Marriage 101: Your Own Personal State of the Union

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“I want to have a State of the Union,” I said to my husband of 36 years.
“A what?” he asked uncertainly.
“You know, a State of the Union to look at where we have been as a couple and what we imagine the future to look like.”
Greg cleared his throat and considered. I could tell he thought I had been reading Oprah magazine.
“I think things are good…” he said, his voice trailing south.
“They are! But everything is changing—the kids all just got engaged, we sold the company and I just want to enter the future with a clear vision of what works and what we would change and what would remain the same.” I shot him my trust-me grin. “It’s not a root canal.”
There were times when my call for a ‘conversation’ was nothing more than an opportunity to work off a pre-planned list of frustrations. While I had spent time carefully framing the dirt, he was blindsided and shooting from the hip. It was not always pretty, nor successful, but this was different. We were in a good place.
He went back to reading his newspaper.
“Okay,” he said behind the sports page.

I made a list of the areas I wanted to review: health, finances, family, sex, social life, recreation, division of labor around the house and my unilateral decision-making. I added the last one because it was a real scorcher for us. I showed Greg the list.
“What do you think?” I asked. “Did I forget anything?”
He glanced at the paper and handed it back.
“You forgot clipping fingernails in bed” he said. “That really bothers me.”

I laughed. Clipping of fingernails I wrote next to finances. We were off to a good start.
The secret to a good State of the Union is to pick a neutral place of uninterrupted time. A weekend away, an overnight in a hotel, a long walk, anywhere you will find yourself alone and undisturbed. We were heading for a month long trip overseas and I imagined we would review things fairly quickly and use the trip to practice what we had learned. Instead we used most of the month to dip in and out of the topics. We started with the easy ones—family: the kids were launched and happy and leading meaningful lives without us. Recreation: I love hiking, he has bad knees. He loves weekend motorcycle rides, and I would give him those for the occasional mountain climb. Mutual enthusiasms: kayaking trips, fly fishing, golfing. Check check check. Clipping of fingernails: I promised to cut the nails somewhere else where he would not hear their terrible snip-sounds and bomb him while he read. Check.

Then the harder topics that revealed much more about us as a couple than the happy topics. When we uncovered a hornet’s nest we hissed in public and yelled behind closed doors. But mostly we chose to be vulnerable with each other. Honest. We talked about what we would like to see more of, what hurt, what was behind the hot buttons and script fights and hibernating wasps. I learned more and more about the man I thought I knew so well. We mapped out a future that allowed for detours. Any detour at all, no rules. We shook hands on the changes we committed to. Most importantly the State of the Union reminded us that we love each other, deeply and truly, that even if nothing changed, that love would abide.

We returned home. I took what Greg had told me to heart. Some things changed. Some things didn’t, but under it all was a greater understanding of a man I called mine.

Two years later Greg suddenly died of a massive heart attack on one of his motorcycle trips, a detour I was unprepared for. One of the greatest comforts as I grieve for him are the gifts from our State of the Union—that I altered my busyness and deadlines to make more room for him; I understood his longing to be the one to say yes first to invitations and adventure in the face of all my loud green lights; that when he died our relationship was at the peak of acceptance and forgiveness for the other’s flaws.

A State of the Union cannot repair all that is broken and betrayed between partners, but it can summon us to the other side where we are asked to trade the singular for the plural. And that is what a good relationship is all about.

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Comments

  1. I love that out of your love for us as readers, and your love for family, you shared this beautiful-painful nugget of truth. I’m not surprised that out of your relationship with Greg, you continue to give and bless us, your reader with foundational thoughts for our own relationships. Thank you. I’m sure as cherished as these thoughts are, it also couldn’t have been easy to write.
    Paula

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