I am conscious of a strange mix of guilt and gratitude when I consider my own husband. As the relationship that I share with my him has just passed the forty-seventh year, I noted how easy it is to accept our continuance like the rising sun or taxes. Even with several “close calls” in the past decade, my spouse’s regular presence is still expected.
Benefits and Losses
The guilt blanket settles over me when I recognize those moments when I play with the concept of single living. While my husband is traveling for work, I can imagine the reality of singleness and the perceived freedoms. The life improvement list includes: no one snoring and waking me, no piles of shoes and clothes on his side of the bedroom, no hair-raising moments in traffic due to his driving, the simplicity of making all choices and decisions without consultation or aggravation, no disappointment over his lack of attending to my agenda, no high volume movies or sports blasting through the house, etc. Of course, that lasts for just a few days.
All such notions seem selfishly petty when weighed against the immediate losses: meaningful discussions where we are often on the same worldview regarding religion, psychology and politics (and how hard that is to replicate!). Shared laughter during those TV shows and movies that we do find in agreement. Hearing about the people from his job that I have met and know. Becoming comfortable together with our new names as grandparents. The reality of financial benefits.
From circadian rhythms to gut bacteria, to viruses and beyond, our lives are interwoven. And when one half is pulled away through death or whatever else—there is the sense of missing the bottom step. While having the freedom for girls’ nights or making one’s own plans—the sustained picture of singleness narrows down to becoming a social third wheel, pity invite, old widow, or forgotten relative. A new identity might require determination and plastic surgery.
I have been complemented by my husband’s eagerness to plan vacations and world travels, otherwise, I would probably not venture far. Gratitude blooms as I realize that we share so many life moments and memories starting in college until this third act of life. We both accept that the other half of our brain often resides in our spouse when it comes to retrieval of faces, facts, and names. The quilt of family that has been patched together over the years includes aunts, uncles, nieces, and cousins from various genetic woodpiles. I have now known his mother almost as long as I knew my own.
The Tension of Togetherness
Togetherness is like the stretching of a huge rubber band that occasionally snaps. The tension that exists in any relationship is magnified by daily living during decades. The amazing act of blending two non-related people into a functioning home. The push and pull of accommodating while persistently remaining a cornerstone about one’s physical, mental, and emotional space. The mental gymnastics required for communicating about finances, relatives, careers, and parenthood. Yet, all the time approaching and retreating for affection and touch. It would all be so much easier without the tension. And so much more boring and quiet.
The stress of relationships is similar to other stresses—figuring out how much is contributing to one’s growth and health while eliminating the excesses that drain one of energy and vitality. The smell on the sheets, the dish in the sink, and the socks on the floor are all part of what emanates from another person. Their electricity shares our space—literally from their heart and brain. And that is sucked out of the plane of existence when a spouse dies. The hum and the crackle is then gone. No one else is to blame or praise.
Questions for personal journaling or group reflection:
1. If your closest relationship was gone today, what would you miss?
2. How much togetherness is just right for you?
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Karen Spruill writes from Florida.