Back to basics

Posted: October 29, 2008 in Calvin, Drama, Headspace

Marriage is hard.

It’s rewarding, it’s wonderful, it’s happiness-making. But it’s hard.

Calvin and I talk all the time. We have no problem at all talking. We’re GREAT at talking. If there were a World Series of talking, we’d sweep every year. It’s the communicating thing that we’re not always so great at. We’ll start off an argument with one of us snarking about an annoyance, which turns into a turnabout defense strategy, which evolves into an out-and out fight with both of us simultaneously thinking, “Damn, it’s like talking to a brick wall.”

Arguing, for me, is like trying to strike a balance between understanding, and self-defense. I can’t even begin to describe to you how much I adore Calvin, and in the midst of an argument, I’ll still want to stroke the lines from his forehead and hold him and take all the worries away. My inclination is to take all the blame upon myself and hike up my britches and get to fixin’ things.

At the same time, I want to defend myself. I KNOW that when people disagree, no one person holds the entire blame. I’m hyper-sensitive to the sensation of being bowled over, trod upon, taken advantage of, being taken for granted. And so I over-compensate my defenses.

I think I argue with myself more than I ever argue with anyone else.

My frustration at the moment lies with the want to just get back to basics, but I don’t know how to get there. To be the “us” that we were in the beginning, when we were kinder to one another. Why do we treat perfect strangers better than each other? When did it become okay to casually toss out a cutting remark? When did we start putting ourselves first, instead of each other? When did winning an argument become a contest, instead of the healthy airing of issues and concerns?

We both wait for the other to make the first step forward. I make demands of him and wait for him to “make the first move” before I reciprocate. He makes demands of me and waits for me to provide proof to him before he’ll take a step toward me. We both stand there, staring at each other, waiting for the other to cross the line first.

“If he’d just, then I would…” “If she’d just, then I would…” We’re both guilty of it.

We over-analyze the things we don’t have to, and give less effort to the things we should concentrate on. We scratch our heads and wonder why something that used to seem so easy is now so fraught with complication. We wonder when “us against the world” turned into “you against me”. We’re less tolerant of smaller annoyances and blow up at things disproportionate to the reactions they deserve.

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that Calvin loves me, and that I love him. Our love for one another has never been an issue. Our feelings toward one another are not at issue. What is at issue is the way we treat each other, the selfish ways we conduct ourselves, and our lack of cohesion.

I read an article recently about the stages of a relationship (which I can’t seem to put my hands on right at the moment), and while most of it I dismissed as twaddle (or, well, what I dismissed was the negative tone and the author’s obvious belief that every relationship is doomed to fail), a particular statement jumped out at me. It’s in reference to a couple’s experience of the “Empty Nest Syndrome”, which I don’t think applies to me and Calvin, but the statement by itself resonated:

“They discover that they’ve lost faith in their powers to rejuvenate each another.”

And that’s it EXACTLY. I don’t seem to rejuvenate Calvin the way I used to, and vice-versa. There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when we could “plug in” to each other (dirty minds need not apply) and recharge and feel better for the time spent with one another. Surely, these days, we don’t exactly drain each other, but we seem lately to just be striking even. Not spending any of our emotional bank accounts, but not making any deposits, either (to borrow one of Calvin’s favorite analogies). The ability to rejuvenate one another is still there in full force, I know. We just haven’t been tapping into that ability lately.

One phrase I keep repeating, in many different circumstances, is “You own your own attitude, and you own your own behavior.” The changes I wish to effect in my relationship begin with ME, because I am the only one whose behavior and attitude I control.

So. I’m taking it back to basics. I don’t believe we’re truly that far off from where both of us want to be, after all. I’m going to focus inward on the things I can do better. I’m going to dust off old positive behaviors and inclinations. I’m going to relax my hold on my expectations and stop pushing, and just let us be us. I’m going to take a deep breath, reset my attitude, and remember the most important thing of all: I love him.

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Comments
  1. Elissa says:

    I hear ya sister!!! What works for me when things get touchy between my hubby and I is that I remind myself to turn to him rather than away from him emotionally. Because sometimes all I want to do is to turn away and nurse my own wounds, know what I mean? But if I make a conscious effort to turn to him the emotional chasm can be breached.

  2. Taoist Biker says:

    “I think I argue with myself more than I ever argue with anyone else.”

    Do not!

    Seriously, I think we’re nicer to strangers because, well, strangers haven’t spent the last several years irritating the holy shit out of us by slurping their soup or peeing on the seat or leaving the gas tank or the TP roll empty for the kajillionth time. I don’t care who it is, if you spend enough time around somebody, sooner or later the little stuff will piss your right the hell off. That’s not romantic, but it’s life. Sucks but there it is.

    I think your approach is as good as you can find. Own your own shit and decide where to go from there. I’ve had some success with that one…when I can remember to keep using it, that is. It’s easy to fall back out of!

  3. I have been battling this for a while…but I have no great advice. I really try to do things just for her, no matter what they are and without expecting something in return. Sharing tasks…instead of you do dishes and I’ll do laundry might become, I wash; you dry or folding clothes together.

