I’ve written a lot about choosing Steve.
I am thinking about the general verses and choruses of a marriage. The ups, downs, and in betweens. That’s where life is…in the in between. And marriage first and foremost is real life. Dishwashers, and carpools and in laws. But it is not always the same, in fact it is never the same. What that means is you have to choose each other each day, sometimes many times a day. Even so there are some phases we encounter in relationships, many of them more than once.
The song lyrics are all from the wedding mix that we played at our 25 guest ceremony in our living room wearing sweaters, 10 years ago Saturday.
Unlike the honeymood phase of a relationship where the other person’s quirks are endearing and you can’t take your hand off of their thigh the honeymoon period of a marriage is exhausting. You probably had a wedding which is exhausting in and of itself, and you might be riding a high of not in fact having to be planning the wedding any more, but beyond that you are just tired. Plus, you are taking a break from a real life that hasn’t even started yet.
Steve and I didn’t go anywhere, we decided to invest that travel money into our new house. And take a trip later in our relationship when it was more excited. We felt like everything was exciting at the beginning. The last couple I saw returning from their honeymoon in Italy seemed eurphoric, but totally exhausted, they had been up for 24 hours and were headed back to work. Tiring, right?
I’ve heard people say that
Too much of anything is not good for you
Baby, but I don’t know about that
As many times as we’ve loved
We shared love and made love
It doesn’t seem to me like it’s enough
It’s just not enough, it’s just not enough
My darlin’, I can’t get enough of your love
(Barry White, Can’t get enough of your love) This is probably the only phase of marriage that will accept the lyrics of this song. Enough is in fact enough for the rest of the time.
So if you went somewhere on your honey moon you are back. If you somehow were not living together ahead of time you are fetchingly old fashioned, but even if you co-habitated things are different now. It’s time to figure out the basics. How much time will you each get on your own in the house, or headed out with friends, or to pursue your own interests? You need to feel your way through it.
Steve and I have settled on roughly one night out alone and one night out together each week. (Thanks Sarah.) When the boys were little and I was sleep deprived we did way less than this, but I still took a day a week off, and drove around and tried to remember who my friends were, and wished it was the kids out of the house, but TIME ALONE is the key to making any relationship last. Other than the honeymood phase (the pre wedding one) there is never a time that a single living breathing person enhances your life by being present 7 days a week. I mean, do we even want to be with ourselves that much?
There is more to experiment with; who does what chores, what level of diligence needs to be taken with the house, shall we go to bed at the same time each night? Sometimes what you think matters to you really doesn’t. Try to notice that and let go of it, there is no shame in saying : “you know how I have been nagging you about picking your clothes up off the floor? Turns out that was a waste of both of our time.”
For the first 3 years of our relationship Steve reloaded the dishwasher before he ran it. He couldn’t deal with my laughingly haphazard loading style. So we talked it through. I told him his reloading made want to either a. not help or b. torture him by using no logic at all. He told me a well loaded dishwasher made him happy. I asked if the happiness was visual (that I could get behind) or functional. He’s an engineer. He said functional. So I used his language. I said that in 40% of the time to load I was getting 95% of the results. We tested. It was pretty true. (That was a good dishwasher.) So he loosened up quite a bit and I took a little more care.
If anyone ever wants to know how and why we will be together until one of us dies it is probably the way we negotiated the dishwasher, recognizing a mutual frustration, talking about the why of it, a bit of experimentation, some compromise on both sides, and Steve allowing me to call it a win.
‘Cause we, we got the right foundation and with love and determination
You’re all, you’re all I want to strive for and do a little more
You’re all, all the joys under the sun wrapped up into one
You’re all, you’re all I need, you’re all I need, you’re all I need to get by
(Marvin Gaye, You’re All I need to get by)
♪Routine – you two (chorus part 1)
So now you have guidelines. You are up and running in real life. You’ve developed some routines, you make space for some spontaneity. You mix future planning with living in the moment. You feel a connection washing up from dinner, every once in a while your stomach still jumps to your throat when you see him down the hall- who IS that hot man? My HUSBAND? His texts make you laugh, He always has your back. Life with a teammate. Its a good thing if you view life as a team sport. Are you always in sync? No….but when you are out of sync it is constructive interference. Nothing extreme is needed, just you.
