Two Minds, One Heart
Thirty five years ago I inscribed Steve’s wedding band with that platitude. It seemed to acknowledge that we came from differing families, geographies, goals, and personalities, but were committed to forging a singular route through life.
That was the folly of a young woman.
If marriage is really about maintaining all of one’s individualism, it will be a journey of bickering, bartering, concessions and resentment. Love will choke and die.
The wiser Janet knows now: marriage is not an unconditional promise of love. It is a compact built on love, renewable on a continuing basis. Just as in the law of contracts, there are conditions precedent. Consideration must be given. There cannot be fraud. Changes can be made, but they must be negotiated. No one gets everything he wants, but you give, you get. And you honor and support the agreement.
With a lifetime of good deeds, little gestures and shared determination.
Marriage is not an indestructible armada; it is a mosaic of a million shards and pieces, held together with the grout of human kindness. It is a two-person project. Harsh conditions can loosen the pieces. Neglect will expose weaknesses. Erosion happens. To survive, the underlayment must have integrity. As soon as one party steps away, the mosaic is doomed to be a fragment, not a complete work.
So far, so good.
What is the secret? You know that there is no one secret. We just choose to love. Somedays it is easy. On others it is hard. Occasionally it is VERY hard.
Here are some guidelines we try to embrace:
First– We choose to forgive slights, whether big (drinking) or tiny (not making the bed). We don’t keep lists, or rewind past disagreements. It saps the joy out of every new day to have baggage that cannot be altered. We look forward, and every future day has both of us in it…until death do us part.
Second– We avoid personal cruelty. In 35 years, through my fat and bad hair , wrinkles and sag, dumb clothes and nutty ideas, Steve has NEVER said one unkind word about my appearance. He might express a preference for one thing or another, but he has never ridiculed me. Even when I had a permed afro. I honor and echo this discipline. Tearing down your partner is never constructive. It is borne of insecurity and creates insecurity- a bad substrate for growing together.
Third– We fight fair. People say “never go to bed mad.” I reject this advice because I love to sleep, and during sleep, I forget what I was fighting about. Advantage: Steve. That’s me, the magic slate of wives. If Steve was really agitated in a war of words, he would often drive away to cool off. As soon as he realized he had nowhere to go, he would call. I would be snoozing. How could I sleep at a time like this, he would ask. My answer: fighting is hard work. It makes me tired. Come home so I won’t worry about you.
We have differing styles. Steve focuses on one element; I throw all kinds of issues on a pyre and let it rip. My fight is an unburdening, which needs no resolution, just ventilation. Steve is task oriented: he wants a conclusion. Steve would go ten hours to get to the victor’s circle in an argument, but mostly he wants a determination for future reference. We work on this. Our fights reflect our different natures: I am passive and store little events until I overflow like a volcano. Steve is of the “one problem as it occurs” ilk. We try not to scorch our tomorrows with horrible or hateful words.
Fourth: We compromise daily. Little things, big ones. This is the hardest tightrope to walk. Both of us have thrown things into the giving pot:
I moved to Chicago, Steve stayed in Chicago. Steve wanted one kid, I wanted two (Bonus round here). The Daily Show at bedtime vs. the news. (Steve) Wallpaper vs. Paint. (Janet) Sex vs. Sleep. (Draw)
“Gives” should be unconscious with no scoring. They should not incur resentment. If something is a big concession, that gift must be acknowledged. (Steve: Thank you for Matt, Mike, my life in Chicago, our non-McMansion home, for my safe car….and so on) Concessions need to be balanced so neither partner is flattened by the other. No one should give until there is nothing left. No one should take until their partner is hollowed out.
Fifth: We navigated children cautiously. Most marriages hit a huge “reset” within a few years of marriage, when children change every dynamic. We cobbled together an old school model: Steve worked his ass off at radio stations and with his band, and I worked my ass off with the kids. There were not many concentricities. I would like a do over on this, because I think Steve missed both his “girlfriend” Janet, and some of the everyday joys of fathering. I was too possessive of the kids. Luckily, when Steve stopped drinking, I was grateful to have him unlock the mysteries of boyworld for me, and build upon the foundation I created. I was tired. He was fresh.
Sixth: (This is the key) We detached from our root families and became our own unit. When I married, I moved away. Steve had done so at 17. From marriage on, I did not discuss rough spots with my parents, friends or siblings. I did not tattle on Steve so that I could get support from outside. We did not compare our kids to their cousins. Family members and besties love each other with passion: they will verbally incinerate a spouse who falls short. The negotiations of a marriage should not include external referees. They are biased. (An exception: professional counselors, where there is parity.)Keeping things “in house” forced us to fight fair, one on one. (see #3)
There is more, of course- but I am sure I have bored you enough with my rumination. They are not universal observations; they are ours. But they have led us to 35 years of complex partnership. I do not take it lightly. I cannot, because we worked too hard to get to this wonderful place in our married life.
Like in my wedding ring, he said..two hearts, one mind.
Well, no. That is not what the ring said. Two minds, one heart….
Yet Steve was right. We took two hearts, and ordained our minds to meet. Sometimes on the far corners, sometimes in the middle. We give, we get. For more than 12,000 days, we have chosen to forgive, to share and to love.
There is nothing unconditional about it: it is work. That which we work for is held most dear.
After 35 years, my marriage, with its family branches, is the accomplishment of my lifetime. Most dear.
Happy Anniversary to my other heart. Thank you for 35 years. I hope we have thousands more days to celebrate and share.