My friend recently said that she wished she and her husband had a referee. Which echoed my thoughts about my own marriage. Someone to mediate between two opposing sides and objectively point out each one’s offenses. Marc and I could use that, as I suspect all couples, toddlers and warring nations could. As long as the referee wasn’t paid to throw the game.
That’s what counseling is, I suppose. Or should be. An outside opinion of how this sport of marriage is played. A third party to point out when and how we go wrong. Preferably without a whistle. Or a coach who can show us a game plan and give us strategies to win against all obstacles. Help us work as a team. I could use both. Because though I long for a sense of solidarity in my marriage, I find my natural state of selfishness creeping in and smashing the very idea to bits. Daily.
Here’s the thing: I love my husband. He’s my best friend. He’s the person I want to hang out with nearly all the time: funny, smart, kind, generous. He loves movies. Me too. He likes great music. What a coincidence. He cracks me up, the importance of which cannot be overstated. He’s faithful. He loves his children. He makes me eggs every morning. “What’s not to love?,” you may ask. “Well, it’s complicated,” is my answer. And that’s the problem. It’s the problem in every marriage, in every human relationship. People are complicated – a big tangled mess. I’m a lot of great things, but I’m a big mess, too. So big mess + big mess = bigger tangled mess that is hard to get a comb through sometimes.
There are certainly times when things are smooth. The conditioner has been liberally applied and love reigns. But boy, there are times when it doesn’t. Days when I wake up fully committed to my own desires, unwilling to sacrifice. As there are for Marc. And when those days happen to be on the same day? Ugh. Somebody get a referee.
My son and I were talking recently about a friend whose parents may soon be getting a divorce, and his heart was broken for him. It made me wonder how he perceived Marc’s and my marriage. The kids will say “You guys always fight,” which of course isn’t true, but to their young minds it must feel as such. Which breaks my heart. “You know how Dad and I argue sometimes?,” I asked. Nod. “Well, that’s because when you really love someone, if they hurt your feelings it really hurts. Like, Arghhh! I LOVE you. Why did you DO that? Or sometimes you just disagree, strongly, and you can’t figure out how to agree. So you argue. And you work and work to resolve it. It’s hard. And we’re people, so we’re bound to have conflict sometimes.” (Being the son of a writer and an ex-literacy-program-director, my son has known about “conflict” since he was in-utero). He got it. And when I asked him why he was upset about his friend, to help him talk it out, he said to my great relief “Because he doesn’t have a good family like we do.” Oh hallelujah. He hasn’t been too scarred by our fights. And he might even be prepared to have arguments with his own wife someday. Because it’s inevitable. Mess + mess. I just wish I could give him a referee as a wedding gift.
If only. I’m picturing a little guy with a striped shirt who lives at your house, up on a shelf. He’s inanimate when things are fine, but as soon as the voices are raised or sniping begins he awakens, jumps down, grows to adult-height and intercedes. It’s kind of a creepy image, but I’d be willing to accept some creepiness to stop Marc from losing it over my pile of papers in the kitchen. Or me over “someone” putting the water bottles away by clearly throwing them on the shelf. Or the bigger stuff. The tangled messes we’ve been trying to comb through since the day we got hitched so many years ago. But, since that little creepy guy doesn’t exist, I will have to trod through. Get some counseling periodically, as I recommend for every married person. Try to get perspective when the water bottles are askew and not to react so strongly when my pile is criticized. Take a breath and remember: we’re on a team. He’s my team. My friend. My partner for life.
And he’s funny sometimes. Always remember he’s funny.