Steve and I are different. I like to plan it, he likes to live it. So we have a chalkboard and a calendar and a weekend list. We have a menu plan. And it turns out I just want to have made the plan…not necessarily to follow the plan. So Steve takes about an hour out of his week to indulge me in the planning of regular life, the stuff that doesn’t need to be scripted. And then I indulge him by ignoring the script. It works for us.
You say you’ll give me a highway with no one on it
A treasure just to look upon it
All the riches in the night
You say you’ll give me eyes in a world of blindness
A river in a time of dryness
A harbour in the tempest
(All I want is you, U2)
♪Destructive Interference (chorus part 2)
Then, all at once (or slowly creeping in like the tickle in your throat that becomes a terrible flu) this very same routine, the very same rules are just dessicating you. You are a dry shell of self. Every single thing he does irritates you. The little bits of hair in the sink, that slight whine in his voice when he is supposed to be the matter of fact one, how quiet he is with your friends (doesn’t he KNOW to put his deaf ear to the wall, is he checking out ON PURPOSE) That sigh of upset every single time you check out of the grocery store (It can’t still be a surprise, can it?) How can this be the last man you will kiss?
As much you questioning him sucks its even harder when it is his turn. He is snappy, you are clearly not charming him. You try to talk to him about it. That is as useless as him honking your boob to cheer you up (not that Steve has ever done that.) He is far far away from you. You wonder why you ever wanted space. You think you see an eye roll. Was that an eye roll? Don’t you have the license on the eye roll?
Wait. Just Wait. This too shall pass. Sometimes some sort of quick connection physically, or laughing at a shared memory can speed it up, or a date night. But this is part of the chorus. You can’t just skip it. Don’t panic, don’t test each other, don’t plead or yell. You have chosen each other. You are in this. As long as neither of you pushes or pulls to hard you will find your way back to you two.
Steve and I have no magic for this, but we are not afraid of it. One or the other of us will say- I don’t feel connected to you. And because we trust each other, and now we have lived through it we know it will end. Like so many things the labeling is the beginning of the shift. Whether it is Einsteins, that which is observed is changed, or just that by the time he or I have found words for it it has already begun to change it will change. So hurt feelings about the disconnect are short lived, irrelevant and often avoided. We do the opposite too.
One of us won’t last the night, between you and me it’s no surprise
There’s two of us, both can’t be right
Neither will move till it’s over
I’m the center of attention and the wall’s inside my head
And no one will ever know it if I keep my mouth shut tight
My own little world is what I deserve
Cause I am the only child there is
I’m king of it all, the belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this
Forever the first, my bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist
Where everything’s fine, if I can keep my mouth shut tight…tight…tight
(Center of Attention, Guster) Not on our actual wedding mix, but it IS my theme song.
♪Re-locate (Repeated many times in MY relationship)
At some point in every marriage you move, build, remodel, or travel for an extended time. This takes you out of your routine. This is a project based relationship re-creating what you consider home, where the bulk of your time is spent prepping for a change.
Steve and I struggle with this. He prefers the routine, I prefer the transition. I push us towards change. He ignores change for as long as is possible, sometimes until the moving truck is pulling up to the house. It often kicks us into a destructive interference phase. I am trying to create fewer transitions. Steve is trying to change his routine sooner when change comes. We both have work to do, making and keeping a home together.
Two of us sending postcards
On my wall
You and me burning matches
On our way back home
We’re on our way home
We’re on our way home
We’re going home
(Two of Us, Beatles)
♪Becoming a second class couple
There are some high school sweethearts that had decades together to develop as a couple before kids. There are also the brave and bold couples who decided not to have kids at all.The rest of us popped out babies quickly after the wedding. Your balance shifts with the pregnancy, but once the baby is out your marriage is a literal and figurative shit show. You are both total amateurs at the parenting thing. Or worse, one of you is a natural and the other is a stiff robot. You spend 4 months talking about things going into and out of the kid’s body.
Oliver is reading over my shoulder. He is telling me- you were only married for 2 years before I was alive? Thats really NOT that long compared to how long YOU have been alive. First Oliver- thanks for the old age dig, Second- you are SO RIGHT. Those two years were not that long.
