My mom used to joke that the two best days every year were the day my dad came home, and the day he left. It was toungue-in-cheek for the most part, but there was some hard truth there, too.
Everything has a price, especially being married to a merchant mariner.
The wife of a friend on Facebook put up and I think later the same day deleted a pretty long post on the frustration and difficulties that come with being married to guys who do what we do. My first thought was "They're young, that makes it 10x harder." My second thought, "They need children."
...I'll try to explain why that's not contradictory at some point.
I like telling the story of how Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife met my parents back when she was Disproportionately Hot Foreign Girlfriend. I had asked my mom to put in a good word about dealing with my job, as my girlfriend was not sold on the idea of being left alone half the year. My mom said she'd put in a good word, but as soon as she met my girlfriend, they hit it off, and when asked, well, she fucking torpedoed me, spectacularly, by being honest.
Even my dad got on her for that one. In hindsight, she was correct. Also, hilarious. If you met my mom, you'd understand.
At any rate, before I VERY sympathetically read that post on Facebook while I was home, Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I spent a day at a special function set up by her church, focused on marriage and faith. When I say "Set up by her church" I really mean, "Set up by Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife" as she was the director of this program for the day. And as she attends a Protestant Brazilian Church, I was the token American Papist. So, for the day, I guess I was "Not Very Hot At All Foreign Husband," but whatever.
Every marriage has a unique dynamic, but it was interesting to listen as I could to her Pastor's lecture on his experiences as a husband, pastor, father and trained marriage counselor, and successful traits of couples within happy marriages. Surprisingly, most of the things that he listed, my wife and I already practice. Constant affirmations, plenty of alone time separate from friends and children, working together, the religious aspects, fighting correctly (an important one for an American man of Irish heritage and an unbelievably fiery South American woman), the nature of service and forgiveness, headship, etc. We were already practicing most of it... Her friends have accused her of being false in that whenever we're together, we're always holding hands and rarely apart, affectionate, jealous of our time together as a family... all things that came from assorted small failures, the occasional success, and hard experience.
I'm not always smart enough to learn from other people's mistakes.
and it's not like it came natural to us. We laugh about our arguments now, but the early years were often hell for both of us, not least because of complications arising from my job. We both explain that our relationship is what it is out of necessity- we simply don't have time for bullshit. Literally, we don't have time to do what we want at a leisurely pace, so we make do, and it works for us.
I really wish I could be better at this sort of writing. I feel that this shit is important, and my ability to explain it is way behind what I actually practice.
If I could speak to my younger newlywed self, I would warn me that I was coming into a period of adjustment that would make the honeymoon period a trial of patience and relative unhappiness for my wife and I, that had to be endured before things got amazing.
The adjustment of marriage to a merchant mariner is AWFUL, in a word, for both husband and wife. For us, the honeymoon period is the labor pains of marriage, not the traditional period of supposed relatively carefree joy.
Strange, for the wife and I, the joy came a little later, but all the stronger because of it. Serious, the accusations from her friends of being too sweet to be believed? That shit's real. We worked for it, and earned every moment of it, too.
I'm not going to share the secrets of my success here, because there's no secret at all. I ain't subtle enough to respond to less than a brick to the head at times, so I've learned what works mostly by doing what doesn't work first.
Being married to me, aside from requiring undiagnosed visual impairment and patience, means that time is precious- everything gets more intense- everything, and that means pressures on both husband and wife. Thus we fought a lot early on. Making up was also frequently awesome. Time becomes a commodity, curse and blessing, depending on how we handle the lack of it.
I know communication is key, and knowing that didn't help. Becoming aware of it didn't help either- being aware of it's lack is what often spurs us... experts say that speaking affirmations is important- I spent a lot of time with old guys and veterans when I was a kid, and most of them mentioned at some point about the importance of speaking your mind and telling people when you love them, because you never know when it's the last opportunity to do so. Perhaps growing up aware that my dad was on very borrowed time was part of that, too. My wife lost her younger brother when she was young, and I think she learned the same lesson early on, so there's plenty of I love you's and affection, which is what I grew up with, anyhow. Apparently this is not as common as it should be. Shame.
