their separation. I’d be crying about the untimely death of a teenage classmate, and the next thing I knew I was back in that moment, awakened in the middle of the night, hearing my dad (was he crying?) upset with my mom’s plans to move us kids from Virginia to Massachusetts.
We did, in fact, move. I was thirteen. We saw my dad at Christmas and in the summer. He remarried and was happy. My mom married Bill, her high school sweetheart, the man-about-town, ex-football player from BU, who drank too much.
I became fond of the woman my dad remarried; she took wonderful care of him, but there was a part of me that always wished my parents had stayed together.
This was my background the day Rich got down on his knees, with my dog Max supervising, and asked me to marry him. I said yes, but we agreed it was important that we never divorced. As a result we’ve tried to create a married life that works for us over the long haul.
The first thing we did was go to marriage counseling.
We are both a little nuts and have had therapy in the past. Rich had a counselor he liked, so I started going along, plus we participated in a pre-marital program to get married in the Catholic Church.
Off and on throughout the years, we’ve returned to counseling when needed. The fact that we are both willing to go is important. After a rough patch a few years back, we started up again and now go bi-weekly to continue working on our crappy communication skills and, though a slow process, it always helps.
When we started going this past time, I had some resentments. I thought how great it would be to have someone see what I’m dealing with and take my side, but a good marriage counselor stays neutral. It’s a humbling moment when you express something you think the counselor will empathize with, and instead they gently expose your part in the equation. I’ve had a few “oh” moments, where I realized I was part of, or creating, the problem. Not the best feeling, but when I am finally able to see things from Rich’s perspective it helps me to become open to change.
Besides the counseling, for day-to-day living, I have learned a few other things that have helped us stick together these past 23 years.
Humor is our priority.
Rich and I have our own brand of humor. Sometimes I think Richard’s sole job of the day is to make me laugh. He does a good job of imitating me. It’s on the rude side, but that’s what makes it funny. I know he’s not going to say anything totally mean or to hurt my feelings, but he pushes his jokes to the edge and can find humor in most anything. Laughing together is definitely our favorite pastime.
I don’t always get my way.
So I admit (sorry honey) that there are things that I wish were different. However, since my husband and I do communicate, I know there are things he wishes were different about me, too. We can blame, we can disagree, sometimes we scream, it can be uncomfortable, but after 23 years, I’d say overall we’ve accepted what we can’t change and continue to move forward. My mom used to tell me to let things roll off my back and I think maybe I am now able to do that (a bit) in our marriage.
My husband does things that I appreciate.
Whenever I get my hair cut, no matter how ugly or short it looks, Rich always says it looks nice. When he cleans up the kitchen, I thank him and say what a great job he did. I’ve learned to appreciate that he always does the trash and his own laundry. He helps drive the kids places. He is a “hands-on” dad.
My husband is a good listener. I blab on and on. Maybe he isn’t actually listening, but he tries and that’s enough for me. He also listens without trying to “fix” the situation.
We sleep in different rooms.
Yes, we do. It took a long time for that to happen. At first, of course, we shared a room. But there is snoring, he watches TV before bed, I like to read, he gets up a lot in the middle of the night, sometimes he turns completely around while he sleeps, (honestly I would wake up with a foot in my face). At one point, I started sneaking up to an empty bed in the loft to finish out the night. One night I was upstairs reading late and fell asleep. I slept through the night and felt so much better the next morning. Eventually this turned into me having my own room. Rich got a tempurpedic-type mattress, which I really don’t care for, so we both sleep better on our own. Of course, we still make romantic time a priority.
Other priorities include sitting together for our afternoon coffee in the sun. Our idea of a date is lunch at Panda North and a stopover at Hannafords. In the winter we watch the birds. We have favorite shows and Rich tries hard to find movies I enjoy. He is into WordPress now, so we talk about that. We both work at home and like to wear our fatty pants most of the time.
We have a common spiritual outlook.
We like the same spiritual books, like The Four Agreements. We agree that there is a higher intelligence looking out for us. Sometimes I feel this presence out on a walk in the woods. Rich likes to smudge with beautiful sage received from a friend in San Diego. We both admire Indian spiritual traditions and someday I will write about how that saved Rich’s life.
We love our kids very much and feel super blessed to have them in our lives. We appreciate when they bring their friend’s home. We’re happy to see them doing well and it brings us a ton of joy.
In the last year or so, since we lost our lab Buddy, we have started talking in a weird, high-pitched voice for Luna. She gets excited, grabs her lovey, and parades around the kitchen, waiting for a treat. This is an important ritual in our day.
Sometimes we keep our mouths shut.
We have learned to pick our fights. After 23 years, we’ve gotten better about seeing the other person’s viewpoint, or at least knowing what is worth a fight. Most things aren’t.
My husband puts up with me and encourages me in whatever interests I have. I am very independent and if I want to go to a WordCamp or other convention, he’s fine with that.
The main thing is we have committed to staying together.
We’ve made it this far and hope to keep trudging along.
Sarah Goodwin says
I love reading your stories. Through them I can look at parts of my life and try to think a little differently about them. And of course I hear your fabulous voice which makes me smile.
I want to talk to you about this blog entry in particular when I see you in June. We just had our 25th anniversary.
Marjorie Ray says
Thanks so much Sarah. I have no idea how these posts will go and this feels like a nice outcome. Can’t wait to see you next month!
What a truly remarkable piece, To be able to put your relationship in such a succinct, relate-able way demonstrates what a great scribe you are! It makes me feel really good to know that we met so soon after you moved to Wellesley and, although it’s been 7 years since I have actually seen you, I feel the connection stronger than ever. Love you, Git!
Marjorie Ray says
Yep, you were there when I landed in Wellesley Gail! I’m so glad we have kept in touch, can’t believe it’s been 7 years though. I am coming to Maine this summer no matter what!
This is one of the loveliest, most profound and moving pieces I’ve ever read on relationship. I’m reminded of reading Scott Peck years ago in the Road Less Traveled, where he talked about marriage as a path to individuation, the full embodiment of oneself. He described the importance of “friction” in relationship, which brought to mind an image of committed partners allowing the inevitable friction that arises to smooth out their rougher edges, leaving both with increased harmony and joy. I also love the concept of laughter as a foundational bond of strong partnership.
And I know you walk that walk!!! I’ve long admired your relationship with Rich–the depth of your commitment to each other and your beautiful family.
This blog is such a gift–I love getting to know you better through reading your words.
Marjorie Ray says
Thank you Audrey, so much, and your friendship has been a blessing throughout.