What can you do to have some fun, and a bit of your old relationship in and amongst the body fluids? Add more to the mix. Get back to having regular sex as soon as your body allows, even if your mind isn’t exactly 100% sure. Nothing in your life is going to be 100% sure again. Just go with it. What’s the worst that can happen? (Stop it, I would NEVER call Leo the worst. He is the happiest mistake ever)
Will you stay in our Lovers’ Story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you
Soon you’ll grow so take a chance
With a couple of Kooks
Hung up on romancing
(Kooks, David Bowie) Not from wedding album, but Hunky Dory is one of my top 20 albums.
♪Finding your footing
This is basically ground rules part 2, after the baby. Back to a routine for 3, or 4, or more. Getting back in the saddle was the first step towards reestablishing a relationship for just the two of you in and amongst your family. And also, finding time for each of you to spend time alone as well. It is hard, really hard to do this. Try though.
Steve and I met for lunch once a week when I had a sitter. Then he got some time alone for later night hockey games, and I would meet friends. Mostly just remember that this is temporary and try to make your way through it together, young kids make routine difficult. As soon as you think you have things figured out it changes. Just stick together as much as you can.
Sometimes you picture me
I’m walking too far ahead
You’re calling to me I can’t hear
What you’ve said
Then you say go slow
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you I’ll be waiting
Time after time
(Time after Time, Cyndi Lauper)
♪Blowing things up
This is any other kind of transition. Perhaps a career change, moving in your father in law, finding religion. No matter how carefully planned it is you are blowing up the routine your family has created. so watch the bits and pieces rain down around you. Together. Then you re-set. Its like an escape valve on something with gas so it doesn’t actually explode. You need it. No one is going to get to 50 years without some minor explosions. Lets say that one of you is the detonator, the other the bystander. Invite the bystander to the show. Act up/ act out/ make changes, but make them together as much as possible. Try not to scare each other. If you disagree about this change fight your fight but keep that other person in mind as you do. It is not just you in this explosion. And don’t publicly blindside your partner. That is not going to make things easier. This is a case where forgiveness is a lot HARDER than permission.
Took this love and I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
Till the landslide brought me down
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don’t know, oh I don’t know
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older I’m getting older too
Yes I’m getting older too, so
I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I, I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too oh yes
I’m getting older too
So, take this love, take it down
Oh if you climb a mountain and you turn around
If you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
Well the landslide will bring you down, down
And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
Well maybe the landslide will bring you down
Well well, the landslide will bring you down
(Landslide, Fleetwood Mac) In its entirety because I am not sure a more beautiful, true thing has ever been written. I imagine every single person reading this blog has heard it. If not please listen.
These are explosions out of your control health, wealth, extended family problems. I’ve written about the health stuff. As unexpected as they feel they are a regular part of life. We will all deal with crisis in its many forms over time. What to do with a big scare? Turn on the lights. Gather as much information as you can, make decisions together based on those choices and re-realize that not everything is in your control.Be gentle with each other. Things will change. But they were changing all along, you just couldn’t see it clearly until now.
In times of crisis Steve and I pare down to the bare essentials. If everyone is alive at the end of the day we are going to call it a win.
Well, they had their share of hard times, too
But whatever they were, they never let it get them down
Now, they just go walking down a country lane
See the leaves changing in the misty rain
And only one thing remains the same, woah ooh, yeah, yeah
Just a perfect love, ooh, yeah, yeah, perfect love
(Under the moon and stars above it was a perfect love)
(Perfect Love, Marc Cohen who hilariously we saw in concert and admitted that his True Companion song is his single most requested song- went on to perform it, forget the lyrics and explain he had divorced the woman he had written it for.)
What’s next for us? A lot of the above. Getting to plan it, remember it, and live it together. Having to make complicated decisions, and respond to crises. Loads of laundry, and halloween costumes, and discussions of time and space. Catching a glimpse of each other in the crowd, and coming downstairs to a mug of tea, already made.
And I don’t know how I survived those days
Before I held your hand
Well I never thought that I would be the one
To admit that the moon and the sun
Shine so much more brighter when
Seen through two pairs of eyes than
When seen through just one
Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
As a face in a crowd of people
That lights up just for you?
Well I have known all these things
And the joys that they can bring
And now every morning there’s a cup of coffee
And I wear your ring
(Anniversary Song, Cowboy Junkies)