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When Your Spouse Hits the Wall

Living in quarantine with your best friend can still be hard.

For the first time in seventeen years, she’s up before me. 7:30am! I’ve usually been up for hours by then. But, for the first time in seventeen years, I slept in. When I heard her in the kitchen, I got up, made the bed, and greeted her with happy surprise. “What have you done with my wife?”

Her response came out with forced effort. I could tell something was off. Usually, I assume I’ve done something wrong, but this time I felt sort of Teflon7:30 am-y and didn’t take it personally. She muttered something about, “I was just hoping to have some time in the kitchen by myself.”

This is one of the hardest things about being quarantined, especially with someone who’s immuno-compromised (she has rheumatoid arthritis). How can we carve out our spaces of solitude?

I went outside and sat on the stoop while our puppy surveyed the back yard. I enjoyed the sun. I was quiet. I waited.

“Ok. All clear!” Her voice was back, sort of. A cheerful lilt that I’m used to. I came in and made my breakfast. Sat down across from her New York Times crossword puzzle. No talking. From the outside, it looked fine.

But I knew that she’d hit the wall. I knew she was bone on bone, now, in the relational joints of our quarantined Bardo. There was no margin anymore. No buffer. No soft place to land.

She told me a little later that the insanity reigning in the world right now has pierced her defenses and she can’t not feel it anymore. It seems like there’s no hope. No light at the end of the tunnel.

Because there isn’t.

There’s no light at the end of the tunnel or anywhere, really, “out there.” The light we’re looking for is in us. We have to excavate through all our layers of self-deception and ego and pry open our hearts and shine.

But today she just doesn’t have it. She feels done. Like, done.

I don’t blame her. It’s her turn. I took mine last March, and couldn’t get out of bed. When I was inert and morose, she was my life jacket, my buoy, my lighthouse. So now I get to be that for her.

It’s a careful dance we do in marriage, but especially now in quarantine. Learning to say nothing. Or to just agree in a noncommittal way that says, “Yes. I get it.” Learning to walk next to her as she walks through this. To be with her. That’s all. Not to perform some mighty feat of comfort or inspiration, but to just show up and stay put. Not react to any crabbiness or irritation. To let it flow over me like water.

I’ve been trying to practice listening more and I’m humbled at how difficult it is. Man, I have a lot to say when nobody’s asked. Our ‘others’ in this quarantine are our best guides. Listen. Listen. Listen.

And remember that we’re always taking turns being in the shit storm of our minds. Today it was her turn. It will last however long it lasts. Meanwhile, I can love her by doing the little tiny things I know matter to her. Keeping the bathroom clean. Putting my stuff away. Hanging up my coat. And remembering the thousand times she’s been there for me when I was in her place.

Being with someone in a clean way when they’re ill-tempered. Being with them without trying to fix them. Being with them without taking responsibility for their happiness.

These are the elements that ultimately create the flesh of a friendship and/or a marriage. These are the elements we share, my beautiful, human, authentic wife and me. These are the elements I wish for the whole world right now.

May all beings be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness. May all beings never be separate from the joy that knows no sorrow. May all beings dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and hatred.


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