I’ve known my husband for 35 years now and been married to him for the vast bulk of those years. So perhaps it is no surprise that there have been a time or two in the last few decades when the thought of his demise filled me with glee rather than trepidation. To know long lasting marriage secrets, read these, and return to them often in the years to come to remind yourself that it is possible to hang in there through the bad stuff.
Honestly, the signs were there from the beginning. We were standing at the altar during our wedding. It was time to light the unity candle. At the beginning of the service, our parents had each lit a candle to represent the two of us. Now it was time to take those two candles and use them to light the one candle that symbolized our new united status.
So far so good but the question of what to do with the individual candles after lighting the unity candle was one we had not considered ahead of time. And it turned out, as has happened so many times in the decades that followed, we had different opinions, strong opinions.
There we were, in front of the church, in the sight of God and all these witnesses, whisper arguing about whether or not we blow out our individual candles after lighting the unity candle.
I honestly can’t remember who won. I’d have to pull out the wedding video to see and since that would also require finding a VCR that just isn’t going to happen. Spoiler Alert: therein lies the secret to staying married after fights. Let them fade away into the mists of time without keeping score.
Here, in no particular order are some of the times I was ready to kill my husband.
That time we wallpapered the bathroom.
We were young. We were foolish. We were first-time homeowners.
How hard can it be, we asked, to strip off the hideous wallpaper in our new tiny half bath and replace it with something better. Never mind the fact that the room was so small it was challenging for both of us to stand inside much less maneuver around the toilet and vanity to reach the walls.
Despite the fact that neither of us had done anything of the sort before, both of us were convinced that our particular plan of approach was best. We each shouted conflicting directions at each other at volumes that only increased in direct correlation to our lack of success.
Eventually, we decided our relationship was more important than a bathroom and dug deep into our poverty-stricken grad students’ wallets and paid a teenager to help me do the job.
That time he bought a car that became a dog bed.
Sometimes we fight to the death over major decisions and sometimes one of us capitulates while reserving the right to I-told-you-so’s for eternity if we are proved correct. This ginormous green car was one of those times.
We were making a major move due to my job and we would need a second car so he could do a weekly commute seven hours one way. Money was still tight so he chose a hideous puke green ‘73 Chrysler Newport for $700.
I suggested that this car was not up to the task. I suggested it would break down leaving him stranded. I suggested that buying a car before moving made no sense because we would have to drive it to the new home or pay extra for a towbar on the UHaul. I suggested that please, I’m begging you, don’t buy a car so very very ugly and unstable.
I was overruled.
One family member, our German Shepherd, was delighted with the car. There was so much space in the backseat that he could stretch out to his heart’s content. Anytime he escaped from the house we would find him cheerfully sleeping in the car which he had easy access to given that fact that the backseat window had a tendency to slowly roll itself down over time.
Sure enough in the middle of my second day at the new job I got a call from my husband. “The car broke down. Can you come pick me up?”
We paid to have the car towed to the house where it sat for two weeks, the cost of repairs far outweighing the value of the car. We considered keeping it as a large dog house but the yard really wasn’t spacious enough. It headed to the junkyard.
That time we kept going around and around the roundabout in the Netherlands.
Back in the dark ages before built-in sat nav and smartphones with GoogleMaps, navigation, particularly in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, was a much more complicated affair. You would study the map carefully before setting out and plan your route. One person would drive and the other would be in charge of the map.
After a lovely week in the Netherlands traveling with our young children and another family, it was time to head back to the ferry. We had the map so our friends were following us in their car.
All was well until we hit the detour. We followed the signs and hoped for the best but we ran out of signs to follow long before we made it back to any point that I could find on the map.
My husband shouted out street names as we drove past asking each time, “Should I turn here?” Give the fact that the map I had was of the entire country and not a city map this was entirely unhelpful, a detail I informed him of but which did not make him stop reading each street name we passed out loud. This did not improve my ability to focus on trying to figure things out.
Then we hit a roundabout. Now there were five different ways we could possibly go.
“Which one do I take?” he rather asked. In retrospect it was a reasonable question but it didn’t feel reasonable at the time.
