Second time around for me, first time for him, and we married in our 50s. We are crazy about one another and life together can still feel like a honeymoon after seven years of wedded bliss, ten years of being together and more than thirty years as friends. But we both swear that if we did not have separate offices, we might be talking divorce by now.
Who said married couples need to share everything? When a degree of autonomy goes totally out the window, I think something gets lost along the way. My take on it is that separate desks and separate rooms in which to do work, talk on the phone, pay bills, surf the Internet and shop online are vitally important to two people who have gotten to the place in life where individuality is just as important as togetherness.
If you add to that scenario the fact that my beloved and I disagree politically on a number of fronts, you’d understand that a degree of separation is vital for sanity, since we already went down the path of trying to convince one another the other was wrong long ago. This James Carville-Mary Matalin-type union is a civil one, helped along with the intense respect we have for one another and tempered by the romance we refuse to let die and a sense of humor best appreciated by just the two of us.
My mother, a prototype for the stay-at-home-mom who also helped with the family business, used to instruct me in the fine art of marital communication. And even though I never thought my parents’ relationship to be exemplary, she did have some good points. “Never lose that element of mystery between you,” she would say. “You will basically always remain strangers in many ways because you were born into entirely different realities. As long as you operate from a position of love and awe for one another, it is what remains unknown that can keep the interest high.”
As my 1950s–style parents grew older, I saw that instead of becoming more alike, they grew more individualistic – perhaps out of necessity. My father finally fgured out he could not invade the inner sanctums of my mother’s mind, nor figure out what she was up to every day of the week. And my mother delighted in working part-time, able to purchase things she wanted for herself or her family without conferring with her husband. It was almost liberating to see my mostly old-fashioned mother get more of a sense of herself as my brothers and I reached adulthood.
With all my father’s bluster and need to control, it is interesting that when my mother left this life, it was he who could barely manage without his partner. She did everything for him, stoked by her need to be needed and his need to be catered to, but somehow they made it work for fifty years of marriage.
For all these reasons and more, I am perpetually thrilled at how independent my spouse and I can be without sacrificing closeness. If one of us faces the future without the other someday, we will know that we have not “absorbed” into the another to the point that life becomes unbearable.
For all those couples out there having issues, however, a great step is to create separate, private spaces within your home for one another. Take just as much pride in your propriety as you do in your ability to act as a one, and things just might turn around.
Dena Kouremetis is a full-time freelance writer and professional blogger for Forbes.com. Feel free to visit her web site and sample Solo Props on the Forbes blogging channel.