no stress listening with bonus handholding

by rebecca on September 26, 2012

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“Let’s hold hands,” I say to my dark haired husband not because it’s unusual but because saying it makes it more deliberate. We are having a date night on the couch because we are both sick.

It hurts in between my shoulder blades when I inhale. Little things like checking email and making tea take longer.

We have a tender marriage. We nap. He gives me a gentle hug with his scratchy face that needs a shave before he goes to the garage to put away the tent from last weekend’s adventure. I offer him tea. Before we settle in to watch our movie we take a walk in the glow of September.

The sun is setting and we both celebrate autumn as we reach for jackets. The crisp air smells cozy. Someone has a fire burning in a chimney. Amber light shines on hay bales freshly bundled.

We walk in silence for quite a while. Our son, a sophomore in high school, is spending the night at a friend’s home. Our daughter, a sophomore in college is three states away. We are trying out the life that will be ours soon enough.

Because we are both sick everything is heightened. My need for conversation and connection is extreme, his lack of words pronounced. I listen to our footsteps in the gravel beneath our feet.

“As much as I loved our home in Albuquerque, and the trails we walked there, it is so nice here that we can simply walk out our door instead of driving first,” I say to my husband. The trails were less than half a mile from our front door, but getting in the car instead of merely walking out the door made it a bit of a production. Here we are surrounded by 360 degrees of mountains; wombed by Mother Nature.

My husband nods. There is more silence. Our Labrador catches up and the long horned cattle are gathered at the fence. I pause to take a picture. My husband patiently waits while I click away 7, 8, 9 times.

I put my hand through his arm and we travel again. The fresh air loosens my lungs and I find things to tell him. Suddenly we are more than a mile from home and I’ve talked about my struggle with work, my recent conversation with our daughter and thoughts I have about our son.

I feel my husband listening but he says little in return.

We get home and ask each other what we want for dinner. We make a simple Mexican meal. I smash an avocado together with lime, salt and salsa while he heats beans and rice.

“Do you think when our kids leave that I will do all the talking?” I ask.
“I think we’re both sick,” says my husband who feels worse than I do. “But I think you will always talk more than I do.” My husband gives me a hug. “I also think it’s hard for you to be happy when someone you love dearly is sad.”

We have several friends who are getting divorced right now. They are tangling over different things. One couple is struggling because of passion lost. The other seems to have forgotten, or perhaps never learned how to be partners in life.

Sometimes my marriage is the loneliest place I’ve ever lived.
I want to build a garden and he abhors household maintenance. I talk and he doesn’t. I love to dance and he’s not interested in spending time on a slick floor.

These are the moments I struggle. I think there is something wrong. But then he surprises me by hugging me while I am making guacamole and he articulates my deep sadness even though I have talked not at all about our divorcing friends.

We queue up Salmon Fishing in Yemen from movies on demand and it’s a date for sick people on our purple couch where we’ve hosted family movie night every Sunday for years.

“I like living on a dirt road,” says my husband whose hair is rumpled from an afternoon nap. “I wouldn’t want to live on a paved road.”

The movie is a delight with little talking and lots of fish and mystery. There are mountains and quiet and a woman who gushes emotion and a man who doesn’t. I get up from the couch to let the dog in, and when I return my husband holds out his hand in a gesture of supplication.

I take his hand in mine. I hold his hand. Listening for more than the language I speak, this is what marriage has brought me.

Where do you get lonely? What signals to you hear that substitute for words? Who lines up along the path where you walk to pose for your photos?

I’m participating in Heather’s Just Write blog series. Join the fun and read great stories.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen @ Motherese September 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm

What a beautiful portrait of your marriage. I could see you both walking the trails near your house, companionable, together, your different habits zigging and zagging and fitting together.

Your question makes me think. I don’t feel lonely very often. (And one of the least lonely places I can imagine is a couch, curled up, under the weather, watching a movie with my husband.) The times I remember feeling loneliest were when I was in a big group without conversations that drew me in. Those are the times I want to go back to that couch.

Always a treat to read your words, my dear Rebecca! xo


rebecca September 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm

He is the steady and I am the rollercoaster in our life. So I feel loneliness. Equally I feel deep joy, laugh out loud and stop at the side of the road because the cows beckon to me.

He is the one who takes my hand. A girl like me, who bounces around couldn’t ask for anything better than a steady hand, even if that hand is quiet.


Shannon September 27, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Guys are weird like that 🙂 They are content to have you there. We have friends divorcing right now and it’s scary—you feel like you want to squeeze your husband a little tighter, maybe take the relationship temperature, make sure it’s all okay. I get lonely in my marriage when the husband gets all wrapped up in work, but I take comfort in the things like all the effort he has put into being able to work from home. It’s easier to handle than having him in the office till ten at night or whatever.


rebecca October 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm

I do find I’m squeezing my husband a little tighter, Shannon. And, you’re right…didn’t notice to call it that…but I’m taking the temperature.


Jill September 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm

sometimes my marriage is the loneliest place I’ve ever lived….I deeply appreciate you writing this here. And also your process of exploring it to (try to) get to a place of non-judgement about it. I am trying to practice just being and noticing. I, too, struggle when who I am doesn’t puzzle fit obviously into who my partner is. I think I will be able to look for (and I’m hopeful I will notice) the way his non-words and unexpected actions are points of connection rather than isolation. thank you!


rebecca October 1, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Looking for the way his “non-words” and unexpected actions are points of connection is so wise, Jill.

I have spent so much of my life waiting for my husband to communicate with me in the exact language I speak. But he is so different. It is his difference that helped to inform my choice. I don’t need someone who talks just like me. I already understand that language.

But the man who opens his hand to me time and time again, not needing to clarify or control…whoa.

That’s been transformational. (Even if sometimes lonely.)


denise September 28, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Rebecca, your words always make me think. (I’m still thinking about an email from you after I commented on one your posts about photography…). I respect transparency and honesty in writing and you deliver it here.

Marriage is equal parts of every part of life. It contains all the dichotomies of every emotion, sometimes all in one hour.

This piece beautifully and vividly captures your evening. Thank you.


rebecca October 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm

“Marriage is equal parts of every part of life. It contains all the dichotomies of every emotion, sometimes all in one hour.” Yes. Especially the part about “all in one hour.”

Thank you for saying I make you think. I believe we find in others that which is most evident in ourselves. Certainly you are a thought-provoking writer, Denise.


suzicate October 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm

The partner who gives us a quiet place to rest and reflect enable us to soar because they provide us with a safety zone to return.


rebecca October 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

This is surely the wisdom of a long marriage and deep rooted love. It is what I experience.


pamela October 12, 2012 at 1:51 am

Hi there, life has gotten away from me these last weeks and my Reader is overflowing. I have a moment and am looking forward to reading a long string of your posts. This is so beautiful and so honest. I too feel lonely at times in my marriage for just the reasons you articulate. But all it takes is one moment, one outstretched hand. Thank you for helping me to feel such gratitude.


rebecca October 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

One outstretched hand. Yes. This is what it takes from someone who knows me well.

I think loneliness need not be feared in marriage. Rather, embraced. My loneliness helps me to see where my marriage doesn’t meet all my needs and it is time for me to go searching beyond. I think in our culture that we sometimes expect too much companionship from our marriages. It puts pressure where pressure needn’t live.

I can chat with so many friends and save the silences for home some days.


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