I spent the day yesterday being marriage counselor. This need surprise nobody; after all I have been in a relationship for (what will be) 25 years (in April 2011) – I think I have learned a thing or two about how to make a marriage work. I may have failed at many things in this life but marriage is not among them. In this, our 24th year, Pat and I are more devoted to each other than ever before. Well, give the boys a medal, ok?
The experience, though, of being therapist to my friend all day yesterday got me to thinking about how disposable people have made each other, how easily relationships are discarded – the propensity people have of choosing to cut and run. Perhaps it is a product of the time in which we live. These days, when anything breaks, people throw it out and get a new one. It costs more to repair the air conditioner in the window than to buy a new one. Same thing goes with the television, the Nano, the cellphone, the camera… almost everything we have in our house. People would rather just chuck it and get a new one than spend the days waiting while it gets repaired; and that includes our personal relationships. Now, I’ve walked away from toxic friendships. I have also stayed pat and fought to make them better. Those, though, are friendships, not marriage. You don’t just walk away from your marriage. Well.. maybe you walk out the door, walk around the block, cool off and come back to work it out. That’s ok.
Yesterday, though, I was amazed at how many hours were spent taking call after call from my friend because he and his husband had had a dust up and the husband had stormed out. For hours (and I mean hours) the husband stayed away from their home, preferring to communicate in (what I considered to be) vague and cryptic text messages, rather than sitting down with (the person he calls) his best friend and working it out. For hours yesterday I acted as interpreter, taking call after call from one man, asking me to listen to him read text messages from his husband (and best friend), and then take a stab at guessing what the husband meant by it. I did it. I listened, I dispensed advice and I did my best to read between the lines of the text messages. Then, late in the day, I turned to my own dear husband and said “remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally when Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby are on the phones with Harry and Sally, counseling them both and, upon hanging up, they turn to each other and say Promise me I’ll never be out there again?” Pat said yes. “I am living that moment”.
What happened to make my friends fight, what has put their relationship in jeopardy is private. It is not my story to tell. I wish, desperately, that I could tell it because it would serve to illustrate how the minutia of our lives affects us – that is, how we LET the minutia of our lives affect us. I’m not saying what happened between them isn’t bad – it’s bad. It just isn’t worth the threat of ending their marriage. It isn’t even worth the fight they are having. When the whole thing happened, honestly, it should have amounted to a serious talk over a pot of tea, some crying, some hand holding and a notepad filled with a list of what they are going to do to effect a change in their lives. Instead they did what so many people do: they chose the apocalypse. The whole thing is positively holocaustic. I, naturally, told Pat what was going on because these are our friends and, at some point, one of them was bound to call Pat for his take and for his broad, waterproofed shoulder to cry on. Once I had done this, once I had told Pat what I knew about the situation, we talked, for a long time, about the path that we took to bring us to where we are today. There were floods of memories of the bad things that touched our relationship. There were lies. There were secrets. I had a problem with addiction and he had a problem with sexual indiscretion. We’ve had money troubles, trust issues, communication problems. We even touched, briefly, on physical violence. Yet, each time we had a problem, however big or small, we stayed together. We fought for each other, for our marriage. There was even a period of a few years (YEARS) when we didn’t like each other; couldn’t STAND each other, couldn’t talk to one another, didn’t want to look at each other. Every day of those few years, we stayed together and every day we said “I love you” to each other, repeatedly.
My friend James Beaman recently wrote a story about his feelings concerning the reversal of Proposition Eight and all the gays who are rushing to the altar. In his story he speaks, adamantly about gays who just want to get married without observing the SANCTITY of marriage. It’s an important word – sanctity. In the dictionary and thesaurus it is described equal to sacred. I think people confuse these words with religion, which I do not (I cannot speak for Pat, though I know my husband well enough to know that he does not equate these words with anything religious). When Jamie speaks of the sanctity of marriage, I am sure he is not being religious either. So I went to the American Heritage Dictionary and looked up Sanctity – the second definition says sacredness. I went to sacred and the fifth definition says “worthy of respect”. That’s the one I wanted.
Pat and I have no religious affiliation. Only respect. Respect for life, for God, for Earth, for people, for dignity, for goodness, for humility, for intelligence.. for so many things; including our marriage. Jamie’s point in writing his story was that people (gay and straight) don’t observe the sanctity of the union. At the first sign of trouble they cut and run. Tch. That’s how I feel about that. Tch. You have to stand and fight.
