Friday, March 28, 2008

BEST OF: We don't fight. Really.

When Husband Richard and I owned the bakery, lo all those years ago, another husband-and-wife team who worked with us asked a question. The two, who had spent years in the bakery industry, clearly were embarrassed to ask.

"You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but we're curious," they said. "When do you fight? We've never worked with a husband-and-wife team who didn't rip into each other every so often. We never see you fight or argue."

Husband Richard, replied, "We don't. We don't have time to fight."

And that's true in more ways than the obvious.

He and I were in our middle-age years when we married, old enough to sense that the clock was ticking, even then. The gut-level knowledge that time's passing quickly puts a different light on a relationship, the realization that we don't have forever to spend together, so we'd much rather enjoy what we've got.

We do, and we have, for more than three decades now. It sounds like a lot of years, but it's not long enough when you're married to the right spouse.

That statistic puts us in the minority, for sure, which is sad.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, a new marriage has a 43 percent chance of ending in divorce. I've been there, too, and it's a miserable place to be.

But for the last 30 years or so, Husband Richard and I have been sharing love and laughter, children and grandchildren, smiles and tears, good days and bad breaks, hospital stays and vacations.

We've worked side-by-side in a half-dozen business ventures, shared fire and flood, survived various serious surgeries, dealt with births and deaths, built a house under duress, and vacationed in a motorhome with my mother, two teenage boys and six tiny poodles.

Is our marriage always easy, passionate and exciting? Yes and no.

First, define for me "exciting."

If exciting is jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, keeping a python in the bathroom, running for political office or safari-ing in dusty, bug-laden air so thick you could polish it like a piece of lapis, the answer is no. Emphatically.

If exciting can include dashing off to take photos of a breaking story or a special event, being among the first to learn the latest on something that interests us, standing together arm-in-arm to watch the ocean at sunset, seeing caribou plod across the tundra, giggling as we try to find a cab in the rain on Market Street, playing with grandchildren ... then definitely, yes.

Husband Richard and I are both adaptable to a point (but if I'm honest, I'll admit he's more flexible than I am).

And we don't like to argue, so we don't do it.

Really, we don't. We may discuss our differences, but it's never with anger or by disparaging each other. Disagree, sure. But never battle over why I bought those socks or why he forgets to put them in the hamper. We don't arm-wrestle for custody of the TV remote, and we never argue over where to put the sofa or where we're going for the day.

When we've hurt each other's feelings, it's been entirely accidental. We both know that, and it's an important point to remember.

A long relationship brings with it the knowledge of the time already invested. Whenever we disagree, each of us remembers to ask ourselves, "Is this an important enough argument to risk ruining this relationship?"

The answer always has been "no."

As an e-mail I got a while back pointed out, no matter how long you live, you've only got a certain amount of time to spend together, whether on exciting and romantic vacations or chopping veggies for a salad, reading the paper over the cereal bowl at the breakfast table, or waiting at the doctor's office.

Each moment is a treasure, if you let it be.

Count 'em up. Calculate your probable lifespan. Figure out the number of weekends you've got to spend together. Not many, is it?

No matter how young you are now.

If you could know now how little time there really is, wouldn't you spend as much of it as possible doing the things you really want to do together, even if it's just cuddling on the couch instead of mucking out the junk drawer or watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"?

Do you really want to spend all that weekend time cleaning the garage, doing chores, shopping for things when you could be making memories together?

Or even worse, given the finite amount of time you've got, do you really want to spend any of it kvetching about something so minor you won't even remember it in a week or a month?

When you think about it, the same thing holds true for many relationships — with other family members, with friends, with co-workers and associates. It should even be true for people embroiled in Cambria's legendary political differences of opinion.

Think about it. Do you want to argue, or do you want to solve the problem?

At least at the Tanner household, life's too short to sweat the small stuff. Trust me: Having fun sure beats fighting over who has custody of the damnable remote.

This column ran first in The Cambrian on May 15, 2003.

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