Are my husband and I going in the wrong direction?

Have I been looking at the map too long? Have we left the road? Where is my family headed?

Published February 2, 2012 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hi Cary,

This is a multifold question. First of all, how do you know when something is moving in the wrong direction? When do you know that?

My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We have a beautiful 3-year-old and we have a pretty good life. My husband is from another country, in Europe, and there is a chance we will have to move back. Sounds great, right? Right. Well, it could be great, but right now we are not safe ... maybe we are just heading in a bad direction and we need to find the road again or maybe it is too late and I am so busy looking at the map I can't see that we have dropped off the road.

It is Christmas and I am visiting my family and he has stayed back at home. He is not with us. I really don't know why ... something about my family ignoring us when we visit and he has a lot of work to do -– which could all be true, depending on how you look at it. We are flying back Christmas Day so we can be with him, but frankly I think this is nuts. Why didn't he come with us? He said if we wanted to be with him for Christmas we would have to stay. I told him, "If we move to Europe next year I won't be with my family for Christmas for a long time, maybe years. I need to go." He said, "Then go." So I did. Now I think, what the hell happened? Is he being crazy selfish? Or do I need to get over a childish need for us all to be together?

He works insane hours (six to seven days a week) in a very stressful environment and we don't get a lot of quality time with him. When he is home he is an incredible dad and I actually really love him even though sometimes I can't talk to him. How can I leave all my family and friends when he can't take three days for Christmas to be with us? How will I survive the loneliness when we leave? I know his family, I love his family. It is not the same. I know his friends, I love his friends. It is not the same. Do I take the leap? We have a daughter. If things don't work out between us, I can't just pick up and leave to come back. I will be stuck there in beautiful, economically crushed Europe.

You can't tell me what to do ... but what should I be thinking about? How do I know if we have fallen off the cliff?

Map Reader

Dear Map Reader,

My guess is that your husband needs solitude and doesn't know how to ask for it. That's not your fault. You can't read his mind. But it's something the two of you may want to work on together. Why did he beg off on Christmas? He needed the solitude and rest but didn't know how to say it or did not know that was what he needed.

Maybe he thinks he's not entitled to solitude because he's got to be such a good dad all the time. What would happen if just for a few weeks he wasn't such a good dad? Would everything fall apart?

Send him off to the woods to do some hunting and fishing, or put him in an ice shack on a frozen lake, or put him in a spa. See if that helps.

You're not moving in the wrong direction. You're just moving.  You come up against obstacles. You come up against someone else's nature. This is conflict. Conflict is natural. Rather than avoid it, the trick is to learn how to benefit from it. You benefit from conflict by recognizing that it's a sign of your differing strengths, and learning to make more room for those strengths, and call less upon each other's weaknesses. Sounds easier than it is, I know. It's much easier to write it than to do it. I'm just saying, it's not that you're going in the wrong direction. You're just encountering normal conflict, normal differences.

As far as the map analogy: I'd say the map you have is missing the town called "Solitude" and the town called "Recuperation" and a town called "Just Goofing Off" and a town called "Just My Friends, Not Yours" and "Just My Family, Not Yours." Those are places worth stopping off at. You get stuff there. Maybe there's a big ham on the table in one of the houses and it reminds you of when you used to feel just fine as a kid.

So each of you needs to put some places on that map where you can pull off the road and visit. Otherwise you're just driving and driving and driving. You never see what you're passing. No kidding, the kid wants to stop too.

To speak abstractly about the difficulties that arise in relationships, it is worth repeating a syllogism: He is not better than he is nor are you better than you are.

Some syllogisms are so true that we drift into thinking they are false -- that things can somehow be as they are and also other than they are at the same time. They can't.

Things can be as they are or they can be different. They cannot be both at the same moment.

Thus we're stuck with what is right now.

Right now we can do things so later it will be different. That's mainly what we're about most days. We're doing things now so later there will be a paycheck.

I know this sounds impossibly childish. It's me imitating Gertrude Stein badly sort of. It's a lot of things. It's me under deadline just typing. It's me with corny jazz on the headphones that keeps me writing. It's the language machine turning of its own accord. It's a lot of things.

So back to you and your husband. Forms of art -- narrative and poetry, in particular -- can crystallize where you are and what you are feeling right now and you don't have to go to a museum. For big paintings, yes, but not for narrative art, which comes in small books and on Kindles and iPads. I suggest you seek out poetry and narrative fiction that crystallizes many of your emotions; I suggest living more in the complex constellation of what is actually going on.

Because nothing really bad is happening. You are just living with an actual person who is trying to get stuff by not talking about it.

By Cary Tennis

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