When this essay was first published in Segullah, I read it out loud to my husband. “I don’t really want you to redo the kitchen, and I’m ok if you throw out anything pink or purple I ever bring into the house, but otherwise I’m good with a marriage JUST LIKE THIS,” I said.
What kind of a marriage is your ideal? And (I think I ought to find out) — is there a line where feisty crosses from nice to no-longer-so-nice?
(thus asketh prose editor Allyson Smith)
In Honor of Feisty Marriages: The Story of a Remodel
by Kylie Nielson Turley
I WRITE TO HONOR FEISTY MARRIAGES. “Honor” might be a bit strong, but let us get it straight from the beginning: a zesty relationship is the highlight of my life. I understand that not everyone feels the same, such as the three friends who were out to dinner with me last week at P.F. Chang’s. We neglected our lettuce wraps and annoyed our waiter as we chit-chatted, stumbling inevitably onto the topic of marriage. Imagine my surprise when each admitted that she does not fight with her husband. Ever. “He’s so sweet,” says one. “If I tell him that he hurt my feelings, he starts to cry.” “You can’t fight with him,” says the other. “He just says he’s sorry for whatever I tell him is wrong.” The third agreed. I did not. No, I decided that I needed new friends, and I told them in those exact words right before deciding to quit my calling as the ward family relations teacher. I am kidding; I don’t quit callings or friends simply because my husband, Steven, and I tend to have, ahem, feisty discussions in our marriage. In any case, the bishop is supposed to be inspired, and I like being part of a dynamic duo—in the abstract, anyway.
This year the dynamism started on June 1, the day I packed up the kids and left so that Steven could remodel the kitchen. This is a large job, I admit, but one that is certainly accomplishable in the ten or eleven days I planned to be away because we have a petite kitchen. You need to understand these small yet crucial details in order to agree with me; this argument has everything to do with logic and nothing to do with emotion.
In fact, I categorically reject those Men/Mars and Women/Venus arguments about the irreconcilability of men and women, despite having never finished that particular book. Where do these female/emotional and male/logical gender characteristics fit in? They don’t. Except in this case. In reverse. Because my husband was motivated out of pure love and emotion: I’ll make her happy! he thought. I’ll surprise her! I’ll remodel THE WHOLE HOUSE! It will be beautiful! She’ll love it! I, on the other hand, can logically see that there are enormous flaws in the rationality of that last string of phrases: for starters, surprises should never cost more than $100 unless you are in a seriously higher tax bracket than us. Did I somehow neglect to mention that rule when I told him that I “liked” surprises? Hmm. I do like surprises. We had that feisty discussion after our first Christmas; he insisted I tell him what I wanted so he could buy that precise thing, which clearly is not how Christmas is supposed to work.
Yet I am getting side-tracked. Remodeling. One should not remodel without the express permission, support, and funding limit suggested by one’s spouse. This is an unspoken yet crucial rule of marital bliss. I do not think I can describe in mere words how upset I was to find an unfinished holy mess of a remodel awaiting me at my return. Perhaps if I describe how I entered my home and instantly felt my smile freeze to stone? Or perhaps if I describe how I soon broke down sobbing in a heap at his feet, shrieking, “How could you do this to me?” Perhaps if I further explain that I have never used those words before, not even in the agony of four “au naturale” child births, one of which was in the front seat of our Suburban (another story). No, those moments cannot describe my anguish. Nor his, which is why he lost fourteen pounds in the eleven days I was gone and slept less than four hours a night. He worked hard—that I freely acknowledge and will adore him for when the remodel actually gets done.
For now, I am joining a support group. A neighbor jogged by in July, looked at my house, and said, “After our remodel last year, I thought I should start a Remodeling Wives Support Group.”
“Excellent,” I said. “I’ll be president.”
I know at least two other neighbors who will be thrilled to join. One, who lives just next door (and this prompts me to wonder how I did not see the remodel virus spreading), cooked on the Boy Scout camp stove for six weeks while her kitchen was under construction. Her relocation to her mother’s home in California sufficiently convinced her husband that she was serious about the kitchen getting done. No threats, no screaming, no stony silences, and certainly no physical brawls or tangible communication by chucking items across the room. She just took a small, somewhat spontaneous vacation to California, always planning to return home just as impulsively . . . when she could again cook on her stove. Her husband finished promptly. Feisty remodel. Feisty response. Good marriage.
