At the same time, I’ve been reading a lot: epic fantasy, nonfiction, women’s fiction. Reading is different now than it once was. I analyze word constructions and the use of italics. I pause to appreciate beautiful phrases, well-executed, and to roll my eyes at lackluster prose. And I bristle when characters make choices that make no sense to me.
Spouses who are feeling sad about a lack of connection to their “other” are particularly annoying to me. There’s a literary device I’ll call the Rhett-and-Scarlett: two people desire closeness to their partner, but they refuse to talk to each other about it, and so the relationship falls apart.
To me it feels like a contrivance to propel the book’s conflict. I mean, the whole point of marriage is that you have a relationship of trust that allows you to address issues like these–right?
I frequently have to remind myself just how blessed I am in my marriage, and in my marriage partner in particular. We have had our share of emotional inner conflict that we feared to talk about, but the crucible of anxiety (which we’ve both dealt with, though I’ve only talked about my own), infertility, and learning to be open to loving a child with special needs forced us to confront the tough stuff.
We grew up a lot, individually and as a couple, because of those crises. We are able and willing to call each other down for inappropriate behaviors, to fight our way through the really ugly moments and even to admit the awkward things like I-had-a-moment-of-attraction-to-someone-else. (On that last topic, confession is an amazing thing. It robs something big and threatening of virtually all its power.)
It’s not uncommon for me, in the course of ordinary life, to express that I need to check with my husband before I X, or to say I can’t doY because my husband would not go for it. At those times, I always feel a certain feminist guilt. I think people are passing judgment on me for being a good little wifey who doesn’t stand on her own opinions.
But the fact is that my husband gets you’re so whupped, man looks for saying the same things about me.
That’s called mutual respect. And it’s a good thing, not something we should be feeling guilty about. In fact, I would go so far as to say that choosing not to consider a spouse’s preferences in decision-making is a sign that a marriage is not as strong as it should be. The marriage–not the kids, not the career–is the primary relationship. You prioritize each other, and that leads to unshakable trust. And unshakable trust allows you to help each other figure out all the rest of it–the kids, the career, and whatever else life throws your way.
So I have trouble sympathizing with fictional characters whose relationships suffer because they are afraid to say “I want you to want me.” Or “I know you’re tired after work, but so am I. I need your help with the kids.” Or “I’m feeling distance between us. Can we just sit down and talk?” The solution is so obvious, it’s hard to sympathize when characters seem so oblivious to it.
But then, too, I know that not all husbands are as open to such conversations as mine is. And this whole argument rests on the assumption that both spouses are equally “all in.”
So whenever I read a conflict like this in a book, I pause for a moment of gratitude, and then I go on with the business of daily life.
Which today includes mowing the lawn. Over and out.