When a couple has had the same argument 1400 million times, they can follow it without effort like a train follows a railroad track. Many elderly couples sit side by side in wheelchairs, and even if they don’t have the strength to hit each other they need only say one code word to be able to reminisce and have all previous bad feelings without having to carry out the quarrel. They still have their memories and imagination, even if they hardly have the strength to argue. (Jay Healey, How to have an awful marriage).
I found this article while tidying up (more reading and the occasional recycling than actual good filing) and it brought a wry chuckle. Healey describes the ingredients required to have a really bad marriage. The first two: marry the wrong person for the wrong reason. Add in family tension, the difficulties attached to parenting, some money woes and you’re well on track. Of course children can also bring joy so it takes some expertise to keep the misery going.
Healey describes how an old couple can have an argument in three words. (This? No! Yes! Wife takes product and puts it back on the shelf.) I loved the economy of this and it also makes a refreshing change from some of the self-help books which I read partly for work and partly for myself.
One self-help book which I’m still trying to read is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This is an excellent book and I’ve found parts of it really useful. But I have a definite aversion to self-help books and will find any reason to avoid reading them. Maybe it’s the air of authority or the preachy tone. There’s also the smugness of the Author, PhD. I’m sure John Gottman isn’t like that but I would much rather be told an interesting story than to be given Seven Principles which I need to try and remember.
Let me just clarify that our marriage is certainly not awful. It has its moments (which relationship doesn’t) and this weekend we were exhausted and a little grumpy, which was certainly not helped by having a vomiting 3-year old. Leah is fine now but we’re still recovering.
Somewhere in the exhaustion of this weekend L found the strength to make a delicious chocolate cheesecake (see below). Once we’d got past the guilt, it was seriously good. And it also served as a good reward to my in-laws for help with home maintenance.
One thing that I am trying this week is the Gretchen Rubin philosophy (from The Happiness Project) of lessening the critical comments. L and I tend to go round and round on this (criticising each other for being critical) and someone has to exit the roundabout. I’ll let you know how that pans out.