MARRIAGE IS LIKE THE BABY’S PLAY PATTERNS

Up and down, sitting, then standing, then crawling, then bawling, then laughing…

Marriage, like my mood, is ups and downs. And then weeks of hold steady: happy crew, no blown gaskets, well-oiled machine. Engagement was this way too. Even before engagement. It was maybe only the initial weeks or maybe month of consistent dating that was sparkly bliss buzzing 24/7. 

Now the baby takes three naps per day. Mama-baby bed time. Kate lays down in bed with the little breakfast sausage right next to her. Pulls up the covers. The baby eats from one breast. Then the other. Then sleep. Maybe it’s only eating from ne side, no flip, I’m not sure. While the baby’s guzzle glunking, Kate reads. 

A few days ago, she started reading a book about marriage. I bought it two years ago at the suggestion of our marital counselor. I gave it a good skim. John Gottman’s “The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.” At 4pm yesterday, post nap #3, during our mama-papa-baby-pooch afternoon saunter through the woods, Kate rolled out the book’s thesis. Which is that after observing a couple for 3 minutes, Gottman can tell with 97% certainty whether a couple will remain together or get divorced. The secret? He’s studied thousands of hours of facial micro-gestures and the emotions and inner psychology these gestures reveal. And he’s written a book about the 7 basic commonalities between partners of lasting marriages. We talked about stonewalling, and how men often prefer the tactic, despite it’s crippling consequences. She told me that during a conflict, male heart rates rise higher and stay higher for longer than a female. She asked whether I thought this was true for us. I said no, but I’m not sure. She said she agreed: we might be an outlier on this metric. 

Yesterday specifically, and this week generally, our marriage dynamic is on pretty stable emotional ground. So I think it’s super smart to use the good vibes and dig into these gritty communication manuals. It’s not an admission of marital instability. I mean it is. But not in a bad way. I think it’s an insurance policy and preparation against future moments of tension. And I think marriage self-help books are helpful, even if they feel touchy-feely-cheesy, if both members of marriage read, because they provide a set of terms and common tools which can be used later to discuss and think about the details of a particular conflict. 

After a string of apocalyptic “you don’t support The Alt Dad Diary” and “you don’t respect me” marital meltdowns, we’ve now instituted a new policy of a daily debriefing, where I summarize my day’s online Alt Dad activities. (Very straining and stressful, yes. But these marital meltdowns are highly educational. On admission of drug use, for one, and camera/video use in private family space, for two, our hot heated bickering conversation really stopped my non-stop psyche and forced me to reevaluate. And I emerged with a new and stronger set of beliefs. Full disclosure is my thing—regardless of legality. But Kate has a higher level of personal privacy and deference for social mores. How do you balance the two? They seem incongruent. We came up with a few ground rules and then the daily debriefing. 

Debriefing goes like this: I wrote about this, videoed about that, researched XY and Z, and had these puzzling conversations with so and so about the future of digital media. The summary is useful because a) Kate can’t always read/watch every post, comment or video, b) I tend to obsess about the Diary and therefore turn any and every conversation back to me and the Diary, which sounds incredibly frustrating and devaluing, c) we have a designated space to talk if anything I just shared makes Kate uncomfortable or if she thinks my writing in any way imprudent. (Which is good because I don’t have much social tact or wherewithal.)

It’s only been a few days. But it’s been good. 

After my debriefing, still woods walking, I asked about the marriage book. And Kate shared about that. And then I asked about the book she was reading before the marriage book. This black paperback from Christmas called “Dark Money.” She said it’s about how bought this country’s politics are. How the Koch brothers and a small number of allied plutocrats have essentially hijacked American democracy. How they’ve used their wealth muscle not just to compete with political adversaries, but to drown out and dispense with them. Really demoralizing stuff. But really interesting. 

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