My husband picked up some groceries for me last week, which led me to ponder one of the mysteries of love. One of the signs of a healthy marriage is when you relate to behavior from your spouse with amusement or even affection, while that same action would irritate you if it came from anyone else.
Let me elaborate. There is no rational reason that I can’t tell one car from another. Early in our marriage if we needed to take two cars somewhere, my husband would say, “Just follow me.” After a few times when I ended up miles away, trailing a stranger, it became clear to both of us that color is just about the only distinguishing characteristic of cars to which I relate. I can tell a Volkswagen from a Hummer, but anything more subtle eludes me. Living as we do in an area where people frequently leave their cars unlocked, that means that I have been known to sit down in the wrong vehicle at the mall or airport. Objectively, I see how this could drive a man wild.
Back to those groceries. The day began with a “to do” list that was not going to fit into the available hours. So, when I needed only two items from the supermarket and my husband was going to be passing by there anyway, I asked him to run in and get them.
A short while later he came in with the groceries. The bananas I needed were indeed in the bag, but the big, black, mushy spots meant they weren’t exactly what I had in mind. When I caught myself smiling at the discolored, unusable, fruit the thought flashed through my mind. I wouldn’t have smiled at the same occurrence had it happened early in our marriage. Why not?
Well, because at the early stages of marriage I wouldn’t have known how to interpret the mushy banana. Was I seeing a sign of passive-aggressive resentment on being asked to go to the market? Perhaps the mushy banana reflected a lack of appreciation for the hard work I put into making meals? Or maybe I had married someone totally lacking in basic common sense. Any one of those three choices would have left me feeling less warmly to my spouse.
By this point I knew exactly what the spoiled banana meant. It meant that while he truly wanted to help me, my husband’s brain was overloaded with dealing with other issues. Maybe he was figuring out how to help one of our children, or maybe he was concerned about an unanticipated repair bill. Perhaps he was troubled by a problem a friend was facing or maybe his own overloaded to do list was overwhelming him. The reason didn’t really matter. I knew it reflected nothing about our relationship, his respect for my work or his level of competency.
As a young bride I would have known none of those things. This means that a conversation about the banana would be a high priority discussion item. The trick would be for me not to assume I knew the reason for the failed shopping nor for my husband to insist that this was a silly conversation.
Similarly, my car confusion could easily have caused my new husband to question my intelligence or think that I was deliberately not being helpful. Again, neither of those conclusions would lead to affectionate thoughts.
He still doesn’t understand how I have no idea what our rental car looks like when we are traveling, but he does know that this is a quirk, not a statement. And if cars were important to him, I would work on it. After all, I did learn the difference between ketches, schooners and yawls as well as identifying the direction a ship is traveling at night by analyzing the visible lights.
Being madly in love when you get married probably doesn’t correlate at all to the length of the marriage. It can even be a negative if it means that the hard work necessary in those first years of marriage gets ignored. But down the road a bit, being madly in love is wonderful. A good measuring device for the health of the relationship is whether your first response is a smile or chuckle to what an outsider would view as an infuriating, disappointing or aggravating action.