I have been married for 18 years, but only over the past five have I come to truly understand the kind of love that makes a marriage both solid and expansive.
As a bride, I looked on my new legal arrangement as an extension of my childhood. I wanted my husband to be there for me whenever I needed companionship. If I could, I would have been surgically joined at the hip with him at the altar, for I was almost obsessive about wanting to eat with him every night, spend weekends together, read side-by-side in the living room, and fall asleep simultaneously.
My husband couldn't understand this side of me. Before our marriage I seemed the epitome of independence. I worked full time, traveled for my job, and had enrolled in an MBA program.
But once we signed the marriage certificate, my attitude changed. My husband was now mine, and I didn't want to share. When he worked late, spent evenings on his hobbies, or took an evening out with friends I was jealous. Even his taking a layover from a business trip to visit his parents made me angry.
Worn down by my harping, my husband frequently altered his plans.
But inside he fumed. He gently reminded me that his parents had a loving marriage but from time to time traveled alone and engaged in activities that the other didn't enjoy. When they came together again they were more enriched from the time apart.
"No," I declared, "that won't work for me." I hadn't yet learned that in any relationship less is a subset of more.
Over the years my husband continued to encourage a more outward attitude in me. If I was scheduled for business travel to San Francisco, he'd suggest I lay over for the weekend to visit friends or sights. When I did, I found the time rewarding, but I couldn't shake the feeling that he was trying to get rid of me for a spell.
After we started a family, I traded in my business suits to stay home with the kids. My chance to get away on business was gone, and I was surprised how much I missed it. The constant demands of my children made me realize how possessive I had been of my husband - more like a toddler than an adult.
Sheepishly, I zeroed in on articles about spa vacations and romanticized the pleasures of a therapeutic massage and daily regimen of exercise, fresh air, healthy food, and no children. I wanted this freedom for me, but couldn't bring myself to want it for him.
About a year later, after a particularly long day with the children, my husband confronted me: "Why don't you take that spa trip? You'll have a much-needed break. I'll take a vacation week to take care of the kids. Don't worry about us."
I made the reservations that day with a mixture of guilt and euphoria. I was beginning to recognize that in my fear of abandonment, I had set a double standard. Time alone was fine for me, but not for him. Fortunately, my husband understood that time alone is sometimes necessary to explore the self. It adds to, rather than subtracts from a marriage.
At the spa I hiked, sampled the fitness classes, relaxed with yoga and massages, ate healthy food, and treated myself to manicures and makeup sessions. When my husband met me at the airport a week later, I was wearing a smile of gratitude and pleasure. But his tender look was more affecting: "You look great," he said, "as relaxed and young as when we first met."
A few months later, my husband began exploring a long-held dream of his own: to own and operate a cattle ranch. With my reluctant support, he scheduled periodic trips with realtors. As his enthusiasm for the concept bloomed and he diverted his energy more and more to ranch projects, my fears of abandonment resurfaced. Would his ranch hobby pull him away from me or bring us closer together?
The following summer we found the ranch we now own in Wyoming. Day after day we rode the stretches of road from one property to another. My husband rambled on, over the roar of the tires, about hay yield, cow-calf pairs, and water rights - terms I'd never heard, but that were a serenade to him. He was captivated in a way I hadn't seen him in years. In the closeness of the car, surrounded by the expansive landscape, I was coming to realize that his love for me isn't finite. Rather than shutting me out, he wants to pull me in. My support of his ranch project has made his fondness for me grow, not weaken.
It has been three years since we bought the ranch. We spend a month there every summer. This year he will spend an additional week at the ranch alone with his parents. And, for once, I'm not objecting.