I recently heard about a new Jerry Seinfeld show: The Marriage Ref. I know little about it. To be honest, though I loved Jerry Seinfeld's humour in his old sitcom of like name, I was turned off of the new show when I heard that, of all people, Madonna was a regular guest judge. Hmmm, I thought: Madonna; marriage; Madonna; marriage - something didn't compute for me. My understanding is that the premise of the show is to settle an ongoing dispute being experienced by real-life couples; a video clip is shown to the three celebrity judges on the panel and, after a discussion about the issues, the judges vote on which partner they think is right.
Sometimes I wish Geoff and I had a marriage ref. Someone who could objectively listen to and watch us and just decide who's right about something. Because surely I'm going to come ahead on that one. After all, I'm a mediator - I'm good at communication stuff. I can be sensitive (sometimes); I can be diplomatic (with an effort). Well, ok, granted, I'm not a marriage mediator and, well, I guess I'm not impartial in my own situation and, yeah, it's true that I don't work much any more. But I still think the Material Girl would vote for me.
Geoff and I are in our sixteenth year of marriage and you might think that we have it all figured out by now. You'd be wrong. The truth is that relationships are complicated: by our independent and unique sets of values and expectations; by our (vastly) different styles of communicating; by the baggage that we have accumulated from the time of our youth. It's not about being right - it's about working through things and trying to understand each other better.
One of the common themes of contention in our marriage is the manner in which I express my opinions. Apparently, I am very intense, and very adamant about my opinions. Geoff would not say that I'm averse to changing my mind; I do change my mind. What frustrates him is that I'll be seemingly very passionate about a particular point of view (making it feel combative for Geoff), only to then alter my opinion very quickly - often (though not always) to be in agreement with him. It shocks him every time this happens. I would have thought that by now he'd know me well enough to get that my initial opinion is just my opening volley...my first thoughts on the matter, very subject to changing with the input of persuasive argument or emotional inducement. Geoff's style is to think things through privately, then come up with his definitive opinion and announce it to me; no wonder that when I 'announce' what I think of as my first opinion/thought on the matter, he perceives it to be my final opinion. My word, it's taken us a long time to figure this out...and still we argue the same way and criticize each other for maintaining the same approach that we've always had. We are amazed by how, though circumstances vary, the issues we conflict over are always the same. Year after year, we have the same bones to pick with each other and, year after year, we are determined that perhaps now, finally, we've got each other figured out enough so that those bones are picked clean! We're getting there.
Of course, we are both heavily influenced by our families of origin. In my family, we tended to be a little too defensive of our positions (well beyond the point where we still believed in them) because the alternative was to be squashed under the intensity of another family member's assertions. In Geoff's family, they tended to be rather too conflict avoidant and more than a bit passive aggressive as a result. Frankly, I don't think that either framework was conducive towards Geoff and me learning to manage our marriage conflicts in a particularly healthy way, and thus we still find ourselves wading through the complexities of it all. Thankfully, it doesn't happen nearly as often anymore, and we are actually getting better at it. I'd also like to think that, after all of these years together, we're just maybe starting to accept the other person's foibles, and understand that, despite them, we have good (even noble, at times) intentions towards each other.
Bottom line is that, sigh, despite occasionally wishing for a marriage ref, I think Geoff and I will be just fine without Madonna's sage wisdom.