One day, after we were married, I was in a particularly no-fun mood. I don’t even remember what I was thinking at the time, what Bobby did to invoke my ire, or what I said in retaliation. But whatever I said, it must not have been too nice, because all in one instant this separate thought flooded my head, wiping out all other thoughts: What if my friends Kathryn and Theresa had just seen me talk to Bobby that way? What if they had witnessed me treating their dear friend with so little respect? Ah!!! I was suddenly filled with an intense and overwhelming shame; I felt the same way our toddler must when he puts his forehead to the floor after we yell at him for gleefully whacking his sister with a plastic sword.
What had I done? I had fallen back into my old ways, seeing Bobby not as he is, an independent person walking the earth alongside me, but rather as a satellite of me—in particular a satellite of me that was not behaving as he should. Holy crap! Hysterical alarm bells were going off all over the place in my head. That path leads to divorce. Don’t go down that path!
Hysteria aside, that is no way to treat the individual you’ve chosen to walk hand in hand with through life. So right then, I vowed to stop. Of course, vowing to stop something is usually only the first of many steps in actually stopping. I still act like a diva wife sometimes. But I’m working on it. I have a strategy. Whenever I catch myself using a craphead tone with Bobby, or only half listening to him, or thinking of a situation from only my perspective and not his, I do this: I say his whole name, first and last, sometimes out loud and sometimes just in my head. If I think of him as only “my husband,” it’s easier to lose sight of his individuality and think of him as only an extension of me and my ego. When I say his name, it helps me remember that he is still a separate person—just as he always was all those years he was a bachelor, traveling the world and experiencing life, and just as he was when my friends threw him a party. He is not “my” anything, he is Bobby.
Bobby read this and disagreed completely. “Of course I am ‘your husband,'” he said with a strength in his tone that surprised me. “If I weren’t your husband and we didn’t have the kids, I’d still be traveling to Europe several times a year. And I’d be driving a TL.” He went on to say that when he married me, he consciously chose to give up certain freedoms that he valued, but he gave them up because he valued being with me more. If I say that he’s totally separate from me—not “mine”—then I am in essence disregarding the sacrifices he made out of a commitment to us and our children.
I find it fascinating that we approach this concept from opposite directions, although it makes perfect sense. My personality is to trend toward enmeshment, whereas Bobby’s default is to maroon himself on an emotional island of autonomy à la George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air. He’s right of course. And so am I. As he always says, we work because each of us balances out the other. The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere in the middle.