    You might do all of tasks, but there is something. My attitude is the biggest difference, my wife hasn’t really recriprocated, but she is feeling much better about things. I think she will catch on soon.

  4. K says:

    Why do we treat perfect strangers better than each other? Because they don’t know anything about us and can’t call us out on our shit.

  5. Kim says:

    This post is amazing in that you described a common marital issue in such an articulate way that I’m sure anyone who’s married and reads this will be nodding their heads, going “Yep!” just like I was. So many people don’t realize even great marriages take effort and evaluation sometimes. It’s HARD living with someone day in, day out forever. Hard, but completely worth it. Marriages like yours are an inspiration and I’m confident you all will always come out victorious over all the obstacles life throws at you.

  6. fishdreamer says:

    This is just beautiful, thank you for sharing it.

  7. Calvin says:

    The really great part about this is that we think even after all this time that there is some big problem when we have a few days of what most couples would consider a normal every day good relationship.
    Like TB said “I don’t care who it is, if you spend enough time around somebody, sooner or later the little stuff will piss your right the hell off.” I know why it bugs me when you never rinse a dish… but is it even worth mention?
    I think most people start having issue becuase you think we have talked about the things that are bothering us and you think great thats’s over done with gone and then it happens again. And I hate not being able to resolve things or at least know the issue or behavior is not going to change so I will need to adjust how I react to it.
    Ok here’s the deal if you rinse your dishes I’ll stop farting in front of you:)

  8. iamheatherjo says:

    Don’t believe him! That’s the oldest boy trick in the book! It’s all over once they fart in front of you. Then they never stop!!! 😉

  9. iamheatherjo says:

    Oh and I have to say that the person who took that icky-sweet picture of you two must really love you. 🙂

  10. Laura says:

    Elissa – That’s an excellent thing to remember. Thank you.

    TB – DO TOO! Har. And yes, I think you’re right about why we’re nicer to strangers. But… um… who pee’s on the seat? Which seat? The living room? Imagining all sorts of weird things, over here…

    Electrician – I hope she does “catch on” soon, I know it would be hard to be the only one trying…

    K – ~snort~ Too true.

    Kim – What a nice thing to say! Thank you, that made me feel happy.

    Fishdreamer – Thank you, back!

    Calvin – We ARE lucky, aren’t we? Love you, bubs.

    Heather – 😛 And also, I give you all the cred. I loved that pic that you took of us, and so now it’s mineminemine. AND, we love you back!

  11. angelcel says:

    Yes, marriage takes effort, on both sides, but it is worth it. When irritated by some complete nonsense issue, I think to myself how life would be without my dear husband and therefore *none* of these irritations. The answer is: totally unthinkable. I’d also say that being kind and polite to one another is essential. Your home and your relationship is the one place where you should feel absolutely assured of being treated like you are the most important person in the universe. (These words of wisdom come to you from someone with 28 years experience of co-habitation, 26 of marriage)!
    Good for you two that you’re making the effort to surmount this wee hillock on the road to ‘Old Married Couple Happiness’. 🙂

  12. Taoist Biker says:

    Dining room chair, actually. Steve Martin’s bit in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” was inspired by me.

    Okay, that was a lie, but I love that bit!

  13. Jeanette says:

    Having been married for 31 years I can tell you that it never really gets easy to live with someone. After all this time though, we have learned to choose our battles and not to sweat the small stuff (but if he would just not glob toothpaste in the sink every damn night my life would be so much easier!) You have a strong foundation and that’s all you need to overcome those days when you can’t seem to get along for anything!

  14. Taoist Biker says:

    To be perfectly fair, I should go back and say that I think the “living with somebody will drive you nuts” applies to more than just a romantic partner. Think about it – parents, siblings, roommates, they ALL drive you bonkers. Romantic partners just have that added twist…they doubly piss you off, because none of the above (well, with the possible and occasional exception of roommates, I suppose, but never in my personal experience!) are people that are your sole supply of booty.

    “Damn it, you asshole, you KNOW I want to get some but I cannot POSSIBLY jump your bones when I’m this pissed off!”

    (Although I personally think angry sex rules. I wish I could find a YouTube of the Scrubs scenes with Turk purposefully making Carla mad when she’s trying to get pregnant. I laughed my butt off at that.)

  15. Laura says:

    Jayne – That’s it exactly. Whenever Calvin and I are feeling on each other’s nerves, we try to remember, “I’d rather have you here irritating me to death, than not have you here at all.”

    TB – BWAAHAHAHAAA! I forgot all about poor Rupret. “Can I go to the bathroom?” “Yes.” “Aaaaahhhhh…” Also, yes, the nerve-wracking thing also applies to whomever else you share your space with, but with them you can just, I don’t know, get away from them. The spouse shares the same space, same bedroom, same bed. And, I know EXACTLY the Scrubs scene you’re talking about. ~grin~

  16. Laura says:

    Jeanette – Thirty-one years??? Wow, that’s fantastic! And so rare, these days. You’re an inspiration!!! And, it seems that the only things we DO sweat are the small stuff, cuz we are eye-to-eye on the big stuff. Which is good, I think.

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