“I don’t know!” I wailed.
The beauty of a roundabout is if you aren’t sure which turn to take you can just circle around another time. The problem is when that isn’t enough to clarify your situation you might end up going around and around in circles with the driver shouting, “Tell me which one to take!” and the navigator shouting, “I can’t figure it out!” over and over at increasing volume, while your friends in the car behind just keep circling with you.
Eventually, we chose one option, quickly decided it was wrong, headed back to the roundabout, were thwarted along the way by random canals that popped up unexpectedly but managed to make it to the ferry on time.
That time we couldn’t find where we parked the car in Hiroshima.
Travel has brought some of the highest highs in our relationship but it has also brought the lowest lows. One such low occurred in Hiroshima when we disagreed completely on which direction we needed to go to get back to our car.
In fairness, I think this fight was more about the sheer emotional overload of a day spent reflecting on the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Not only were we Americans looking at the destruction wrought by our government, but we were also parents helping our elementary school-aged children make sense of the senseless.
So perhaps it is no surprise that when one of us was certain we needed to turn left to walk back to the car and the other was convinced we needed to turn right this simple disagreement took on epic proportions. Rather than sorting it out, working as a team, trying one way and then the other, I completely lost it.
“I’m going this way and I don’t much care what you choose to do,” I said marching off in my preferred direction, two out of three stunned children choosing to follow me.
He watched me in disbelief than grabbed the hand of the remaining child and headed off in the direction of his choice.
We both made our way to the car in about the same amount of time much to the relief of our concerned children. At that point, we realized we had locked the keys inside the rental car but that is a whole different story.
That time he forgot to buy me Christmas presents.
Making holiday magic happen in our family has always been primarily my responsibility. I care about it more. I enjoy it more. So I do the bulk of it. Works out great for both of us. Except for the year it didn’t.
We’ve never been big into Santa. When I do the work of carefully selecting gifts for everyone I want the credit. So we do stockings but there is no illusion who fills them. Every year I purchase sweets and doodads for everyone’s stockings, including my husband’s. Every year he fills a stocking for me.
Except for the year he didn’t. Christmas morning we all gathered to open our stockings and mine was empty.
In retrospect, It is possible that I made a statement at some point in December upon spying a treat I coveted in a shop that I should buy myself that and put it in my own stocking. I meant the comment as a hint that maybe he should get me that item. He heard it as a statement that I was planning to fill my own stocking and thus he was off the hook.
To say I was hurt and disappointed would be an understatement. I will note in his defense since many years have passed and I have finally cooled down,that the following Christmas my stocking was a thing of awe and wonder with each item carefully chosen to delight and thrill me.
That time we were in lockdown and he kept rearranging all my cupboards and buying too much stuff.
This one is a little more recent, just to show that you never outgrow the pettiness. I tend strongly towards minimalism and he tends strongly towards hoarding and this difference has led to a lot of conflict over the years.
Put us in a pandemic situation where suddenly we are both at home all the time with scarcity of resources a very real thing and we were destined for a head-on collision.
In the end, I needed to compromise and let him overbuy, and he needed to stop rearranging my cupboards since I’m the one who does all the cooking.
So here’s the thing. I’m a stubborn bull-headed person married to a stubborn bull-headed person. But the reason our disagreements can make me so angry is that there is no one whose opinion I value more. There is no one I am more interested in pleasing. There is no one I care more about being on the same page with, being of one accord.
Also, as a married couple, our decisions inevitably affect each other. We take to death do us part seriously so we have to live with each other and the choices we make.
That is our strength and why we stay together. We move past the anger and disagreements because we choose to. We chose each other many years ago and we continue to choose each other anew every day. As Em Unravelling wrote in The Secret to Staying Married, “the secret to a long lasting marriage is just to be married for a long time.”
There have been many more major fights than those listed here of course. For some of them, I can remember vividly the anger without being able to remember the reason. One of those happened while engaged.
I have no idea what the fight was about but I do remember that at the height of the argument my future husband stopped and said, “This is why I know our marriage will last. We can fight and still love each other.”
Maybe I won’t need to kill him after all.