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Dealing with each other's idiosyncrasies

Published October 06. 2012 09:02AM

When my daughter Maria came to visit for almost three weeks, she got a close-up look at how things work in the Mihalik-Allen household.

I think it was good for her to see how a strong marriage sustains itself, especially one between two strongly independent individuals.

Yes, I know. A clergyman has told me that "independent" and marriage don't mix.

"The thing wrong with marriages today," he said, "is that a couple continues to think as two separate units. They need to forget the word 'I' and think in terms of 'we.'"

I don't care how much a couple thinks in terms of "we." There will still be issues where they won't agree. In fact, there will be many of those issues. Some big. Some small.

When two people marry later in life as David and I did, patterns and preferences are already set. We learn to deal with each other's differences.

We also learn to deal gently with each other's idiosyncrasies.

When Maria was here, every time I had to leave the house, she was astonished at how many times I had to go back inside before I could finally leave the house.

Leaving for the beach, the door was locked and we were almost in the car. But then I remembered I needed to go back inside for my water shoes. Then I had to go to the bathroom "one last time."

Just as I'm ready to get in the car again, I checked to make sure I had my sunglasses. No, I left them inside when I went for my water shoes. Back inside I went.

"Did you bring sunscreen and water?" I asked Maria. Yes, she had sunscreen but no water.

Back inside I went to grab a few bottles.

"It takes her a half dozen tries to get out the door. Is she always like this?" Maria asked David.

"Always," he smiled.

He's right. Before I had cataract surgery and still needed eyeglasses, it was always a hunt for the right pair of glasses before I left the house.

Once, in anticipation of my usual "I forgot my glasses," as we left the house, David walked around the rooms gathering five pair and lined them up on the table. If he didn't, he knew I would be rushing back in the house for my glasses.

Thanks to the blessings of cataract surgery, I no longer need to wear glasses. But it still takes me a few tries to get out of the house.

Perhaps that could be maddening to some. David takes it in stride. Neither one of us gets bothered by small stuff.

When his son and daughter-in-law came to visit, they were agog at the fact that we still have plastic coverings on our white dining room set.

When they questioned us about it, we told them the truth: I want them off. David doesn't. He insists the covers stay on because the white upholstery on the chairs will get dirty.

"Aren't you bothered by that?" his son asked me. Sure I am. I told David several times that we're like the old people of decades ago: They kept their furniture covered with doilies and kept the original plastic on lampshades so the lamp wouldn't get dusty.

"That's the way my parents did it," David said, "and it still makes sense to me."

Well, it doesn't make sense to me.

So what do you do when one partner strongly believes one thing and the other partner disagrees?

David would answer that question by saying I always win. I would answer by saying, no, he always wins.

In the case of the plastic covered chairs, he won because I just didn't think it was such a big issue. Yes, it bothered me because the plastic is uncomfortable when sitting through a meal. But I understand it's just part of David's penchant for taking care of things. He's careful with everything, and for that I am grateful. I guess putting up with the plastic covers is what I call "taking the good and the bad."

His son said he was amazed I could settle for that. Then he and his wife got up and stripped away the plastic. I was glad and David didn't care because he adores his son and everything he does is fine.

The point is, neither David nor I are bothered by small stuff.

There are a few times, very few, when I draw a line in the sand and say, "This is the hill I will fight to defend." Then, smart guy that he is, he'll acquiesce because he knows it's important to me.

Of course, I do the same thing for him.

One thing that delights me is that the longer we are married, the more we want to make the other one happy. That means we are more than willing to "give in" when we differ on issues. It also means we are more tolerant and patient in dealing with each other's idiosyncrasies.

Part of that is what happens with age.

The older we get, the more we believe the little book with the long title: "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: And It's All Small Stuff."

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