Having mutual far-reaching and life-defining goals, like raising a child, is also important from what I can see. My wife bears the brunt there- she and my son are at home, and I am not. I am not home for 2/3 of all holidays. Once every three years I am home for a birthday, holiday, anniversary, etc. Sometimes I can get home for funerals and weddings. Sometimes not. The takeaway here is that she is alone, and I am missing critical family togetherness both with my nuclear family and our expended biological families. We both suffer for it, but I at least am often distracted by work during these times, while my wife and kid have to listen to well-meaning but often pitying statements by loved ones that turn my absence into a subtle insult to those who are there at whatever occasion it is.
That shit's annoying to me, but it's AWFUL for her and my son.
I grieve for those moments, and the impact it has on me at odd times, often when I should be sleeping, and self-doubt and guilt make sleep elusive. I chose the career and also chose to accept the consequences to me. My wife chose to marry me, knowing I wouldn't always be there, but knowing that in theory and then experiencing an anniversary alone, going to a wedding or funeral alone, or opening Christmas presents for two, are two very different things. She knows that when she needs me, I. Am. Usually. Not. There.
When I am there, I'm THERE. I'm underfoot, need attention, disrupt her routine and we naturally capitalize on my being home. We didn't have time to just sit and do nothing at all for the first 5 years we were married. That's often fun, but it's tiring too. We have our rituals that accomplish both- at least once a week now we'll sit outside after my son's asleep or upstairs, and enjoy the sounds of the frogs in my pond and my little fountain (I love the sound of running water. I have a fountain), split a bottle of champagne and some cheese or whatever. Another thing I've learned by accident is that while we jealously reserve most of our time for just our nuclear family, we also take time just for us as husband and wife. This has to get balanced against alone time, too. We both need alone time, and that means having projects and hobbies to keep us occupied while the other is off doing something. For my wife, it's church and cooking, and socializing with her insane Brazilian friends- a gaggle of women who are louder than a NASA launch when together, which makes a great time for my kid and I to go to the gun range.
To a far, far more difficult subject, and one I'm only going to touch on here for brevity's sake, religion and traditional roles play a part too. Faith, and the challenges and inspirations there help. The nuclear family model of patriarchy and headship have existed for centuries for a damn good reason- practiced correctly, it's neither confining nor limiting. Playing your strengths, it can be referred to. Although we're both religious, we're of two very different religions. I'm Catholic, she's an evangelical. Luckily, they've got more in common than not.
Making accommodations doesn't have to be an exercise in compromise- the problem with compromise is that no one gets what they actually want. While we often joke about having a 'perpetual honeymoon' (in the good sense), we sort of do have that- the limited time means that after all these years, we're still learning about each other, and there's not enough time to take each other for granted. Holidays can often be made up, celebrations can be celebrated at any time. It's not the same. Sometimes, its far better than way. I'd rather celebrate one of our birthdays while in the middle of several uninterrupted days and weeks at home, together.
You make it work. You put a lot of effort into it, and sometimes it blows up in your face, and sometimes it's wonderful. With time, you make enough mistakes that you start accumulating wisdom of a sort, or experience, anyhow, in how not to do things. You experience the hell of loneliness, sadness, despair. You reunite and value each other for all the more so. Happiness comes in small segments. The 30 seconds you eat a handful of oreos. The couple of seconds of an orgasm, the set up for a perfect shot with a rifle. Whatever. Happiness is fast, fleeting, elusive. Joy is cumulative, and if you cultivate it and prepare the way for it, it stays and lasts. Flavored with the confines of limited time, it's very possible to make the most of what you have, knowing that the end of a period together is also the start of planning for the next time it happens.