Marriage Lessons From The Road
So it was bitter to be pulling away from a place we both quickly adored and felt very comfortable in. I was sad to leave, yet still did so with a huge smile on my face. A new journey was upon us, and I was ready for six hours of blissful alone time with my thoughts, my music, and a rolling variety of scenery.
As we reached the outer limits of the city I could feel Pete staring at me, and glanced over to find him grinning. Rather than risk my wrath by asking me to take off my headphones so he could relay his thoughts, he instead typed them on his phone and reached over to show me.
“You look happy.”
I think our marriage is extraordinary. Although I hope it’s not, I hope it is actually quite ordinary and regular for people to be as in love as we are for so long. We are coming up on our six year vagabondaversary and we’ve been married for over thirteen. We’re almost at the point where we’ve been traveling for half of our marriage, and for almost every moment of every waking hour, I still only think of Pete with pure adoration.
We know couples who haven’t made it a year on the road. We have other friends back home who have said that a two week vacation together is stressful enough, that anything longer would surely end them.
At first, it wasn’t easy for us either. We went from our more traditional marriage roles of he mows the grass and I do the laundry to squabbling over where we’d go next and who’d be responsible for how we’d get there. And then eventually, when this blog started, we fought over the choice of fonts and who would handle the Twitter account. So many parts of our relationship had to be completely redefined.
Never mind that we also went from only spending a few hours a day together – the best of which was during our hourly commute to and from work – to being side by side around the clock. As the only physical constant in each others lives, it means being exposed to every emotion the other feels and bearing the brunt of every manifestation of stress, lack of sleep, or pang of hunger. He has to be my best girlfriend and listen to me whine about the frizziness of my hair, and I have to help him pick his fantasy football line-up (my sole criteria usually being how good looking they are). We have no close friends readily available to shoulder some of this essential chatter.
Traveling together can be a severe make-or-break situation and in our first year on the road it was a struggle. Thankfully now, many years in, we’ve gone from frequent screamfests to minor skirmishes. We’ve faced some difficult situations where we knew that the only way to get through it was to get through it. Together. There’s no more dramatic way to test and grow a relationship than repeated trial by fire.
I think there are few topics that we could call ourselves definitively knowledgable in, but this is one of them (if anyone can be of marriage). Because with so much time spent together with this life on the road, ours is probably equivalent to thirteen years going on fifty relative to most. And we like each other. Love each other. Are smitten with, respect, and admire each other.
(Most days anyways.)
So we have some nuggets of wisdom to share, lessons we’ve often learned the hard way, and some that I am sure we wouldn’t have fully grasped by now had we not taken our lives in such an unorthodox direction.
Take a breather
Yes, we can barely stand to be apart, but there are also times when we can barely stand to be together. And that’s absolutely okay. Time apart to nurture our individual selves is necessary every few days.
This was a sticking point in our first year of travel – even if we knew we needed time apart, we couldn’t say it to each other. At least not without the other taking severe offense. But now, we know. Often if I say: “I need time to write,” then that is Pete’s cue to depart. If he grabs the camera and heads out unscheduled, he’s creating his own space. Whether I write a word or he even takes one photo, that doesn’t matter. We’ve each forged the time we need to turn inward, and there is no longer any judgment in asking for it. It is simply understood that it is a basic need.
Respect each other’s limits, and don’t limit each other
No, I had no desire to hike five days through the Colombian jungle, sleep in hammocks every night and wake up to scorpions in my shoe. So he went on his own. And Pete loathed the idea of pushing his way through the mob to get a glimpse of Mona Lisa at the Louvre. So I went on my own.
Yes, maybe these examples seem trite, but I hope you get my point – many decisions in relationships are best arrived at by landing somewhere in the middle, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. Let your partner fulfill individual desires, stifling them may only manifest in some other way that’s ugly. The key is to nurture, not dissuade. We may be “one”, but we can’t forget that we are also individuals.
Have some perspective, please
Drop the small stuff, and I mean it, really drop the small stuff. Don’t let it linger. I’m embarrassed to think of some of the fights we had early on in our marriage that endured when they really meant nothing.
Especially now that we are also running businesses together, potential for disagreement can arise dozens of times in a day. I consider us both quite masterful at being able to turn around from a tiff in mere minutes. Basically because we don’t have time to fight before we’re onto the next task or problem to be solved.
But you know what? No one has time to fight. Why waste a mere second of time with a loved one bitter about something insignificant? Why let it become bigger than it really is?
After everything Pete and I have been through together, and given this crazy amazing life that we’ve built, there are very very few things that warrant any sort of idle negativity between us. It’s just not worth it.
Keep the romance alive, even when it’s difficult
Any article with lessons about marriage has to include a point about having a “date night”. So yes, do that.
But, c’mon, let’s get creative people. We’ve done it because we’ve had to.
Typically we are hand holders and unabashed public smoochers, but there are some places in the world where this just isn’t acceptable. And when in those places we will keep our respectable distance, and have learned to come up with a clever way to still show our affection.
It’s a toe tap. When either of us is feeling the urge to make out, we’ll just tap the other’s shoe instead. After a couple of days out and about, that can result in some seriously scuffed up loafers. Which, I assure you, even if it doesn’t sound like it, is hella romantic.
Strive to understand the intent
So there is one thing Pete does that drives me nuts, and this has only come about after spending so much time together.
He gets me, dammit. He understands me too well and can often figure out the source of my discontent before I can.
Well yes, I probably am cranky and snapping at him because I’m hungry, but I often won’t realize it myself until after he’s escorted me into a cafe and orders us a snack (and then I’m even further perturbed at being coddled). But I suppose I also do it to him in the reverse, when he’s suddenly cursing at me from behind his laptop screen, it’s usually time to suggest that we get outside and go for a walk.
Um, we sound like toddlers. But more often than not we can temper each case of the grumpies by just meeting some basic needs. Food. Rest. Space. (Alcohol.)
And problems can of course run deeper than the odd bad mood, but the same lesson applies: take the other side. Try to understand where the anger is coming from. The source is sometimes not indicative at all of how it emerges. Maybe I am truly enraged at him for not completing a task on time, or maybe some of that anger is built up from the political situation in Indiana. Yes, it happens. It’s not always an easy task to get to the root of a problem, but patience and understanding will help to get you there.
Just be awesome to each other
Bring her coffee in bed. Write him love notes on shower doors. Hold hands. Make dinner and do the dishes. Let her enjoy quiet time on the train. Save a bite. Forever have each others’ back. Do things without needing to be asked.
Just be awesome to each other. End of advice.
They say that the best jobs shouldn’t feel like work, and I think that applies to relationships. Yes, they do require work to survive, but it really shouldn’t feel like it.
And that’s where I believe Pete and I are. Most days are peaceful and blissful, but we’re not perfect. We fight, we get ugly with each other, we curse, there is the odd instance of nasty name-calling.
But we simply forget it, because most issues really aren’t worth remembering. Or we talk and learn from it, because we ultimately just want to be awesome-er to each other. Or we let it manifest, blow up about it, and go back to step one until we get it right.
But we always, always make up (even if just with a toe tap). And we take on the world again the next day.