After thirty-two years of marriage, friends often query, “How did you stay together so long? What’s the trick?”
I usually shrug my shoulders and shake my head, “I don’t know. Lots of love, but sometimes you fall out of synch with each other. The love may not feel as overpowering as it once was; yet if you wait it out, it comes back stronger and better.” I’ll pause for effect, and then continue, “You have to be friends as well as lovers. And you have to be willing to give up some of the things that are important to you as a person in order to reach for what’s best as a couple. Marriage is never easy—but nothing in life is, right? You’ll both feel anger, frustration and hurt. Own the negative as well as the positive. Always pull together when there’s a problem instead of heading in separate directions or relying on someone outside of your marriage to ‘fix’ things when they go wrong.”
One of the tricks of marriage is taking two separate lives, with different upbringings and experiences, and blending them together into something wonderful and new. In the early years of our marriage, we made conscious choices of the things we liked or disliked about our childhood. For example, I hated that we moved every two or three years. I wanted to settle on a city or town, sink in roots, and build a life in one place. That didn’t matter as much to David at first. Later on, when I started looking for a bigger house, it turned out David rooted more deeply than I did; and so we added on to our home instead of moving.
Our biggest area of contention those first years? Keeping house. I grew up a clean freak. Baseboards and door trims got a white glove inspection when we lived on base, and I transferred that tidiness into my adult life. Many of our early arguments revolved around housework. David always pitched in, but did such a horrible job that I ended up redoing many of his chores. After one explosion on why he didn’t clean something correctly, he admitted that he rarely did housework growing up. His bungling attempts, which I misinterpreted as a passive-aggressive dodge of chores, turned out to be total lack of knowledge of how to get something spiffy clean.
When David and I had been married only a few months, he asked one night, “What do you do to the sheets?”
“Sheets?” I echoed, puzzled.
“They always feel so smooth. And they always smell good. Do you do something special with them?”
“No. I just wash them every week."
David paused, “Oh, that’s it, then. We didn’t wash our sheets every week. Sometimes more than a month would go by.” He made similar comments on the towels that never became cardboard stiff or smelled sour. Although all of David’s clothing when we first married fit into one paper sack, I was shocked to learn that he’d been told to turn dirty underwear inside-out and wear them a second time!
These differences in upbringing caused friction during those first years. I couldn’t understand why David didn’t just jump in to clean something, often forgetting that he truly didn’t see that something was dirty because his level of tolerance was so much higher than my own.
Eventually, we divided house cleaning and yard work not by the usual male/female divisions, but by what each of us likes to do most (or least hates to do). David prefers “picking up” or straightening up clutter. He likes to vacuum, cook, and clean the kitchen. I prefer dusting and laundry. We tackled grocery shopping together until recently. Both of us like working in the yard. Usually David will weed-eat while I’ll mow. We team up for clipping hedges, and I love to piddle in the garden
Blending occurred in many other areas of our lives. Even after all of these years, we’ll sometimes find ourselves discussing a difference (yes, they still exist) and figuring out the best way to fuse two ways of viewing something into one solution. During this past year, we’ve had new challenges and changes that could strain a marriage; yet we seem to have mastered this blending skill. And frankly, it’s the mixing and merging that makes life interesting.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman