Marriage, Hurt Egos, & Good Intentions

Last year Sean and I collaborated on several posts about marriage—it’s been a while and it felt like it was time. Here is how I introduced this 2-part, I write/he writes approach before: I usually keep marriage along the periphery of the stories I tell. The silos of parenting and life are not as concise as they can seem in storytelling, they aren’t silos at all; they’re brush strokes sharing space on one canvas. Marriage, two sides, a post in two parts—first, what you’ve come to expect here, my words and emotional take on something that happened; second, words from Sean, his perspective on the same thingIt’s personal and revealing. 

Effort

Sometimes marriage feels like…

 


T

he fresh snow squeaked beneath me as I walked to the back of the car in the robotic heel-toe, heel-toe way of ski boots. I was a self-avowed ski hater for decades, retracting that is still strange. The sky overhead was a brilliant blue and the sun shone bright despite a bite in the air. I smiled behind my goggles and took a deep breath.

 

The effort to get everyone geared up, not to mention fueled up, tangles me in sweaty, frustrated knots. Rationally I know that we will get through it and that after the grunting and sweating, and pinching of fingers in buckles, we’ll sit on that lift, take a deep breath of fresh mountain air and everything will be all right. Sometimes it just takes so damn long to get there.

 

Sean was retrieving the skis and poles from the case he made for my car after one particularly brutal episode of “If I can just get this one—“ CRASH. I was keeping one eye on the girls; no matter how many times I say, “Stay close to the car. People aren’t paying attention or expecting kids and it’s hard to stop on ice,” they drift away from the car in utter oblivion to the world around them. I was trying to get my foot in a boot, looking very much like a cross between Lucille Ball and Bambi on ice.

 

“Here, let me get you,” Sean said bending down to hold the boot. I shook my head and muttered, “Fourth daughter.” He looked up at me with a twinkle, “I’ve got you.”

 

Once my boots were on I helped the girls tighten their gloves, arrange their goggles, and buckle their boots. Sean helped too, but no sooner had we gotten one girl set then another said, “Can you redo this? I had to scratch my ear.” We’d begin again.

 

I waited until everyone was set before I snapped the chin-strap on my helmet. Pinpricks of sweat stung in my armpits and my neck hurt. “Hold it together,” I said to myself, “Almost there.”

 

Sean had begun to walk toward the mountain with the girls as I went to close the hatch door of my car. I reached up and then tried to pull down the gate. I cannot explain how it happened, but I brought the corner of the door down on the edge of my helmet. My goggles flipped off, my teeth crashed together, and my head knocked into my shoulder. I shrieked.

 

Sean turned in my direction. “What happened?” I was so angry and frustrated I wanted to bag the whole thing.

 

“I slammed the door into my head.” He paused for a second and then said, “Good thing you had your helmet on.”

 

I tilted my head. I may have actually imagined him as a bullfighter waving an annoying, red, silk scarf at me. He waited in that unmistakable married with kids stand off—you really going to do this now?

 

“It really hurt. Jesus,” I spat as I stared back. The girls fidgeted. Sean just looked at me.

 

“It’s ok, I’ll shake it.” He started walking away with the girls in tow.

 

I was seething, the layers of resentment that hover on a daily basis, waiting for a weak moment, leapt at me. Laundry, lunches, cat litter, pet food, coffee, bills, rehearsal schedules and permission slips.

 

I knew, even as the flurry of I-do-it-alls danced around me, that the tally of unrecognized details that I manage is matched by a litany of things that he does without thanks from me, or recognition from any of us. There is no barb that could ever make me feel better for having thrown it.

 

Trudging behind them I actively worked to stifle my foul mood. I wrinkled my nose as I realized all the things I was so ready to spit at him were things that I insist on doing. As I caught up to them I tried to separate my skis, they stuck stubbornly. I shook them and my finger got pinched so hard my eyes watered. I heard the click of each girl’s boots locking into skis. I felt Sean looking at me. “You ok?” his face read.

 

“Yup,” I said as I thought, “No, I’m not.”

 

There are moments when a marriage ending or continuing seems based on the sum of the times we’ve sucked it up, said fuck off, or realized that sometimes we both need to hold our tongue while the other one figures their shit out.

 

Friday night we sat at a table with a divorced friend who said, “Jesus, you’re married like 11 years and you hold hands at the table. Unbelievable.” Twelve hours later we’re having a spat on the side of a mountain.

 

I think marriage is a mixed bag of fine, white sand and jagged, cut glass. Nights like Friday are reminding me that from the outside we all look like it’s all smooth sailing. Days like Saturday are helping me get a handle on when I’m intentionally stomping on the shards of glass, reveling in anger. I don’t think the saying should be love conquers all, maybe try conquering it all for love.

 

 

 


 

 

I thought for certain I’d heard her wrong.

 

We were all but finished with the pre-ski gauntlet of gloves, helmets, zippers and latches. I’d even started toward the mountain with the kids, and after outfitting the three of them—which amounts to about nine minutes of request, rinse and repeat— I was ready to start moving.

 

“You what?” I asked, wondering if it was the insulated ski helmet or early hearing loss that made it sound like my wife had said that she’d shut her head in the car door.

 

“I just shut my head in the car door.” She said. Again.

 

My first thought was: “I’m not going deaf and that’s good.” Second thought: “How does that happen?” Immediately followed by a third thought: “Do. Not. Laugh.” Amanda was rattled, clearly. And after having just met everyone’s mitten-based demands I doubt a concussion was what she’d hoped for.

 

I didn’t laugh.

 

I tried to make her laugh—still uncertain about whether she was really hurt or had just surprised herself. “Good thing you had your helmet on!” I pointed out—knowing that if that comment resulted in a nod, or a laugh, it would mean she was fine. If it got no response, or an angry look, the plan for a morning on the slopes might change very quickly.

 

As it was, her response was somewhere in-between. Which wasn’t much help at all.

 

I wonder if other married couples develop their own sort of communication shorthand: throwing out a statement that begs for a qualified response. Test the waters. Proceed with caution.

 

I stood there, 20 feet away from her, slowly understanding in that tortoise-like, husband way, that it was serious. She was hurt or—possibly worse—angry.

 

I had all three kids with me, in a busy parking lot, and both arms were full of poles, skis and layers of Gore-Tex. A modern-day Saturday Evening Post cover. I should have dropped it all on the gravel and run over to her, but I didn’t. Amanda was embarrassed and already out of her element at a ski resort. She’s a gifted athlete and in perfect shape, and a respectable skier, yet she claims to be in over her head on the mountain. I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse by, well, being myself.

 

Husbands and fathers want to take care of their own. Keep their family safe and sound. Fix whatever’s broken. The longer I’m a dad the more I realize that I can’t fix everything, and, after 11 years of marriage, I know that space can sometimes be as beneficial as attention, when the situation is right. Er, wrong. Whatever.

 

She sighed and said “Go ahead, I’ll catch up.”

 

I turned toward the sound of cranking chairlifts and faced the girls, who had miraculously remained fully suited for battle. Their goggles and gaiters were in place. With ski poles at their sides they seemed like tiny knights ready for a crusade. I explained that Mom needed a minute, and that we’d get our gear on and meet her by the lodge.

 

Really, what mother doesn’t need a minute? Honestly, they put everyone else’s needs first, pack lunches, find the match to that darn sock, correct homework, remember the extra bag of coffee in the freezer, tie shoes, empty litterboxes, chew nails and spit tacks.

 

After all that, I’d want to slam my head in the door, too.

 

We’re trying to carve out time. To provide one another with a respite from family chaos, and work stress, but we need to keep trying, apparently. Physically closing the door on yourself is a pretty literal indication that things are moving just a little too quickly.

 

She caught up with us in time to see the older girls schralp off toward their first run. I clicked Fin into her bindings and stood to face her. There were tears in her eyes, but her jaw was set in a way that said, “We’re here now and we’re going to have fun, Goddammit.”

 

That’s as good a marriage mantra as any, I suppose. Have fun, Goddammit.

 

Just watch your head.

 

 

I'm not kidding when I ask you to tell me what you think.

  1. I love, love, love this. And this line? Oh, it made me gasp: “There are moments when a marriage ending or continuing seems based on the sum of the times we’ve sucked it up.” SO familiar. We’re at 14 years, cruising towards 15, and we don’t much hold hands anymore, sadly, but we do have these kinds of moments. All the time. And I would love to hear his side of it. xox

    • So many things in life I imagined as having if not finish lines, at least clear markers of passage or accomplishment. Very little feels that way as an adult.

  2. This is perfect, even when marriage is far from it. Some marriages end with a bang and some with a whimper. It’s the latter that’s usually the result of years of erosion. And I’m finding that you can rebuild the land, only try to reinforce. If you want (that’s the key).

  3. I’m on my second marriage. And these words both those said and those unsaid…define marriage so well. I mean…no barb that could have made me feel better having thrown it AND have fun, Goddammit. ❤️

  4. “There is no barb that could ever make me feel better for having thrown it.” I need to print that out in big letters and hang it somewhere to remind me.
    And, for what it’s worth, I have closed the door on my head before too, sans helmet.
    I loved this, Amanda and Sean. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Oh Amanda. This made me laugh so hard I cried and then made me cry more because this is so tender and true. Who doesn’t have these moments? Your compassion and honesty and Sean’s compassion and humor made my day. By the way that photo is amazing. You two are ripped!!

    • Oh, how I laughed too. He kept saying, “What? What are you laughing at?” And I could only respond, “All of it.”

  6. I love when both of you do these posts. This one in particular reminds me of something a well-seasoned lawyer (on the other side) told the judge in a contested trial we were having: there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. And that’s what your words remind me of about marriage too, that we each have our take on things within it, but the truth–the stuff that makes it work and stick together–is what’s found in the middle. You’ve got the goods, guys. Love that you share some of that with us.

  7. This is awesome! I am always amazed at how differently my husband can perceive a situation, and it can be so VERY frustrating! This post is fun… glad you jumped in for another one.

  8. Ok, Wow. This line: “I was seething, the layers of resentment that hover on a daily basis, waiting for a weak moment, leapt at me.” I feel this so clearly and viscerally and you nailed it.

    I love the honesty and intimacy of these posts. I am also in awe of your husband for writing with you. How freaking fantastic.

    Also, I smack my head on doors, etc, more often than I care to admit.

  9. They should make wedding cards that say “Have fun, goddammit.” It reminds me of the (edited) Vonnegut quote I have on my girls’ wall, “Goddammit, you’ve got to be kind.”

  10. I need to ask my husband to write about his side of things. The past week has been , , , challenging, and much of it has to do with our communication. Or lack thereof. Knowing his perception of situations would be enlightening.

    I love, love, love this, Amanda. (and Sean)

    • It’s completely shocking how different we see things, but also totally wonderful. Now, if I could quit cracking my head.

  11. It’s the “I-do-it-alls” description that echoes so true to me (and probably most). It’s the “I-do-it-alls” and the passive frustrations that led me/us to a pretty dark patch last year. But I love the levity of Sean’s perspective.* He doesn’t negate how you feel, he just tries to soften the jagged edges. Tom has the exact same philosophy as your closing sentence: “have fun, Goddammit”. I think you both have described marriage in such a brilliantly tender (and sometimes confusing) dance of puzzle pieces.

    *I honestly think Tom would’ve laughed at me. Or guffawed, rather. :-/

  12. As always, your writing leaves me breathless. And adding Sean’s heart to the mix is a treasure. This line is my favorite, “I think marriage is a mixed bag of fine, white sand and jagged, cut glass.” The two of you so beautifully illustrated the dance we do daily on that sand and glass – the conversations we have in our head while contemplating what to say, how to say it and sometimes SAYING IT. I could feel my husband in Sean’s writing – the respect for just how much you so, the hesitation to say anything in case he chose the wrong path, the hope of making you laugh to diffuse the situation. More than anything, through both of your writings, I see effort. And love. And I think both of those matter the most. xoxo

  13. I like that I get to hear both sides of the story, and as a male and a part of a couple that is going now for eight years I fully understand that marriage has it’s ups and downs. Very nice and thank you very much for revealing so much of your personal life. Probably not the easiest thing for you both.

  14. We are so alike. I get so aggravated sometimes at all the things I have to do and the few things he has to do, but occasionally, I will remember that so many of them are “things that I insist on doing.” Things I would rather do myself because he doesn’t do them the way “I” want them done. But I’m getting better at asking for help and biting my tongue when he does it his way!

    And this acknowledgement: Mothers “put everyone else’s needs first, pack lunches, find the match to that darn sock, correct homework, remember the extra bag of coffee in the freezer, tie shoes, empty litterboxes, chew nails and spit tacks.”

    Yes! After a week of me being gone on a business trip, I think my husband has a bit more appreciation for all the stuff moms notice and do.

    These two-sided posts are some of my favorite pieces from you guys. They always remind me not to assume that I know what the other person (be it a spouse or otherwise) is thinking, intending or insinuating. If so, I’m destined to be wrong a good 80% of the time!

    Thanks to both you!

  15. I love this! I am in a brand-new relationship, and along with the magic and the chemistry comes the challenge of learning his way of thinking… I’ve been sick with a vicious cold, but I wanted to make an effort a few nights ago. As I got dressed up for our dinner date, he called to see if I wanted to meet early and ride his motorbike with him. I seethed, thinking of my carefully-curled hair and nice outfit, useless for riding. And then, too late, I realized that he wanted to share something that he loves with me. I am realizing that holding onto those “layers of resentment” and not learning to roll with things (or deal with them as they come up) can be a kind of slow poison, if you let it. Here’s to learning when to suck it up!

  16. I just love these so much. Also, I’m taking my three girls skiing tomorrow night by myself and I’m freaking out about it as it’s so Jed’s territory. I’m more of a drink and a book by the fireplace kind of girl. And the stress of just getting them ON the hill is already weighing heavy here. I need my mate. I miss him. I want him here. For more than just skiing of course. xo

  17. This is such a brilliant series. Having two sides of the same account– I can’t even tell you how cool that is. I enjoyed the previous posts and this one was as well. Sean’s very funny and quick. I can tell in the writing! And seriously– living in Minnesota I spend half of my life getting the kids in and out of snow gear and skating gear. Head in door is completely possible!

  18. Dear Amanda,
    God, you write so beautifully. It’s mesmerizing, really. I love Sean’s style of writing as well … and it was enlightening to read how you could both read one another, how you’d come together – then create some space – so that you could come back together again. (I hope that just made sense.) It feels like, sometimes, in marriage – in all relationships – a bit of separation (even if it means a mommy time-out or to hold a tongue), allows us the time to breathe so we can come back to ourselves, and then back to one another.

    Love you.

  19. Pingback: Sucking It Up isn't a Virtue - Amanda Magee