The Key To A Happy Marriage Is Letting Go

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 

Our family just returned from a long weekend in upstate New York. It’s a trip my husband and I have been making together for over 15 years, before the car was filled with cranky kids and their endless snacks. As we were heading out of the city, I was reminded of what it was like all those years ago, when my husband and I were newly married. But it wasn’t the silence, or the thrilling sense of freedom that I remembered—it was the awful fights we used to get into over my husband’s poor navigation skills. Or, to put it bluntly, his complete lack of navigation skills.

If you’ve ever tried to get out of the New York City metropolitan area on a weekday at any hour prior to 10 p.m., you know that you can’t take just any route. There is traffic everywhere, but certain routes are complete death traps. In order to get on the highway going upstate, we always aim to take a shortcut through Westchester. It’s a route we’ve attempted for years, but we rarely get it quite right—in fact, we almost always fail and end up getting stuck on the Major Deegan (bad choice) or in traffic going toward the George Washington Bridge (the pits of hell).

I should back up and say that I don’t do the driving out of the city—city driving and I do not mix (it terrifies me). Sometimes I do some of the driving once we’re past the city, but my husband likes driving much more than I do, so he does most of it. I pack up the house, deal with the kids and dole out snacks, so I expect my husband to get us to our destination. And you’d think after making this trip for all these years, he would remember the correct directions (or at least look them up beforehand).

Nope. This year, like all other years, after we packed up the car and loaded in the kids, my husband started to ruminate about how we’d go. And as I have done for all these years, I started to get…well, pissed. “Didn’t you look up directions?” I asked. Of course not. He has his pride. He still thinks he can get us there himself.

You probably can guess what came next. We took a couple of wrong turns, missed a couple of exits and ended up on the Major Deegan, which was bumper-to-bumper.

But as we sat there in utter stillness for an hour, something kind of miraculous happened. First, my children were actually happy and non-annoying. The 2-year-old was counting trucks, and the 8-year-old was chatting away with my husband (who was simultaneously pointing out the trucks and other scintillating vehicles to our 2-year-old).

Since nothing urgent was happening, I could enjoy sitting in the car with the people I love. I noticed that my husband and I hadn’t really argued much about the fact that he’d gone the wrong way. I had fumed a little as we pulled out of the driveway, peppering him with questions, but after that, I just watched it all unfold with sealed lips. In fact, I’d hardly noticed it.

Sure, part of it was that I had expected him to go the wrong way. But suddenly it seemed that there was no point rehashing the same argument and accusations. I had let go of it. I saw the relinquishment happen right before my eyes.

Yes, I’d prefer if my husband would prepare his route next time, but clearly all the nagging in the world on my part isn’t going to make that happen. Unless I decide to do the driving myself, we will probably always make a few wrong turns. And I know that even if he printed out precise directions, something could easily go wrong—it has before. My husband is just not blessed with a sense of direction. After 14 years of marriage, I have accepted that this is just one of his quirks.

Instead of dwelling on that, I noticed how beautifully he kept both kids entertained—how deeply clued in he is to their interests and temperaments and how he can carry on more than one conversation with them at a time, still holding on to each thread. I thought about how he spends every evening reading to my 8-year-old and helps settle my 2-year-old down to bed by singing to him and telling him stories. I thought about how he wakes up every day at 5 a.m. so he can get to the high school he works at early, and how he does that precisely so he can be home by 4 p.m. to spend time with our kids.

Oh my goodness, there are just some things that are more important than others, you know? I don’t think I realized that all those years ago when we were childless, newly married idealists. I had an image of what I thought my husband should be. I wanted to push him further, make him learn, try to change him. But I didn’t know yet all the other gifts he had inside him that far outweighed something like a crappy sense of direction.

As we enter our 15th year of marriage, I see myself letting go of more and more of the stuff that used to bother me—the things that seemed to get under my skin and anger me to no end. But now I get it. I will never have a husband who can wash the dishes properly (really, I clean everything better). He will rarely remember to take out the trash unless I tell him. He isn’t handy around the house, he can barely cook, and he has been known to lose his wallet and other valuables. I could easily dwell on these kinds of things—and I sometimes have—but I am learning that the key to making our marriage work is to accept him for who he is, and not for the idea of the “husband” or “man” that I think he needs to fit into.

I get how incredibly lucky I am. If my husband couldn’t show up emotionally or physically for me or our kids, I don’t think our marriage would be sustainable. And when one of the “little things” really does bother me, I let him know, and he’s willing to listen and work on it. But I’m learning that some things are worth fighting about, and others simply aren’t. And the truth is that if there is one person on earth I’d like to get lost with, it’s him.

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