May 18th marks 28 years of marriage for my wife and me – although we’re doing a combo-celebration this week in San Antonio, where my wife is attending an advanced practice nursing conference.
If I were to rephrase a famous line of Charles Dickens’ as I look back on 28 years it might read, “It’s been the best of times, it’s sometimes been the most difficult of times.”
Like parenting, there’s no foolproof and surefire way to remain married or committed to the one you started out loving (or to the one you grow to love via an arranged marriage).
What follows is a common sense idea, which evidently is uncommonly observed by too many couples, yet one that has helped our marriage.
Years ago I came across an author’s use of centrifugal and centripetal forces in the context of marriage, which stuck with me, and thus, my appropriation of the merry-go-round analogy.
It’s a simple axiom:
A marriage/relationship – like a person riding a merry-go-round – will only hold together if inward pulling forces (centripetal) match or exceed outward pulling ones (centrifugal).
We’ve all experienced or seen what happens on merry-go-rounds when a combination of speed and duration of spinning combine – bodies fall or fly off.
I could list any number of centrifugal and centripetal forces that work for or against a marriage, but for this blog, I’ll illustrate with a few of my own.
For almost three years, mid-2010 to the present, my family has been in a re-acclimate-back-to-USA-from-years-in-South Africa mode.
I chose to resign from a non-profit, HIV/AIDS children’s psychosocial research and training job in a country and among people we loved, and relocate back to Texas in order to be nearer an aging and ailing parent. An agreed upon condition of our choice – so that our three school age girls didn’t become latchkey kids – was that I would assume primary “home management” duties, while my wife accepted and enrolled in a three-year graduate nursing program at UT-Austin.
I jokingly share that you know roles have reversed when you wake up in the morning and one of the first thoughts on your mind is: What do I need to take out of the freezer for dinner tonight?
Actually, there’s been a lot of role reversals with my new family responsibility, including: taking the girls to medical appointments; washing/drying and folding laundry, including women’s slips, brassieres, panties and camisoles; mopping up on my hands and knees bedside and bathroom vomit; all the while doing any and everything else necessary to keep our family functionally (versus dysfunctional) operational while my wife gives total focus and effort to full-time studies, plus off-setting financial need by working PRN at Hospice Austin.
Upon our return from South Africa we could have done what we see too many American couples doing – burning life’s candles at both ends.
Both of us either working or studying full-time, plus accommodating every which child’s academic and extra-curricular activities – all for the purpose of either making necessary ends meet, or more commonly it seems, maintaining an accustomed lifestyle.
Upon our arrival in Texas, one of the first – yet constant – outward pulling forces we felt personally was economic, or the proverbially, “keeping up with the Jones'”.
Returning with no job prospect, no medical insurance, and certain future graduate study debt of $30k+, we knew our already too meagre retirement savings would take a huge wallop for at least a 2 to 5 year period.
Seeing and sharing life alongside so many friends, acquaintances, and family, many of whom live in near million-dollar homes, have 2nd (even 3rd) vacation homes, drive near-new vehicles and possess recreational vehicles, take once or twice-yearly family vacations, frequently eat out, give generous allowances and newest tech accessories to their kids, cover multiple summer camp/trip costs, et cetera, took its toll on our family – as parents, as kids, as a family, and on me as traditional “provider.”
It’s made us frequently wonder to ourselves now – somewhat shamefully (since we didn’t often give thought to the feelings of those who weren’t privileged with the means to enjoy such pleasures) – what our many African friends and acquaintances must have felt each time they entered our home, or heard I was going on a week-long hiking trip, or that we were traveling to the coast or the Drakensberg mountains for a family vacation.
Of necessity we’ve had many mini-family conferences since relocating to Austin, during which we speak plainly with each another, helping counter the outward pulling-away-from happiness forces, verbalizing what we (should) most value in and from life – life, health, relationships, et cetera (the centripetal forces).
Such candid talks and times together help counter our many individually felt Berstein Bears’ jealous “Green-Eyed Monsters,” and put into perspective, say, why we’re living within our means for an undetermined period of time with donated 15-year-old and discounted 10-year-old sedans.
A final example.
The Atlantic‘s July/August, 2010 cover story was titled “The End of Men: How Women Are Taking Control of Everything.” For me, it marked the first in many articles chronicling present-day changing work and relational dynamics between the sexes, and specifically, identity and relational adjustments many men are confronted with these days.
That’s where my wife and I find ourselves, today.
Despite our choice of resigning and returning to the States. Despite my choice to assume temporary home management duties while my wife studies, it’s simply and presently a gnarly period of life (gnarly = difficult; a first-time usage I heard last night from one of my wife’s nursing colleagues).
Outward, pulling-away-from marital commitment feelings occur semi-regularly these days. Most of them, I suppose, associated with a reconfiguration of my traditional and culturally sculpted male identity.
How can my wife and I be close when we no longer share work relationships, commonalities and experiences? What will I do with the very real possibility that she’ll out-earn, “out-prestige” me for all future years?
Plus, as an advanced practice nurse the sky’s the limit for her, while each day at home and not “working” I feel like a white, male endangered species, this despite my postgraduate degree and overseas work credentials. The fearful and unknown future “what ifs” of life and their possible effects on marriage and primary relationships are sometimes near overwhelming.
Despite it all, here I sit at a Starbucks in San Antonio celebrating and enjoying time away with my wife. Despite the many centrifugal forces pulling outward and against family and marriage, we’ve managed to keep a proportionately higher balance of inward-pulling forces to outward-pulling ones. For this, we’re grateful to God and hopeful for the future. I wish the same for you and yours.