Monday, January 12, 2009

Scenes from a marriage

A friend who is going through some marital struggles has told me frightening stories about communication breakdowns. I remember the times that Noel and I have not communicated well -- mostly times that we concealed concerns or needs from each other -- and they're some of the most gut-wrenching memories I have. It simply feels awful to have something in between you, blocking you from saying what you mean and feeling what you feel.

At times like this, when I hear about such a block or division or disconnection between people in a marriage, I think about the far from perfect relationship between me and my husband, and I feel both sheepishly grateful and somehow incredulous. We went out to dinner last night, as we try to do on "date nights" a few times a month, and we talked for an hour or so about our work, mutual friends, plans for the future, and ideas that we've found interesting recently. Our marriage has always been based on shared interests -- in pop culture, sports, writing, humor -- and as time has gone on, we've taken to talking more, when we get the chance, about some of the philosophical and historical aspects of those topics.

In other words, we seize the chance to be analytical, to throw out some theories about the meaning of the things that mutually fascinate us, to try out some schemes that fit the pieces together. I think it's because our kids make it difficult to have a conversation that is more than thirty seconds long (and we have to ask for permission at that; "Can I talk to Daddy for 30 seconds?" "OK. One thousand, two thousand ..."), so an hour of time to have a back and forth, to build an actual interchange, is absurdly precious. On the other hand, we use that time to focus on each other rather than (as is our wont of a normal evening) focus together on a third party -- the television. It always starts out a bit awkward, as we wonder if we really have anything to talk about, and it always ends up with rich ideas and a scandalous sense of indulgence, as we take advantage giddily of an atmosphere of adult sophistication to enjoy everything that the kids (wonderful as they are) make it harder to find time for.

I hope I don't wake up one morning to find out that we've been drifting apart without my knowing. I'm not one to "work on" my marriage -- like my house and my health, I have this baseless hope that it will take care of itself -- but the changes we were forced to make after the kids came along, out of necessity, seem to be keeping the channels of communication open. And I'm glad of it; for a homebody like me, if my spouse isn't my best friend, I'd be pretty much all alone.

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