How to Keep a Good Marriage During Bad (Trumpian) Times
It happened one night (as the famous movie is titled), at dinner. My husband and I, who rarely ever argue — our views and values line up remarkably parallel, happily — had an argument. It was, for us, a doozy, “full of sound and fury,” signifying — what?
Like much else in these Trump-obsessed times and this Trump-obsessed household, it was related to our new president, You-Know-Who.
It occurred shortly after the Trump administration inaugurated its “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigrants, which at its most inhuman entailed separating children from their parents. The headlines were heartbreaking, so were the images, the voice recording of crying children, all of it.
The evening in question, I was going on and on about the policy’s heartlessness — in truth I probably got operatic about it, but appropriately so, as it’s truly tragic opera, also I had just written about it (here). When did we Americans become so cruel?
Suddenly Larry, who has a super-extra-long fuse, slammed the table with his fist. What? My husband and best friend, otherwise known to me as Sweetie, slammed the table? “Enough!” he shouted. “You talk about heartless, what about the heartlessness of 5,000 homeless children right here in our own county?” (He later wrote about the problem, here.)
Stung, but not one to back down, I instantly swung into defense. So did Larry. From there the argument escalated quickly, but where it escalated to, I can’t remember — this is where the sound and fury came in. It even got to the point, far out-of-bounds, where we accused each other of being insufficiently supportive of our positions, as well as of ourselves. Whoof.
I’ll be diplomatic and say I can’t remember who called a time-out, but a time-out was called and we went to the gym, for our usual after-dinner workout.
Speed-walking faster than usual, and still shaken, I turned over in my mind: How did that happen, that shout-fest, and so fast? Of course first I thought of better tacks I might have taken with my argument or how, like an attorney in court, I might have inserted an “Irrelevant” into Larry’s. But soon enough, about the half-mile point, I realized this: We were both expressing our agony at the general heartlessness unleashed in these tumultuous Trumpian times. Our arguing signified, not nothing as Shakespeare expressed it in “Macbeth”; we were shouting on behalf of humanity.
But we were also shouting at each other, and that was the problem. Donald Trump, amoral and disruptive — and inhuman — force that he is proving to be, had invaded not only our lives, but our marriage. Attenzione.
When we got home from the gym, we hashed it out, to resolution (it became a late night). In our now 41-year marriage, it has been our habit to hash out any problem before calling it a day (which is one reason we have enjoyed a long marriage). Certainly, as two people engaged in public life — Larry as a lifelong public servant (32 years in the Navy, eight years as a state legislator), me as a commentator — we cannot banish Trump from our lives and still also engage. But we can box him into a tight and well-regulated corner.
For one thing, we agreed, with both of us so angry at the ruination Trump is causing, we need to bring the emotional temperature way down in our household and take a deep breath whenever our Trump-generated gorge rises, because we absolutely cannot allow The Disrupter to spin us out of our marital equilibrium. And this is a challenge, because Trump’s outrages come daily, his lies accelerating (also here).
Which led to another point we agreed on: We need to control our Trump-obsession. Full-blown obsessives lose their acuity, creativity, subtlety — all qualities we need to combat the very real perils that Trump poses to the Republic. To be fighting fit, and to maintain our marital equilibrium as well as our physical health, we need to deflate the intensity of our Trump-obsession and redirect that energy away from our nervous systems and toward our brain centers. No more shouting at each other (although shouting in Trump’s general direction is still permitted).
It’s at this juncture that I recall a Russian couple we knew in the mid-1990s, when we lived in Washington, D.C. I regret to say we have lost contact with Viktor and Marita, but I remember well their marital philosophy, as Marita explained to me over coffee.
During the Communist period in the former Soviet Union, when life was full of fear and terror and economic hardship, Marita and Viktor did what many other Russian couples did: They engaged in “internal migration.” That is, while the outside world was Hell, in their personal lives they created Heaven and took care of their souls — with poetry, with classical music. And they protected their marriage bond, taking extra care to treat each other with the love and respect they saw nowhere in their external life. After Communism fell in 1991, Viktor landed a science research fellowship in the U.S. and here, in our freedoms, they flourished, they could relax. But even in objectively better times, they did not relax their adherence to their marital code: No matter the state of the world, you treat your beloved as beloved.
With objectively worse times now visited on America, fomented by our nefarious president, this marital code — indeed it’s a code bearing on the conduct of all kinds of personal relationships — promises sustenance and value in otherwise barren times.
“Code of conduct”: Even the idea elevates. Salud.