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Life Notes: Navigating Marriage
Surviving minefields and mastering mind-reading

In this season of good will, I’m ashamed of myself. I really am. But when my husband recently began humming a song off-key and improvising the words for the 95th time, I lost it.

“Will you please stop that!” I demanded, as if he’d committed some heinous crime against humanity. Nasty. Pointless. Bound to disturb the peace.

But so much a part of a long marriage that these little tempests go almost unnoticed, woven as they are into the tapestry of domesticity. Ditto for the endless signals we send one another through the days, weeks and years of our togetherness.

My husband insists he can tell by the way I walk into the kitchen in the morning what my mood is. Mind you, that’s before I’ve spoken a single word. I can predict with some certainty what he will say about a person we’ve just met.

Married people are every bit as gifted as any psychic in reading one another’s moods and minds. Just ask us.

We’re also skilled at finishing one another’s sentences, predicting each other’s reactions to almost everything and, yes, understanding just where to aim those slings and arrows that are part of long marriages just as surely as all the sweet contentment.

My husband knows I’ll scatter sections of the newspaper around the den, which drives him crazy. He also knows the way to make my guilt more piercing is not to mention my misdemeanor, but rather to silently pick up those sections and methodically reassemble them – always in my presence.

Not a word is spoken during this object lesson, but we both know exactly what the message is.

I can impart a pretty powerful message about his straying from his diet with a certain practiced withering glance. The crowning touch: my dramatic placement of the temptation of the moment in the dark recesses of the freezer.

We both know it will take an act of will to get us out for our presumably daily walk on evenings when we’d rather drift in and out of consciousness in front of the family room TV. But one of us will invariably play “good cop” to the dismay of the other, and off we’ll go.

Then there are the ancient grudges. We’re both too stubborn, for example, to accept responsibility for the refrigerator we purchased years ago, one we’ve hated ever since. Its innards have never suited us, its shelves refuse to be user-friendly, and it hums day and night.

But for all the years it’s been with us, we’ve gamely pretended that the blasted refrigerator is perfect, because any other concession would lead us back to the circular argument of whose idea it was to buy it anyway.

Marriage makes ceaseless demands on our sanity and our patience. It makes us grit our teeth as we compromise for the zillionth time. It makes us lose our cool and binds us on the altar of our mistakes. Even in the best unions, we repeat neurotic patterns while we plant our flaws in neat rows.

But if we’re lucky, a long marriage also makes us feel connected in the deepest sense. It makes us feel cared for and cared about. On our best days, it reminds us we are the curators of one another’s histories. On our worst, it makes us want to bargain for a time out, ideally in a spa resort.

So yes, there will be little tempests and big storms. There will be pouts and bouts of the blues. But hopefully, there will also be the comfort and privilege of the upside of married life, which comes wrapped in sweet, everyday pleasures. A meatloaf and mashed potato dinner can taste like caviar when snow is swirling outside and we’re at our kitchen table watching it come down.

We’ve both learned the very best of marriage is having somebody to nudge when you see something wonderful and want to share it – and having somebody to hold when there’s pain and trouble that won’t go away. If you think that’s not much, try doing without it.

December 2014
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