Only weeks ago, we thought the time would soon be upon us when, whatever our political camp, we would be able to stop holding our breath. Now, it would appear that we are close. But while some are breathing easier, others are more woeful. Most of us choose to communicate only with our like-minded friends as the print press and the airways offer updates virtually minute by minute and ping our phones. I can only imagine how tense it must be for families with differing political loyalties to carry on day by day without conflict irrupting. And if these differences exist within intimate partnerships, do loving ways become seriously strained?
Some years ago, I clipped a favorite cartoon by Koren, which I placed in a small frame that I keep on my desk. It shows two middle aged couples visiting in the living room of one of them. A huge hairy monster looms behind the smiling hosts seated together on a couch. The wife addresses their visiting friends sitting opposite staring at the monster, and says, “We deal with it by talking about it.”
This is a concept I hold dear, that coping with our differences, and certainly our demons, by talking about them with those we trust lessens their power to affect us. Surely this is the best way to banish anxiety and foster both understanding and intimacy.
Professionally, I often urged clients to face and question their fears or concerns about the future. I urged them to bring them out in the open and share different perspectives and worries with loved ones. So, it was with some surprise when I came across an opposite view that I now find appealing.
I wish I could, but I cannot remember the source of these words I quickly scribbled on the pad I keep by my bed: Curiously, it helped us not to talk things out. Confusion cannot be challenged if there is no finality. In a marriage, there is always tomorrow, the apology, the explanation of bad behavior, the kiss.
Now, shuffling through my collection of bedside notes and rereading this quote, I realize more fully the wisdom it holds. Those whose relationships have survived long term have all probably learned this lesson, to pick and choose which incidents, which thoughts or daydreams, which monsters need to be talked about and which are best left to confusion, to uncertainty, to the apology, or just to the kiss.
And here’s another strategy which I took note of some years ago.
When Colbert King, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post, was asked about his wife who he had met when both were students at Howard University, and to whom he had by then been married for almost 50 years, King commented, “We have a mixed marriage, she’s a registered Republican, and I’m a Democrat.”
Actually, King and his wife, Gwendolyn King, both held a number of high government positions, he as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Carter administration, she as a Deputy Assistant to Ronald Reagan and as Director of the Social Security Administration under George H.W. Bush.
When interviewed and asked how he handled their disagreements, King, who was then seventy-six, responded that he just goes with the flow and added, “You have to learn how to mumble if you’re going to keep the marriage going . . . that you don’t have arguments . . . because if you‘ve got to say it . . . five years from now when you’re about to brush your teeth, she’s going to get the last word . . . I don’t disagree with my wife about anything, I just enjoy the moments.”
So, perhaps there are times to throw a blanket over the monster, cultivate confusion, and mumble.
Scott Simon Tweet: on 9/18/20
“Ruth and Marty Ginsburg had a marriage that was a joy to be near. One of her best insights, when asked what makes a happy, long-term marriage, she said, “I do find a certain amount of deafness helps.”
Bea’s publisher here: This November, Bea added another book award to her collection: From over 1,800 applicants, the 2020 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards gave Bea an honorable mention in the category of “Life Stories”. She adds this award to the Nautilus Silver Medal she received in 2019. Paperback copies of her book, The Third Person in the Room, can be purchased on Amazon.com. Hard copies are available at www.nolankerr.com.
I thought you’d want to know this good piece of news. – Nancy Nolan