Lessons Learned from a Nasty Vacation

We had planned this summer to take our trailer to Greer, Arizona, for the month of June. But we heard that the fishing would be lousy, and thought we’d go to San Diego instead, and take the kitties.

Have you ever tried to rent a place that says, “Pets Welcome,” with two cats? People hear the word “cats,” and literally hang up on you! So, the best situation we could find was a converted garage in La Jolla for three weeks. And it didn’t go well.

The refrigerator was smaller than the one in our trailer, so Gene walked several blocks each day to get us ice for the cooler. Our bar was set up on the floor behind the entry door.

You could not turn around in the bathroom. And the toilet was so close to the pedestal sink that our knees were under it.

The washer and dryer were in the owner’s back yard. We had to check with him to use them; then, arms full of dirty clothes, we made our way through two gates (and closed them behind us, so the dog wouldn’t get out), opened the double doors to the machines, stepped up on a platform, and tried not to drop anything on the ground below.

Then there was the furniture: When you sat on the couch, you sat almost on the floor, and you could feel the support bars under you. And the dining table was a card table with two folding chairs. The place was perfect for a 20-something single surfer.

The poor cats had no place to run and play, and that lack of space, combined with a skylight right over our bed, meant they woke us at the crack of dawn, ready to eat and be petted.

After a week, we’d had it. We both looked for something in San Diego, hoping there would be owners whose renters had fallen through, and were desperate, read: would take cats. After two weeks, Gene expanded our search, and found a charming little house in San Clemente, so we moved up there for the last week.

Our two-week nightmare got me thinking how lucky we are to be able to get through such an experience still liking each other! And some observations emerged as to why our marriage works. As in any friendship, fairness and reciprocity are important. If one person does most of the giving, resentment is sure to follow.

Here are the keys to our ability to stay happy together:

Empathy — the process that allows us to feel what others are feeling. Gene and I can share each other’s feelings most of the time. and have learned each other’s signals. If he gets grumpy and speaks very softly, as if it’s too much work to talk in a normal tone, I know his back is hurting, or he needs a protein fix or sex. 😊 If I’m giving him the silent treatment, he knows my feelings are hurt, and looks for ways to say, “I’m sorry. I was a jerk.”

Fairness – the idea that things are equal. If he cooks, I do the dishes and vice versa. Household chores are divided equally. He takes care of the garbage, the kitties, vacuuming, and spraying for bugs. And he pays for cleaning every other week. I handle the deep cleaning, keeping the place tidy, the gardening, and yard work. When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, we try to spend the same amount on each of our five kids, their spouses, and our 10 grandchildren. Same goes for pictures on the refrigerator and around the house: equal representation to the extent possible. As to personal toys: if he wants to buy a 1948 Chevy truck, he uses his own money; if I want to buy expensive rugs or take my kids on a special trip, I use my own money.

Speaking of finances, they can be a challenge, especially when a monk is married to a sucker for packaging. We have separate and joint investment and checking accounts and budgets for our separate and joint needs. We’ve been doing that for 20 years, and it works most of the time. We also try to consult each other before making purchases that will impact both of us.

Allowing for differences — He’s an introvert; I’m an ambivert, meaning I love people, but need alone time to recharge. We are opposites on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, and he’s a 1 on the Enneagram, while I’m a 2. You get the picture: we need to give each other permission to be who we are. And at the same time, we try to spend time together traveling, wine-tasting, fishing, hiking, taking walks, and watching TV. Otherwise, what’s the point of being married?

And when it comes to expressing our love for each other, his “language of love” is acts of service. He shows me he cares by making sure I have the things that are important to me, and by lending me a hand, sometimes literally, when Parkinson’s makes my life difficult. He has an amazing way of being there without hovering or making me feel weak. I try to give him my undivided attention (even when it’s not a subject of interest, like trailer systems) and let him be in charge of things that are important to him, like our finances.  

There’s another thing that gets us through the tough times: not only do we love each other, we love holding each other and having sex. And although the physical challenges presented to two 73-year-olds can be daunting, they’re not insurmountable. 😊

So, as we enter our 21st year together, it’s with the knowledge that even though we sometimes screw up, we know how to make ourselves and each other happy. And that means being true to ourselves and letting each other be who they are, too.

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