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By Patrick Fletchall

Our eldest son used to get frustrated with his Duplo set. His Duplo are comprised of many blocks, each of them distinct yet perfectly designed to fit each other. Most of the time he would patiently play, but on occasion he’d lose patience and angrily mash them together. The more he mashed, the less likely they were to click together. I’ll come back to that later.

My wife, Nicole, and I could not be more different people. After ten years, this is abundantly clear. She’s blunt and I’m circuitously wordy. She reads mommy blogs and I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She’s OCD and I’m slovenly. I could probably give 10 volumes of additional examples.

When we were first married these differences were exciting. During our first six months of marriage we lived in a 200 square foot room, and I discovered her the way that Louis and Clark explored a path to the West: exhilarating, breathtaking, and frequently dangerous.

At each step on the trail, I explored new territory and we learned more about ourselves along the way. Nicole revealed a different way of thinking, communicating, and looking at personal relationships. She viewed the world entirely different then I did.

For my part, I was thrilled to share my passions and interests with the woman I loved and admired. I was like a 6-year-old hosting his first sleepover. “Come look at all my toys!” It seemed like the perfect synergy: she taught me how to establish healthy boundaries within my relationships and I introduced her to the Die Hard movies. Either we fit each other like two puzzle pieces, or I had an extraordinarily munificent and patient wife.

I was like someone sipping a full cup of coffee while driving on a smooth road: I patted myself on the back for our steady marriage. But life, as we all know tends to throw a few bumps. Bump…recession. Bump…child #1. Bump…child #2. Lose job, downsize, sell car to buy groceries, global pandemic…bump-bump-bump-BUMP!

The circus of young children, careers, and school leaves very little luxury for reflective relationship-building. We all spin off each day and collide back together in sporadic bursts of energy. Nicole and I had less time to be able to have the deep conversations; our interactions became transactional. The cracks began to develop.

Over 10 years, our differences seemed less like doing a puzzle together and more like an unbridgeable gulf. The slightest interaction became the seed for bickering, and bickering became our new normal mode of communication. When you’re having five fights a day, saying “I’m sorry” or “I love you” ceases to become the first step in the process of reconciliation.

Through unemployment and pandemic, our lives became condensed into a 1000 square foot apartment. There are very few places to storm off to. We had started this thing living in 200 square feet and 10 years later we’ve gained only a little more space and two adorable, inconsiderate roommates.

When you’re quarantined and have nothing else to distract you, you start noticing more things. For example, you can tell a lot about a person based on how they extract toothpaste. There are numerous methods: flattening, squeezing, rolling, etc. Personally I’m a flattener: I press the tube from the bottom upwards using my palm on the counter. Sometimes, I use the edge of the counter to ensure maximum efficiency; but I sometimes worry about the 0.05 ounces of paste that squirt back to the bottom and go wasted. My wife, on the other hand, throttles the life out of the tube like she had an ex-boyfriend named Colgate.

We’ve always shared toothpaste. For a long time, I felt mildly protective of the poor toothpaste. However, recently I’ve been struck by how incredibly effective our conjoined methods of toothpaste extraction are. Each day, we alternatively choke and press the same tube, which results in the most efficient technique to get the last ounce of product. I was impressed by the fact that our efficiency was the result of not simply complimentary methodology, but a common goal.

I mentioned previously that our son would periodically get frustrated and slam his Duplos together. To date, I’ve never seen him swing two bricks together and have them match up perfectly. And if they had, I believe he would have been too upset to notice they had aligned before ripping them apart. My wife and I have been doing the same thing.

We were designed to fit together, but we collided with such velocity and frequency, how could we possibly come together and how would we know when we had? What would it take to shake us from our bad habits?

Like many, the last month has been extraordinarily challenging. But it has also made life uncharacteristically simple. Nicole and I are still learning to put the pieces together, but the monastic minimalism of our days has forced us to intentionally partner with purpose.

No matter how long it may take for the world to get back to any semblance of normality, our marriage (and many marriages out there I suspect) will never be the same. We’ve always unwittingly squeezed and pressed together, but now we realize that we were designed to meet this challenge.

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I am having an affair. I should feel very, very guilty … but I don’t. He’s a married father of three. I’m also married with three children. I happen to know his kids very well. In fact, I’ve known his wife my whole life. She is me, I am her. I’m having an affair with my husband.

It’s strangely quiet in our house this week while ALL of our children are gone. Our oldest recently moved south for his first job after college graduation and it’s going well for him. Our second is up in Canada with one of his best buddies visiting his other good friend’s family. Our youngest is at her favorite place in the world, a week-long overnight camp an hour north of us. 

We know all of our kids are safe and happy, soooo we can thoroughly enjoy these few days and nights that we have together. ALL BY OURSELVES. Did I mention that we’re ALONE? Good food, great wine, sweet music, and warm candlelight – we’re loving like we mean it.

We often wonder what we’ll talk about when the kids are completely grown up and not one of them is under our roof. If this week is any indication, it’s them. And we wonder, will we like each other? Yes we do. Yes, we most certainly do.

We’re approaching the thirty-first anniversary of the first time I fell for this guy I’m currently romancing. It was at a party about a month before he was leaving for college. We went on a date or two prior to that, but nothing serious. But THAT night, when he walked confidently through the front door of a friend’s home … I loved the way his shorts fit his waist and the look of his strong, tanned wrists. Truly! I’m not kidding!

We started dating exclusively after that fateful gathering, mostly long-distance because we attended universities in different states, but we married six years later on a snowy February afternoon. 

We keep several shoeboxes of cards and notes to and from one another, sent during the painful stretches we had to be apart, and still add new love letters to the collection now, even though we’ve been together and sharing the same address for over two and a half decades. 

Both my parents and my husband’s, had long-standing, rich marriages and without us even realizing it, modeled to he and I what a healthy, satisfying day to day relationship could look like. That’s a legacy that we prayerfully plan to hand down to future generations, starting with the dear souls that we’ve been raising, and pray that they each, often, have a married “affair” of their own. 

I sometimes daydream about them and about our daughter and sons’ futures and who they might marry, then realize that God already has every minute of their days mapped out. Whenever I look at those three, my heart fills with joy and understanding. God knew from the very beginning of time that my love and I were going to belong together and that those precious ones were going to belong to us. He will work out the details, big and small, for them also.

I’m mindful that the tenderness and affection we have in our marriage can be rare and I’m grateful. I know that every day is a gift from God and I’m thankful. Our girl and our boys have grown at the speed of light and all of our lives are constantly changing. I could worry about tomorrow, but why? I’ll enjoy today and let tomorrow take care of itself.

And tonight, right now, I’ll light the votives, pour two glasses of cabernet, play our favorite album and place dinner on the table…my beloved is almost home.

“My beloved is mine and I am his… ” Song of Songs 2:16

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