Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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My Wife and I are Frenemies Part III


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There are times that I hold animosity towards my wife. I know what you are thinking; animosity is clearly a euphemism for hate. And indeed it is, but I have a difficult time using the word hate when talking about my wife. So for the sake of this essay, I am going to use animosity. I hope you don’t mind.
Once again, it was the middle of the night. Mel had been up with Norah for sometime. I don’t know exactly how long, but it was long enough for Mel to get pissed. I woke up to Mel telling Norah to go to sleep. Then I heard Norah scream, “No!”
And then Mel came into the room and slammed the door. Then she went into the bathroom and slammed that door, too. I really dislike when she slams doors, and frankly Mel is a door slammer. Whenever she gets angry, whether it is with the kids, or me, she slams doors. I think the reason I hate it so much is because my mother slammed doors and I always found it infuriating and childish. And frankly, I still do. And although it is such a simple thing, slamming a door, it made me pissed. It was like a switch flipped inside me, and for just a moment I really didn’t like my wife. 

This isn’t to say that we don’t love each other. I know that we do. The fact that we are willing to put up with each other’s shit like we do shows how much we love each other. Perhaps I am going out on a limb here, but I think that putting up with your partner’s shit is what the compromise of marriage really looks like. And trust me, after being married for a few years, chances are the person you love is going to develop a few quirks. Or perhaps they already have a few irritating habits, but you just haven’t noticed how irritating they are yet because you haven’t had them crawl under your skin yet.
People often ask me about how I’ve made my marriage work. Usually these are friends who are about to get married, or friends thinking about marrying the person they are dating. And I often give them this one piece of advice: “The key to a successful marriage is finding that someone who is willing to put up with your shit. And that you are willing to put up with theirs.”
 So much of marriage is about that. It’s about compromise. It’s about picking your battles. It’s about not getting overly emotional when laundry needs to be folded, or when you can’t sleep because your significant other sounds like a chainsaw in the night. Or when you do get pissed off about something, which will happen, you need to know how to let it go. How to move on. How to understand that even though the person you are with does some irritating things, you love them enough to move past it. The whole marriage thing, feels a lot like being frenemies with someone. Or at least mine does.
A few years into our marriage I asked Mel what would be grounds for divorce. I can’t recall exactly how the conversation came up, but I recall that we’d been talking about some of our irritating quirks. We were in the living room of the small house we used to rent on the West Side of Provo, Utah, about a mile from where I grew up. 

Mel thought about my question for a moment. Her face was somber, and her lips were flat.
“Infidelity,” she said. “That is right out. If you sleep with someone else, I’m gone.”
“I can respect that,” I said. “Let’s put that on my list, too.”
Mel nodded.
“Drugs or drinking,” she said. “I can’t have that either.”
Both seemed reasonable. And neither was surprising, we are Mormon. 
Then she said, “If you ignore me.”
Now this one, this was unexpected. At the time, I didn’t understand how I could possibly ignore her. I thought she was the most wonderful person in the world (I still do). But I must say, that I never thought that would be grounds for divorce.
That was it. That was the end of her list. Just those three things. I recall feeling a little relieved, kind of like the boundaries had been set. I could see the margins. Not that I got excited to move about, or anything. To test my limits. It just felt nice to know where Mel stood.
Now, in hindsight, when I think about that conversation, I often think about Mel’s rule number 3: Don’t ignore me. And then I think about those irritating moments in our marriage, and realize how easy it would be to just stop talking to her. To use all these silly little moments where she gets under my skin as an excuse to ignore her for days, months, years. And then I understand why “don’t ignore me” made her list.  
So… I suppose what I’m trying to say is that marriage can be irritating. Mel is going to drive me crazy from time to time. But the fact that I fold the majority of the laundry is not grounds for divorce. The fact that I snore in the night is not grounds for divorce. The fact that Mel slams doors when she’s angry is not grounds for divorce. And realizing that has made my marriage successful. It has helped me to look past the petty crap that naturally happens, and love my wife. And on the flip side, I have to assume that she does the same for me.

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Huffington Post, and The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.