On Marriage

I live next door to a marital cautionary tale. I like these people, so I don’t want to violate their privacy or be snarky about them. I know that they are unaware that this blog exists, which is the only reason I would write about this– because being the true daughter of the South that I am, I don’t mind talking about someone, but I would just die if they found out!

Here’s the deal: they are both in their early 70’s, retired, second marriage for both, first spouses died. Been married to each other about 10, 11 years. Somewhere along the way, She got disillusioned, or felt gypped, or something– at any rate, She is now completely soured on the marriage. He has the smooth manner of a politician or car salesman, always smiling and pleasant, always puts the best possible face on things. He seems to live in a state of stoic denial. In the two years that we have lived here, the relationship between them has deteriorated to a Cold War status. She stays inside a lot, and when she speaks to him it is in the manner of someone who has just stepped in a big pile of dog poo and is now addressing the dog that produced it— barely controlled anger, outrage and total disgust. Just mean, basically. He works outside in their immaculate yard. All. The. Time. Seriously, like from dawn to dark. They have rose gardens and fountains and a vegetable garden and trees and muscadine vines and a gazebo and a putting green and a koi pond and rows of pie-plate red hibiscus bushes. He just added some bamboo yesterday. It’s like living next door to the Biltmore gardens.

Basically things have gotten to the point that, as the saying goes, if He walked on water, She’d complain that the damn fool can’t swim.

Now all of this would be None Of My Business, except for the fact that they both have taken to confiding in me over the fence about their miserable state of affairs. I am determined to remain Switzerland in this situation, so I have this standard look of sympathy and compassion that I slap on my face when they talk to me, and I nod a lot and say kind of inane, neutral things like, “Well, I really hope you are taking care of yourself through all of this.” (What does that even mean, anyway?!) It actually kind of breaks my heart a little, because they are both genuinely nice people, in a highly dysfunctional kind of way, and it makes me sad to see how their lives have changed so much in the last two years. They used to go out with friends, attend Garden Club meetings, go to the country club, travel a little. Now, She’s inside, pissed off, and He’s outside, avoiding her. She tells me she can’t take it any longer, she wants him to leave, but he won’t. He tells me that it is hard to live with someone who is so fundamentally unhappy all the time, and that nothing he does pleases her, but he’s not going anywhere. She goes to lots of therapists who tell her that He is not her problem– she is unhappy with her life, and even though He is far from perfect if he were gone it wouldn’t solve all of her problems. He thinks there is ‘something wrong’ with her, and appears to be very long-suffering, but according to Her, he explodes a lot. And maybe drinks too much. Where is the truth? Somewhere in the middle, I guess.

Since I refuse to be recruited into being the Marriage Counselor, I’ve decided that I will allow myself to occasionally (with limits) serve as a sounding board and just express my sadness that they are going through such a rough time. Period. And since I have a tendency to lean towards the self-helpy, this is showing remarkable restraint. You know that metallic taste you get in your mouth when you’re biting your tongue ’til it bleeds? ME TOO!

But here’s what the whole situation is teaching me: Show me any male of the species and any female of the species and I’ll show you irreconcilable differences. We are so fundamentally different that if we live together long enough, it is inevitable that each of us at some point will feel misunderstood and alone. If I wanted to be with someone who really, really gets me, I should have married my friend Bonnie. Or a gay man. And trust me, there have been times in my life that those two options seemed way preferable to the one I was living in. I think the trick is to find the places that you DO connect, and nurture those– and to do it before you let time and resentment alienate you both so completely that there isn’t any hope of finding your way back to each other. Also, could we all just cut each other some slack, for crying out loud?  ‘Trying’ ought to count for something! Watching the War of the Roses next door has made me want to be a kinder, gentler version of myself in my own marriage. Most of the time, I think we’re both doing the best we can with the knowledge and experience we have– we’re not doing it perfectly, but we need to be encouraged when we do it half-assed right, not jumped on and attacked when we do it half-assed wrong. Marriage is hard, and people are fragile. If it ain’t fixed, don’t break it.

And that, my dears, is the sermonette for the day. By Reverend Preachy McKnow-it-all.


11 Responses

  1. gracelynn

    Poor Tori! I know how it is to be the sounding board for relationships. That happened last year with my friend and her boyfriend and it is NOT fun to be caught in the middle of the two. It’s sad to think that they have let their marriage get to this point. I don’t guess I really have the right to say anything, considering I am not married, though. But I do know what it is like to watch your parents feuding and spitting fire at each other over the most trivial things you can imagine. It is truly a miracle that my parents are still together after 38 years, because I have watched them go through some very tense and rough moments that as a child made me wonder if I’d still have two parents under one roof when I woke up the next day. But they have managed to work through those issues and are still going strong.

