When Dylan and I first married, our arguments weren't over sex, money, or gender roles. Instead, we quarreled over how to balance our needs for solitude and companionship. Our biggest fight? About my reading habits.
I've always been a bookworm. I can't walk past a bookstore or library without feeling its gravitational pull. And I usually have two or more books going at any given time. When I was single, I read at least two hours a night, even on evenings when I had Bible study or social activities.
Marriage changed all that. Within months of our wedding, I was frazzled just adjusting to living with another person. I was lucky if I finished even one book a week. If I snuggled under a quilt in our bedroom with a novel or biography, Dylan was sure to join me with a book or magazine of his own. At first, I was happy to have him there, expecting he'd curl up beside me and become as silently absorbed in his reading as I was in mine. Instead, he kept up a running commentary on his book, or teased me about mine if it looked at all romantic or sappy.
The more he did that, the more angry I became—and I was convinced I was in the right. After all, he was disrupting my reading time. So I was surprised and indignant one evening when Dylan confronted me about how much time I spent buried in my books. He felt I was ignoring him, shutting him out. Angrily, I replied that on the contrary, I never had enough time to read anymore.
After we argued awhile, we started to understand our problem. I was more of an introvert than I'd realized when I was single and solitude was easy to come by. I required a certain amount of private downtime to unwind and relax, and reading was my favorite way to do that. Dylan needed to know I cared about our marriage, and we both needed to focus on spending time together to build a strong and lasting bond. Unfortunately, we hadn't been communicating well, and in our efforts to get our needs met, we were antagonizing each other.
So we compromised. I realized one of the trade-offs of marriage was that I could never expect to have as much time to read as I had when I was single. Strengthening my relationship with Dylan had to be even more important than the newest mystery or my annual Pride and Prejudice re-read. In return, he agreed to respect my need for book time as long as I didn't overdo it. While we didn't set an hourly limit, we agreed that if he needed to talk, I needed to put my book aside. We make a point of having a specific "us" time every evening—even if it's just watching Sports Center together on TV.
Also, I learned to communicate better. If I've had an especially tough day at work, instead of expecting Dylan to read my mind, I tell him I need to curl up alone with a book for a while. When we stayed with each of our families for several days over the holidays that year, I made a discovery. Our disagreements over my reading largely stemmed from our families' behavioral patterns. While my family can be talkative, we regularly spend hours in the same room without saying much, each person absorbed in his or her own book, television show, or sewing project.
Entering marriage, I assumed Dylan and I would do the same. If I'd paid more attention to his family, I would've known better. When they gather, they function as a group. Everyone shares the same conversation around the table. If the TV is on, everyone watches. To them, it's abnormal to be in the same room but not acknowledge one another. Dylan wasn't trying to keep me from being a bookworm—he just expected me to treat our time together as relationship time, not solitude time.
We're still working on the perfect balance of privacy and companionship, and I expect it to be an ongoing process for years to come. But I knew we'd learned something about marriage when I was the one to suggest date activities, and he was the one to suggest I go read for a few hours!
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