Another friend quietly exits the room whenever her husband regales the crowd with funny remodeling stories. In one tale, he apparently needed to move all the family pictures and memorabilia into the yard so the addition could be painted, which he promptly did without checking the weather forecast. Their marriage survived the thunderstorm that followed—though their treasured family photos did not. To an intrepid scrapbooker, the loss was devastating. My friend freely admits that that story will not be funny for at least ten years, perhaps longer, maybe forever. But she’ll have forever to think about it, since she adores her husband and both plan on being together for a very long time.
We have not yet had an official support meeting; yet knowing there are multitudes of wives who will rally to the cause helps me face our 9′ x 5′ giant picture window, which was devoid of appropriate window coverings for altogether too long. Through the street-facing window, I stared out at my nosy neighbors as they stared straight back into the heart of my family’s living room. I, of course, felt the logical thing to do was re-hang the original vertical blinds, thus saving money and solitude. I grant my husband’s contention that they were “pink”—unmistakably Pepto-pink—despite my Rit Dye (brown) solution. And yet, one must sweetly wonder whether pink is not worth privacy? My concession: not a word when the pink blinds were chucked in the trash. His concession: not a word when the purple sheets from Deseret Industries were tacked up a month later.
Did I mention that my ward is still laughing about driving by during those fateful weeks in June and seeing all our clothing and furnishings on the front lawn? Apparently multitudes cried out at 30 miles per hour, “Your wife is going to kill you . . .” Luckily their prying curiosity was satisfied, since my screams were heard miles away. For some reason, everyone feels better knowing someone else’s marriage has conflicts of will and clashes of preferences, and apparently everyone especially feels better when one participant in that marriage has to teach the Family Relations Lesson 7 on forgiveness. The class was packed.
I do try to give my husband and his motley crew of young men and neighbors the credit they deserve: as I have put my home back together over the last number of months, I have found merely eight bad scratches on furniture and a small handful of missing things. Only one thing was broken beyond repair: our hand-painted, framed copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” The beautiful irony of that particular glass shattering pleases me to no end. I am so humored by this little quirk of fate that I re-hung the picture in its tattered and glass-less state. If you come to my home to check on this picture and the validity of my remodeling tale, I ask that you please be careful because the bottom two steps leading to the front door have been jack-hammered out in preparation for our new sidewalk, which was going to be done by Labor Day. At the latest.
At this point, I know what you are wondering: why in the world has it taken that woman months to put things away? Is she incapacitated? No, no. My home was packed up by the youth in our ward, loving and randomly, in hundreds of Food 4 Less plastic grocery bags, which were apparently stolen—one facet of this remodeling experience that I have yet to inquire into with any great depth. It is the “random” word that is pertinent to the question at hand. A small example will serve as a case in point: when I left, my library books were lying passively in their blue plastic library basket. (May I break to point out that those Provo City Library baskets are an excellent idea? All library books in one place, packed into one small grocery-shopping-sized basket. Beautiful.) In this case, my six library books and the eight library books belonging to my children along with two library videos were in their basket. On my return, I found no library books or videos. I did find the library basket . . . under my half-emptied desk . . . under the pile of pink draperies . . . under the pots and silverware . . . in the garage. The basket was packed to overflowing with my spices, a few glass dinner cups, and a decorative candle. The point to ponder is how many rooms one person would have had to walk through in order to amass that particular pile.
But here is the real point: I love a man with a mind of his own. How boring to be married to a trophy spouse who agrees with me all the time because he does not care enough to disagree or because he does not my respect my opinion enough to discuss an issue. Not that I would mind complete spousal compliance when remodeling is the issue, or timeliness, or orderliness, or bedtime, or family vacations. Certainly on those issues agreeing with me would be perfectly acceptable, even admirable, and probably more peaceful. In any particular moment my spouse should always agree with me, but in the abstract I understand and love my marriage to a vibrant individual.
Thus the purpose of my essay has suddenly crystallized. What if one’s marriage somehow survived a remodel planned by a vibrant individual, and then—despite the misunderstandings, misperceptions, inconvenience and overwhelming work—what if that marriage was reinforced under the pressure and what was unspeakable six months ago slowly became a topic of conversation? Then—shockingly—the unspeakable remodel actually became funny? Well, then the wife in that marriage might write an essay and let it be read by friends and neighbors. That were certainly spice up a marriage grown dull after a small home alternation was finished, would it not?
For all of you whose marriages thrive when sparked with a little passion, may I suggest a bit of a remodel, perhaps a tiny bathroom or a small addition? At very least, a spirited essay should brighten the marriage of two strong-willed individuals. Long live those dynamic, intense, feisty marriages!