    You are so right though – men and women are different. It’s that simple. We are going to have disagreements at some point, no matter what. You cannot get two people together and agree on everything, all the time. It just doesn’t work that way. So like you said, you have cut people some slack sometimes. And I say amen to your comment that people are fragile. You can do more damage with your tongue than you can do with your hands. Take it from someone who knows.

  2. LindaB

    We’ve all known couples like you described, Tori. I befriended a neighbor woman and she used to “confide” to me her husband’s shortcomings regularly—–even bringing them up in front of him and asking me if I agreed with her that he is a bonafide jerk. It made me uncomfortable and I thought all the time that this woman was tearing down her own house word by word, brick by brick. He eventually did leave her for another woman. Surprise, surprise!

    I agree with you that whenever you put a man and a woman together, sooner or later, they are going to disagree about some things. Heck, if you put any two separate human beings in close proximity for any length of time, even two women who are good friends, they are going to conflict. It takes WORK to make a relationship viable, and a big dose of compromise. And you have to care. I guess this couple you describe are past caring about the relationship and can only focus on themselves individually. And that’s a shame ’cause everyone’s unhappy.

    I heard a marriage counselor say one time that a relationship is beyond repair when either one of them doesn’t care anymore. Apathy is more dangerous and deadly to a couple than anger or even hatred. This same counselor also said you cannot expect another person, even a spouse, to make you happy! You are in control of your own happiness! You cannot give that job to anyone else! And I think he’s right! I imagine this woman who is your neighbor is so unhappy with herself that she is desperately trying to blame someone else, and her husband is a readily available target. It’s so sad. And he may have some degree of blame in this relationship going sour, but she won’t solve the problem by continually belittling him and dwelling on his failings. Quite the contrary!

    Ya know, the best advice I could ever give a couple in trouble is so simple, yet so powerful, I believe. It’s “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. It works with spouses too!

  3. LindaB

    “Reverend Preachy McKnow-it-all”?? Hey! That’s my name! We must be sisters!

  4. rockin robyn

    It’s so curious that your subject is marriage today, because I was just talking to a friend about the whole marriage vs. love thing. I myself have never been married but out of my 40+ years of life – about 18 of those years was involved on and off in a relationship (if it’s fare to call it that) with a guy I thought was my world… (he turned out – “not so much”) than I woke up and grew up and saw that it wasn’t a God inspired relationship. He missed out on what a great wife I could have been to him!!!!

    As a female I may piss some of you off by reminding you of this but the bible reminds us that the man is the head of the house and when we fall in love and get married, first we should respect that title of the husband, that he is the head and we should truly love him and stand by him… Tori your neighbor is forgetting that and out of disrespect she is chasing the love away. That is where the anger and hatred comes into play.

    That’s all I ever wanted out of life and my past relationship – was to have someone to love and care for and be there for him. I sit back in my world now – single and I know that God spared me the hurt of a relationship/marriage because I look at couples like you are discribing, Tori and it makes me sad. I know it may be easy for me to say this and I’m not married but why can’t we just appreciate what we have and work out the dumb stuff that comes along. Life isn’t easy and neither is relationships but if you don’t take them for granted it will always be worth working for and fighting for.

    I liken it to raising kids today. I witness so many parents who aren’t great parents and should have never had kids and then see others, so many others who try so hard to have children (and would be awesome parents) and for health reasons or other reasons they are not able to have any. Why can’t those parents that have children be the greatest parents they can be. Again just be happy with what you have, knowing that there are those who don’t have…

    Tori – you preaching on marriage, well you have every right. I’ve followed Russ’s career for awhile and even through his music and as a fan I am knowledgable of the struggles but I so admire you and thank God for women like you who stand by and help keep the bond and those vows sacred to someone like myself – standing at the sidelines, waiting (not so much any more) for my chance at love to say those vows under God and be able to really really mean them when you say for better or for worse…

