I’m devouring the latest (and penultimate!) Charley Davidson book, The Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones. This series is beloved because Charley is a phenomenal character; getting into her head is a joyous privilege. The plot has become a tad complicated, but Ms. Jones gives us a primer on events thus to date and I’m following along pretty well. In this latest installment, Reyes, Charley’s smoking hot husband and deity, has gone to Hell and returned a changed man. [Go figure, Hell has quite an effect on all beings] Charley, a deity in her own right and the Grim Reaper on this plane of existence (complicated, I told you), is trying to discern whether there is anything of the husband she knows and loves left in Reyes’ distorted psyche. And while the divine aspects of the story strain credulity the heart of the issue does not. There are many couples in truth – just like this fantasy – where one or both of the partners need to work out whether there is enough common ground left to continue their partnership.
A funny idiom states that women marry expecting that their men will change, and men marry expecting that their women won’t. Women want to put a ring on it and magically transform their husbands into cooks, gardeners and launderers. Or, perhaps, they think that marriage will reform the party boy with a wayward eye. Men, on the other hand, expect to continue to meet the same hellion in their bed night after night, year after year, despite the demands of jobs, maybe children, aging parents, etc. Many men don’t understand what happened to the happy-go-lucky chick they married, who was always up for semi-public sex, or playing hooky for some afternoon nookie. They don’t understand that life gets in the way. Even more disconcerting to these poor bastards is the disappearance of the slender, fashionable, long-haired beauties they married. Time and motherhood has a way of putting the kibosh on the most beautiful among us, leaving husbands bewildered at the transformation. And women are often stunned that the studs they married aren’t up for say …laundry, carpool and other mundane realities, even though said wives have accepted their thinning pates and bulging paunches.
But there is the rub: everyone changes. Period. Some more than others. Some husbands and wives go to Hell and come back and when they do, they’ve been through a metamorphosis from which there is no return. This happens to soldiers. And survivors of terrible diseases. And victims of crime. Or those who suffer from mental illness. Those who live through such experiences change rather radically and their spouses are left to decide if they can or want to stay with the new incarnation of their spouse.
When a spouse decides that the disparity between version 1.0 and 2.0 of their partner is too much to handle, many leave. I have a friend whose husband left her because he said she wasn’t fun or carefree anymore. They had a special needs child and were adjusting to that reality. And my friend wasn’t much fun in those days because she was tired and overwhelmed pretty much all of the time. But her husband decided that she had changed more than he could handle, so he found himself a younger, less stressed out model, leaving my friend to raise their child alone. Apparently, he felt he’d been the victim of a bait and switch ruse, and was therefore justified in skedaddling.
I know another couple where the wife got sick and the illness changed her personality. Permanently. I know, because he’s told me, that the husband longs for the wife he knew before her illness, and he is unhappy with the current version. But he’s hung in, making the best of the situation, understanding that the changes in his wife aren’t her fault and remembering that he’d promised to stay for better or for worse. This is a man with integrity.
Even changes that are subtler are still hard. All of us know couples who decouple because they “grew apart.” It’s easy to do, I think. Many of us develop interests or passions along the way that differ or conflict with those of our spouse, which can mean rough seas for the marriage ship.
This has happened in my own marriage. It may seem like a trivial thing, but it’s not. My husband has become a foodie over the years. He loves nothing more than haute cuisine in fancy restaurants and meals that last for hours. I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum; a woman with an eating disorder that is under control, but never far from the surface. Think of an alcoholic married to a vintner. Danger, Will Robinson. It’s been hard for my husband and I to accommodate each other in this basic area. We’d eat so very differently, if each of us ate according to our desires. Sometimes it feels like every dinner is a new battlefield. Our meals are a constant negotiation. We’ve worked it out, more or less. But it’s hard.
And then there were the triathlon years. Needless to say, the idea of swimming more than two miles, biking over a hundred and then running a marathon, for fun no less, and not because Zombies are in hot pursuit, leaves me cold. Nevertheless, I rang my cowbell for all I was worth on the sidelines. I cooked endless almond flour muffins (triathlon essentials; easy to eat and transport protein and fat bombs). I shouldered extra parenting responsibilities. And then, we’d shift, and I took yoga teacher training so he was the one who took on extra duties. Because these divergent activities did not bring us closer, we’ve had to make an extra effort to strengthen our coupledom before, during and after we achieved our personal goals. And in addition to the time spent separately pursuing individual objectives, both the process and the outcome changed each of us in differing ways. And we both needed to assess the results of such transformative experiences. Going to Hell and back—turning inward and challenging ourselves physically and emotionally leaves its mark.
People change. Maybe not as much as Reyes, but plenty nonetheless. And marriages need to keep up with the transformations of their constituents. Doing so consciously and deliberately is one of the keys to a successful marriage. Pulling our partners back from the brink of undesirable changes is also critical. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m hoping that deities like Charley and Reyes will work it out. I need my HEA, damn it, in both fantasy and in truth. My husband put himself through physical and psychological hell and I liked the result… I hope that Charley can find the good in how Hell changed Reyes too.