The Power of a Hug

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I know this is kissing, but we seriously have zero photos of us hugging.

My arms wrapped around him, grasping him, clutching him. I squeezed his sides as hard as I could. His back straightened under my arms. I closed my eyes and pressed my cheek against his chest.

This scene has played out over and over again between my husband and I throughout the 16 years of our relationship.

In a park before a high school make-out session on a picnic table. In my college’s parking lot, just before he drove away for another six weeks. In our kitchen next to a sink piled high with dishes.

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Nine Tips from a Decade of Marriage

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On the day you get married, people say you have your whole life ahead of you. What they don’t tell you is that life is made up of a series of years, months and days, each with their own rhythm. So even though ten years sounds like a terribly long time on your wedding day, it really doesn’t feel that way when it rolls around. Instead, it feels like a collection of the ordinary and extraordinary, the good and the bad, the hard and the easy, with both of you together at the center. At least that’s how it felt to me, as my husband and I celebrated our tenth anniversary in June.

In that decade, Chris and I learned a lot about each other and marriage. We’ve been through hospital stays, international travel, crummy work hours, living in multiple places, graduate school, and having two kids. Here are a few things we’ve picked up along the way:

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Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups

Every night, I read 3 to 4 different books out loud to Sprout before I put him to bed. Of course, this is a cherished parental tradition. But recently, Chris and I were talking about reading the “A Song of Ice and Fire series” by George R.R. Martin and I jokingly said that I’d only read it if it was out loud to each other. I had been hesitant to read it for a number of reasons: the books are physically large to bring on the Metro (and I don’t like e-readers), I’m not a big fan of either courtly drama or high fantasy, there’s a fair bit of sexual violence, and most importantly, Martin is an achingly slow writer. The first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, was released in 1996. I don’t have the patience to wait for two more books; it makes Harry Potter seem absolutely speedy. But reading aloud solved, or at least minimized, many of these issues. Reading was time spent together, rather than alone. With such a slow reading speed, Martin might be done with the next book by the time we finished the series. Besides these anticipated benefits, I’ve found a number of other elements I enjoy.

This isn’t the very first time we’ve read aloud to each other. Once when Chris was horribly sick, I read Tolkein’s The Silmarillion to him until he fell asleep. While I didn’t get past the first story, I still remember the experience fondly today.

Like that first time, reading together now is a bonding experience. Of course, this is so obvious in hindsight, considering how much we (usually) love reading to Sprout.

If nothing else, it requires that we go to bed at the same time, a hallmark of a strong marriage. Reading before bedtime forces us to slow down and spend a few minutes together. There’s an easy intimacy to lying in bed and listening to each other, with no agenda, no issues, no reminders of the day before or the day ahead. Just a good, shared story.

Reading the same book simultaneously also gives us a topic of conversation apart from work or Sprout. Often, when we read the same book, it’s weeks, months or even years apart. Either way, it’s no longer on the top of the first person’s head, itching away with a vital urgency, by the time the second person finishes it. Being literally on the same page, we can share our enthusiasm.

While I don’t think marriage counselors ever suggest reading out loud to each other, instead talking about “date nights” that require childcare, perhaps they should. It’s a lot cheaper, if nothing else.

As we go, I also find that I’m enjoying the text more than if I was reading it on my own. Martin’s prose occasionally wanders into the silly, so I can snark on it a little instead of thinking of something clever and having no one to tell. (I do try to minimize the commentary, so I’m not totally obnoxious as a reading partner.) Even though we’re only 100 pages into the first book, he’s already shown a tendency to “Joss” his characters, named after Joss Whedon’s affinity for killing off his most beloved characters. Talking to Chris afterwards relieves my frustrations, instead of just stewing in my annoyance. We’ve already had a few, “Did he just do that?!” moments.

Listening instead of hearing also makes me slow down and truly pay attention to the words the first time. I’m a very fast reader, so I often have to go back and re-read sections because I half-skimmed them by mistake. I’m also a very verbal person, but listening gives me the space to visualize the scene much more than if I was reading. Saying the words and thoughts of the characters out loud further engages me in their world. For just a moment, I am embodying them, speaking their lines as if I’m in a play. It’s much more intense than reading alone would be. I can’t skip past or rush uncomfortable parts – everything must be given appropriate weight and time.

It’s just a small amount each night – four to eight pages, on average. And yet, this little bit of reading together makes all the difference.

Eight Years of Marital Awesome

I forgot my eighth wedding anniversary. It was on Tuesday and I had no clue until my aunt texted me congratulations. Honestly, even if I had noticed the date, I’m not positive that I would have recognized its significance.

I’d blame it on sleep deprivation brought on by someone’s teethy sleeplessness, but I know that’s not the only reason. Instead, I know two other holidays eclipsed it in my mind: Father’s Day and Sprout’s first birthday. Sprout’s due date was the day after our anniversary. Instead, he arrived five days later, at 3 pm on Father’s Day. Preparing for these holidays, I bought Chris a Father’s Day gift, decided where we were going to eat brunch, ordered Sprout’s birthday gift and planned his birthday party. My mind was so occupied with making these new holidays special that our anniversary didn’t cross it at all.

Thankfully, Chris made up for my deficiency and wasn’t disappointed at my incompetence. I suspect he was a little thrilled that he was more on top of something than I was. While we usually go to a really fancy restaurant, neither of us made reservations and we still haven’t found a trusted babysitter anyway. Instead, we found a little Latin American place in an industrial looking part of town with amazing authentic food. I had the best chimichanga I’ve ever had and Chris had steak with tomatoes and onions. While we brought Sprout’s dinner, he also enjoyed beans and rice off of my plate, as well as a tortilla chip, even though he tried to eat it sideways. Rather than a place where people would look askance at bringing a baby, our waitress and fellow patrons were totally charmed by Sprout and his big blue eyes. It was a wonderful family dinner.

When we got home, I put Sprout to bed then and read the Interwebs for a while, like any other night. Chris kept asking when I’d be done, but I thought he just wanted me to watch Wil Wheaton’s new show with him (yes, we are uber-nerds). Instead, his supposed act of “putting the kettle on for tea” was a feint. He was actually pulling an adorable tiny ice cream cake out of the freezer! Who knew Ben & Jerry’s made 2-person cakes? He remembered me talking about wanting ice cream for the last week (damn you Ben & Jerry’s ads on the Metro) and ordered the cake the day before. Because it was too little to write “Anniversary,” it said, “Happy 8th” with a heart. He even bought me a card, something he hasn’t done in ages. I was terribly impressed with his thoughtfulness.

Overall, it was a really good day to celebrate a really good year together. Some moms say they resent their spouse after giving birth, but I (almost) never did. Chris has offered everything he has in the last year, always being there when I needed him, even when it involved puking, sleeplessness, or hospitals. He held my hand through all of labor and metaphorically hasn’t let go. We’ve supported each other, offering encouraging words when the other person has the “I suck” monster running loose in their head. We see each other more than we have in years and work to both carve out time to be with each other and be alone. He’s even gone on multiple bicycle rides with me, which is a major sacrifice for him. And we’ve both learned to trust ourselves and each other more than ever before, even when the situation seems helpless. I haven’t actually read his book (yet), but this quote from Jason Good is totally true: “When your co-parent says, ‘Come help me,’ what she or he really means is, ‘Please join me in suffering through this situation neither of us can control.'” As frustrating as the situation can be, for me, the key there is “together.” Because I can’t imagine doing this – the good and the bad – without my husband and would never, ever want to. I married Chris in part because I knew I wanted to experience all sorts of adventures with him and this is the ultimate one.