What I want to talk about today is having something in your life that is deeply meaningful to one spouse but not the other.
I think this could take various forms. Let’s say you are very religious, and your spouse is not. I imagine that not having the same level of interest in religion could present some difficulties. You might be thinking, well, that seems like something you should have talked about before you got married. But maybe there wasn’t such a vast distance between you at first; maybe you were a moderately religious person, and accepted that your spouse was an atheist… and only over time did your religion grow in importance to you, while your spouse remained an atheist. While people DO make this work in their marriages, I see how it could be potentially very difficult.
Or maybe when you were first married, you were both politically moderate. But over time, one of you has begun to edge into more conservative territory while the other has become more and more liberal. I cannot continue with this as an example because it’s stressing me out.
So: what about something that sounds less like it might cause a marital crisis?
What if you are really passionate about CrossFit, but your spouse just can’t get too excited about it? Maybe you can get your spouse to do a Paleo cleanse every now and again, but your spouse has no interest in exercising and really doesn’t want to wake up early to go to your CrossFit events and would rather watch Game of Thrones than the CrossFit Games. Even if you have friends who are also in CrossFit, I could see how it could be frustrating if your spouse did not share your interest.
Or what if your dream is to visit all the major league ballparks in America? But your spouse has zero interest in baseball. Your spouse might indulge you by planning vacations in cities that have major league teams. But maybe your spouse has no interest in touring yet another ballpark, or going to yet another endless baseball game in the full glare of the sun. I can see how it would be lonely to attend a game by yourself, or frustrating to be pushed to do other tourist activities when all you want to do is walk among the bleachers of some historic field, imagining the crack of the ball against the bat, and the roar of the crowd.
I think we can all agree that spouses can and may – and even should – have different interests. And maybe we can agree that it’s important for spouses to respect one another’s interests, even if they don’t understand them or like them. We might also be able to go one step further and say that it would be in the interests of the marriage to at least try to support the other spouse’s interest. And, on the other side of things, for the spouse-with-the-interest to be respectful and understanding of the disinterest on the spouse’s side, and not to press to hard or get too bent out of shape.
My example of this is kind of frivolous, and really only becomes an issue about once a year. But I spend a lot of energy fretting about it and wishing VERY HARD that I could force my husband into not just respecting my interest but into LOVING it as much as I do.
My parents live in the middle of a picturesque forest in a wide valley between two mountain ranges. It is indescribably beautiful, so I will post a photo of it to give you the mere glimmer of an idea.
I didn’t grow up there, in the mountains. But my dad spent summers there as a boy, and so we visited the area every summer. At one point, my parents bought a swath of land and built a little one bed/one bath log cabin powered by a generator, and my whole family would go there for weekends or weeks throughout the summer. There’s a little lake nearby, and my parents have a boat, and we’d water ski or tool around the lake or lie on the dock in the sun. We did lots of hiking, even though hiking isn’t really my jam, we played Scrabble in the evenings, and we spent many, many hours reading in the clear mountain air, with only the sounds of sandhill cranes, the thrum of hummingbirds and industrious bees, and the distant whir of a motor boat to disrupt the pure calm.
But this idyllic beauty comes at a price: My parents’ home is difficult to get to – most of a day of travel from my home. And it’s isolated – there aren’t any bars or movie theaters or malls or really many restaurants you can get to without a long drive.
To me – and to my parents, who live there – these are pros rather than cons.
For my husband, who was born in a city and has lived in a city of one size or another his whole life – at least I think that’s the defining difference between us, here – they seem to be more con than pro.
He goes, without hesitation or complaint. We book our flights each year, and he talks about looking forward to taking a break, and about how nice it will be to see my parents. But I don’t think the idea of being completely off-grid is as appealing to him as it is to me. No cell towers anywhere nearby. No cable television. Nowhere to drive if you get bored (!) by the beautiful scenery, unless you want to spend an hour or more in the car. (We do, now, have electricity; my parents eventually built a two-bed/three-bath home with all the amenities.)
To me, having grown up with this space in my life, it has become synonymous with peace and relaxation. So I just don’t get why my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. I want desperately for him to love it. Not just tolerate it. But to LOVE it, to feel the pull of the tamaracks and Ponderosa pine, to long for the brush of ice-kissed mountain breezes on his face, to ache for the enormous wide-open skies and gleaming silence.
It has recently occurred to me that maybe I am being unreasonable.
If I were to be a passionate marathon runner, I can envision wanting my husband to be supportive of my efforts to get into shape and eat a healthy diet. I can envision wanting my husband to make every effort to attend the actual marathons, to cheer me on and to be there at the finish line. I can even envision myself wanting him to share with me the exhilaration of pushing my body to its limits, and the euphoria of accomplishing such a physically and mentally punishing goal. But I cannot envision asking him to get up at 4:00 each morning and run 10 miles if he doesn’t want to.
I am a writer. Some of what I write is poetry. My husband is supportive of my writing, even proud. He has been to readings with me. He tolerates it when I read him poems from the New Yorker. He has bought me books of poems he thinks I would like. But he does not love poetry, or even like it. I cannot envision asking him to read books of poems just because I love it.
These things seem like reasonable deviations in our interests. So why am I so fixed on trying to get him to love visiting the mountains?
I have gone through stages. The wheedling stage: just try it, please please for me, and maybe you’ll like it! The petulant indifference stage: well, I’m going to have a good time whether you do or not. The placating stage: let’s do exactly what YOU want to do, and maybe you’ll enjoy it more! The frustration stage: there must be something wrong with you; what’s not to like?!?! The despair stage: how can I spend the next fifty years trying to get you to love something you just don’t love? The melodramatic stage: does this incompatibility mean we are destined for divorce?
Maybe the next stage is acceptance. Maybe I have to finally realize that my parents’ magical forest hideaway is just not my husband’s kind of thing. Maybe I will have to get to a point where Carla and I go visit my parents by ourselves, and don’t pressure my husband into making the trek. (Although I don’t necessarily think he’d like THAT; he doesn’t like to be away from me and Carla, for one thing, and he also wants to see my parents.) Maybe I just have to let him support my interest by coming with me, even though it’s not his idea of The Best Time Ever, and allow him to feel slightly bored and slightly uncomfortable. Maybe, over time, he will come to enjoy it more, and maybe I just have to stop pressuring him. Or maybe not. Maybe it just shouldn’t matter. After all, he may not LOVE it, but he Shows Up, and that should count for more than I’ve been counting it. And I guess I have to respect and support that as much as he respects and supports my need to have this kind of retreat in my life.