  5. auburn60

    Years ago we went to church with several couples who had all been together for a number of years. The wives all got together for lunch or a ‘night out’ every week. The topic of these meetings nine times out of ten was ‘husbands’ or ‘men’ in general. Lots of things were said in jest or just ‘in confidence’ that were hurtful or better not said. Lots of times,these women probably had legitimate issues but they were sharing them with the group,instead of their spouses.
    My husband rarely asks or tells me what to do (wise man) but he did request then that I not spend a lot of time with these women. His feeling was that we did not have any of the problems some of them had but that after hearing about them all the time that I might start looking for some of the same things in our marriage. Also, he felt that these women had an obligation to share their issues with their husbands and that it was a betrayal to the men for the wives to tell some of the details that they shared.
    All but 2 couples of that group have divorced. We are one of the 2.
    We may not be insanely happy all the time. Married life is just regular ol’ life–lots of drudgery and day-to-day maintenance.Sometimes I get tired of doing it alone–like Tori, my husband is gone most of the time.But we have never considered ‘not being together’ an option. We get mad and tired and overwhelmed A LOT-
    but we also laugh a lot.

  6. themema

    Ah, marriage. Yes. Married at 20, soon to celebrate year 48! And to the same man!!!

    I’d have to say that I was glad I was married to my hubby for about 47 of those 48 years. I’d also have to say that there were times when we both had to do some serious adjusting, to both our attitudes and our expectations. But all in all, it has been a good ride.

    3 Easy rules for survival.

    Accept each others individuality.

    Know when to Communicate feelings and thoughts…. to your spouse or to others about your spouse

    Know when to keep your mouth shut… to your spouse and to others.

    Your poor neighbor lady sounds like someone who may be seriously depressed and no one realizes it.

  7. LindaB

    And how kind of you, Tori, to be her sounding board!

    I know what you could do to help this poor lady——invite Betty to your house, introduce her to your neighbor as your dear Aunt Betty, then send leave her alone with your neighbor for a few hours—–tell her you have to take Madi to her silk lessons, and would she please keep Auntie company until you get back! Our Betty will get to the bottom of her problem!!! And FIX IT!!!

  8. LindaB

    I’m totally serious!

  9. Barbara M. Lloyd

    I think this comment is going to be under the marriage thang, so if it sounds strange, then perhaps it’s because it’s under the wrong subject…..perhaps, I said.

    First, I would like to second the idea of Tori inviting Aunt Betty to stra8ighten out this young lady (it’s my story at this point). If Aunt Betty can’t fix her, she can’t be fixed.

    I always love it when any of my children speak about their spouse lovingly and complimentary. And, I abhor hearing anyone tear down their other half unkindly. It always makes you want to sock the person talking and feed the other one a cup of warm soup.

    I suspect every neighborhood has a couple like your’s, Tori. Across the street from me lives Bob and Jane (names made up). Almost the first time I met Jane she started telling me all of Bob’s faults. I didn’t know one human being could have so many faults. And, she emphasized how different Bob is from her deceased first husband. Bob, too, spends a lot of time in the yard but I don’t think he does that to suit Jane either because I often see her come out and point here and there. Now, I wouldn’t want Bob either…..but he’s a piece of cake compared to Jane. Everybody on the street avoids this couple. It’s kinda sad, but it doesn’t bother me enough to make them my new best friends. However, I could invite them over on Aunt Betty’s next visit.

  10. belinda

    You know one thing that my Mom told me so many years ago, before Troy and I got married was to never go to sleep mad at each other and we have not. After 29 years – we are still married and still have a great time together. Of course, there have been good times and bad times but we have made it through all of them and will continue to do so. I have heard ladies at work talk about being mad at their spouse and not talking for days. That has never happened at our house, we could not stand that. Communication is very important! Saying your sorry, always helps too.

    I also do not understand how ladies get together and talk bad about their husbands all the time and expect to have a good marriage. I had some friends that always did that and I would always go home wondering how they expected things to get better when they had nothing good to say about their husbands. I know some families also do that, talk about their kids spouses to them. I am so thankful that I have never had a negative conversation with any of my family about Troy. I don’t know how anybody expects to have any kind of a good relationship, if you are continually talking down about them. That only hurts things.

    Marriage is something you have to work on every single day. God has blessed me with a great husband and I am very thankful for it. Even after 29 years, we still have to work on it daily.

    We had the priviledge of visiting with some very special friends this weekend. They have been married for 41 years this week. It is always nice to see people who have made it and who you know will always make it because even after 41 years they still love each other and still do stuff for each other.

    Your neighbors might be surprised what kind of an attitude adjustement they might have if they try to say something good about each other. Sure makes you wake up and make sure that the same thing does not happen to you. Great blog as always, Tori!

  11. Elizabeth


    So sad to hear what is happening with this couple you shared. While I was reading this, the first thing that came to my mind was, does she possibly have dementia?
    I will be praying for this couple.

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