Spring Break has come and gone, and I spent 8 days and nights with the man in my life. And as we both head back to work as usual, I ask myself: Is this the marriage I never had? Is this what “full-time” relationships are like? Is this what most experience — that I only had fragments of?
When your spouse travels – and I mean, travels all the time – you’re living a part-time relationship that becomes your “normal.” And even if the marriage lasts for years (as mine did, and calmly), you may think this is what being a couple is all about.
But it’s not.
Spending 2 or 3 nights/week together, on average, is a far cry from waking to someone every morning, eating dinner with him every night, and sleeping next to him in bed through the colds, the cramps, the chills and the thaws.
This is something different.
Deepening Levels of Intimacy
This is knowing the jokes you share, and being able to toss a glance his way and see the smile — without saying a word.
This is having enough history to be able to say “remember when…” and by history, I mean shared history, as a family or a couple.
This is feeling comfortable enough with someone to say the things that men and women need to say to each other — incredibly gently — voicing concern, but not disapproval.
You know what I mean. Remarks that may ruffle your feathers at first, but that you know are extended in love. Things like “you should eat better as a matter of health” or “that shorter haircut suits you perfectly.”
It also means being able to say “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”
This is intimacy.
Three Cheers for the Euphemism
Naturally, there are messages that are a struggle to communicate in any relationship, as in the examples above – however simplistic. These are, at least in part, euphemisms. They replace “you gained weight and need to pay attention,” or “I don’t love your hair like that.”
What underlies both of those common and relatively trivial examples is genuine caring for the other person’s welfare – that they be healthy (and around a long time), that they achieve the optimal look in the workplace to be well received, and so on. And just as important — delivering the message with kindness.
Clearly, not being offensive or insensitive is essential in any of this type of exchange, and kindness is often what goes by the wayside between long-term couples.
While I will not say that I missed this in my marriage — my ex was never unkind — what I did miss was any genuine exchange at a deep level, that didn’t have to do with his career, his family, or logistics for the kids.
Knowing Each Others’ Rhythms
As I continue in a full-time relationship, and in particular after taking a week off together (when we were truly able to relax and enjoy some “quality time”), I realize that my marriage was not typical. Not even in the early years.
Sure, we visited family, celebrated birthdays, had children together – and right away. It isn’t that were no knowing looks exchanged, but they were relatively few and, in hindsight, superficial.
In contemplating the days and nights together that I just spent with the man in my life, I consider the notion that quality time alone is (in)sufficient, that time (without quality) is insufficient, and of course, we all have our own definitions of quality, not to mention the right amount of couple time.
I’m also aware of how well we’ve gotten to know each others’ rhythms.
Wait. Allow me to amend that statement. I suspect I know his rhythms somewhat better than he knows mine, as I am an exceptionally light sleeper (and sleep little), whereas he sleeps long, deeply, and wakes wonderfully rested. That means I’m awake to observe far more than he is!
Cue my annoyance after a night of insomnia, when he’s ready to rock ‘n roll and I feel like I’m living in a sludgy tunnel! Then again, I only need to grunt a certain way or offer a particular look, and words are no longer required.
And I think to myself again: I never had this in my marriage. Not quantity, not quality. Shouldn’t I have expected to have it? Why didn’t I dare to speak up in its absence?
Familiarity Breeds Contempt?
Many insist that familiarity breeds contempt. But is that truly accurate?
Lack of surprise may breed boredom. Being taken for granted may breed resentment. But familiarity itself — the sort of closeness and trust that comes with time, history, mutual exchange — I hardly think this causes contempt or anything like it.
Still, I believe we are each entitled to our privacy, to our moments of solo time in amounts that feel reasonable to us, and we are better off when we accept that a little mystery can go a long way.
That’s back to the “surprise” mention I just made.
That’s about the other person as much as it is about oneself.
That’s at least one element of the “je ne sais quoi” that’s so important to a relationship.
And I wonder again. Is this what marriage is about for some? If they have it, how do they let it slip away? Is it the kids, the bills, the daily grind of domestic life?
- Sleeping Together
- Sexual vs. Emotional Intimacy
- Why Kids Are Hard on Marriage
- Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?