A couple nights ago Pat took me to the picture show. We saw The Kids Are Alright. (Spoiler alert – if you do not want to spoil the movie for yourself, skip this paragraph). In the film, Julianne Moore’s character has a physical affair and when her wife, Annette Bening, finds out about it, they fight. They sleep apart. They fight. They stay in the same house. They fight. They talk to their kids about it. In the final moments of the movie, their troubles still unresolved, they sit in the front seats of their car, driving, and one puts her hand on the other’s knee; the other takes her wife’s hand and they squeeze. This is a real life couple. They have invested years in building this city in which they dwell; they have a family, they are good friends – best friends – and they aren’t going to walk away from that.
While listening to my friend tell me his perceptions of what was happening in his home, I noticed something. He talked about his feelings, his fears, his worries, his guilt. He told me of his husband’s reactions to the situation: the anger, the betrayal, the demands, the expectations, the disappearance, the reluctance to sit down and talk. Each story had something in common: each of them was talking and each sentence was about “me”. I am angry. I am hurt. I am betrayed. I am guilty. I am scared. I am worried. I am, I want, I feel, I need. Me. Me. Me. Me.
After a couple hours and several conversations I said to my dear friend:
At some point in all of this, you both need to stop focusing inward and focusing outward. You both will need to focus on your spouse’s pain. That is how a marriage works. You focus on their needs and they focus on yours. That way, everyone’s needs are met.
The best thing about having needs is having someone with you who wants your needs met more than theirs.
The biggest fights Pat and I have had in 24 years have been over which of us would get the bigger piece of cake; which of us would get their needs met – because we always want the other to get what they want more. We, each of us, make a choice based on the other’s needs, daily. I represent the family at the social function he does not want to attend. He saves the last orange for me. I stay at home to deal with the a/c repair man so he can go do something he wants to do. He goes to the post office for me because he knows I hate to. These are the small examples. To cite the big examples would be to delve too deeply into our personal life; and that might make readers uncomfortable. The point, though, is that the moment our friends had their dust up, everyone should have screamed and cried and had tantrums and slammed doors. Then, when the dust had settled, they should have come together again and sat, facing each other, holding hands. Then, the things they should have said were things like:
“How can I help you through this difficult time?”
“Let’s get you some help.”
Instead, they are focusing inward on their own personal healing.
I told my friend that they needed to, each of them, sit on their own for a moment and ask themselves how they would feel if their husband were hit by a car today and died. How would they feel, each of them, if their husband were diagnosed with cancer today. How would they feel, each of them, if their husband were in a building that was bombed today.
Everywhere, every day, somebody loses a loved one – to illness, to accident, to malicious actions of others. There are people who no longer have the luxury of going to bed at night and holding the hand of their husband or wife as they fall asleep. There are people who no longer have the comfort of looking into their spouse’s eyes and seeing that way they look at them, that way that says you are my world. I’m not talking about the loss of a parent or a child or a friend – those are bad things that we all go through and tragic. There is, though, something particular about losing your love. If you are going to lose your love, let it be to something you cannot control; something like illness or accident or crime. We aren’t to be allowed to lose our love because we behaved like petulant, mistrusting, juveniles who don’t know how to forgive. Love comes along, not every day; for some, love comes along never.
We’re human beings. We’re fallible. We make mistakes. We also, as human beings, have the ability to reason things out and to forgive.
My friends spent yesterday fighting via text message. They couldn’t even be bothered to sit down with each other and hold hands and look into each others’ eyes and see the love there, to hear the love in their voices, to feel the physical and spiritual foundation upon which their marriage is (should be) built. They kept texting each other things about how they are best friends and they should be there for each other; and they hadn’t been. Well. I don’t walk out on my best friend. When there’s a problem, I stay with my best friend and we work it out. Where were they? They were apart from each other, both of them alone, dealing with the matter alone. I don’t let my best friend be alone when they are in crisis mode. I couldn’t understand, and still don’t today, how they could call each other best friends and then walk away, particularly over the situation, as I had been told it.
In our house we have a saying “Is anybody dead? Is anybody dying? Is anybody bleeding?” If the answer to these three questions is no, then you are starting at a good, a reasonable, a manageable place.
Last night, regarding this situation, Pat said “If that’s the worst thing that happened to you today, go talk to a 13 year old who’s been raped. Go talk to a mother whose baby died. Go talk to the victim of a violent crime or a fire.”
I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of these men. I’m actually not unsympathetic to a lot people in their personal crises. I just think we all need to keep a little perspective, look at what we have right in front of us, live in a little grace and a little gratitude, and act like adults. We all need to stay together and fight for what we have. We need to work for what we have, for what we want; we need to work to keep our happiness. It’s not a gift, you know. We write our own stories and make them a reality.
Five cents please.