Marriage is the best of all times, and the worst of all times. A recent anniversary reminded me of a story I once heard. A man gave flowers to his wife on their anniversary saying, “for the best years of my life.”
The wife counted the roses and asked, “Why isn’t there a rose for every year?”
“Not all our years were the best,” the man shrugged
The wife picked up the bouquet, studied it a moment, removed a few roses and threw them away, remembering a few more years that weren’t “the best.”
This is true of every marriage. Some years are better than others, but the goal is to get through all of them together.
Having observed us through most of our 51 years, my daughter said, “they did not always make it look easy, but they always set an example of sticking it out through thick and thin.”
I can recall a few times when I had to remind myself that our vows incuded “for worse” not just “for better.”
One pivotal moment happened when we decided to get rid of the excess furniture that came with our first, dilapidated house. We wanted to eliminate an old-fashioned wooden buffet, dining room chairs with “pinch your bottom” seats and a drawing table. We had found better chairs, did not need the buffet, and the drawing table stayed folded in a corner. It was the era before Internet options for buying and selling, so when our neighbors had an auction, we asked to add our items.
The auctioneer tacked them on at the end after many had left. They sold for pennies on the dollar. We watched in dismay as folks rapidly left with great deals. We, on the other hand, went home quite disappointed, pointing angry fingers at each other.
“Well if you …”
“You should have …”
The sting of disappointment left us blaming each other.
In the middle of another exchange of words, my husband abruptly said, “We better not talk about this anymore. We just need to let it go and say nothing more about it anymore.”
We stopped. We did not say anything to anyone. Not a word, not even when my parents visited and commented on the missing buffet. My parents missed the buffet, but I never missed the pinch bottom chairs, and I never spoke of them, either.
Through the years, as my husband drew up project plans, he probably missed that drawing table. Still, he kept the silence. In time the sting of that moment faded.
I know the usual advice is to talk out problems, but in that situation, silence worked for us. We didn’t need anyone else, not even ourselves, second-guessing or commenting on something we couldn’t change.
Some 20 years later, we again chose silence for our marriage. At that time, I was dealing with difficult family issues that I shared with my husband.
He always enjoyed relating stories about his mother’s quirky personality as a wife and mother. She did funny things reflecting the impact of the Great Depression and her generation’s nuances. My husband and his brothers bonded over those memories.
But then he began sharing my parental stories as well. I did not like it. I emphatically said, “You can say anything you want about your mother and father and what happened when growing up in their home. I can say anything I want to about my father or mother, but you can’t say anything about my parents, and I can’t say anything about yours.”
That evening we had dinner with friends. The conversational flow fit perfectly for one of his funny stories about his mother. I started to tell it. He looked at me across the table. I awkwardly stopped in mid-sentence. He did not choose to finish the story. No matter how many times he and his brothers had told the story in the past, my rules dictated I could not repeat it.
Thinking about the value of silence reminds me of the quote often attributed to Clara Barton when someone wanted to discuss a painful event, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
In an age of saying whatever comes to mind, it is okay to choose to say nothing. On stressful days, I strive to not get historical (or hysterical) under pressure. I work to focus on the positive. It’s one way to add a flower for “the best years of our lives” for our next anniversary.