What Cruising Does To Marriage

The Happy CoupleOn our first morning back in Oak Park, I happened to run into our neighbor, Carol, who naturally asked about our trip. “You lived on the boat for more than a month straight?” she asked. “You must have a strong marriage.”

Her comment made me smile at first. Of course we do, I thought. But it stuck with me, and I started to reaffirm for myself how unusual our situation is. How challenging, and also how rewarding. Don’t get me wrong – we got into it a few times on this trip.  But we worked out our arguments quickly and were on to the next thing. And I always think Aaron and I end these trips stronger as a couple than we began them.

For most people, either one or both spouses does the daily grind, 9 to 5 (or later), Monday through Friday. For the first three years of our marriage, Aaron and I both did this. If you have kids, the evenings are then spent having dinner together, getting the kiddo(s) to bed, and collapsing for an hour or two before sawing logs. Similarly, weekends are devoted to family time. Talking strictly in terms of hours, you’re married more to your job than you are to your spouse or your family.

During these cruises, all day is family time. Every evening is together time. Weekdays and weekends run together. We are together All. The. Time. I will admit, the first summer we did a long cruise, this took adjusting and a lot of deep breaths. I’m used to my freedom, even with Claire, and so is Aaron. But this cruise, our third, we settled into it like a familiar routine.

A big part of it is shifting our mindsets. We’re not just husband and wife – we are captain and co-captain. We simply have to work together to sail the boat from one place to another (and manage Claire to boot). The dynamics change a bit when we toss lines: To a certain extent because he’s more experienced, Aaron becomes my boss. I know my role, have settled into my own responsibilities, and he tells me what additional things need to be done. I know that whatever he asks me to do, he’s asking to help us go faster, keep us safer, etc. That, in and of itself, took some settling in for us. But it works because we respect and trust one another. And when things do get a bit heated, we try to remind ourselves to extend each other some grace.

When we are in port, I think we’re also both mindful of allowing each other some space to breathe. I’ll encourage Aaron to head to the pub in the evening to get some time away, enjoy a pint and swap sailing stories with the locals. In the same vein, he will happily take Claire for a few hours so that I can peruse the shops and find a new favorite coffee shop. We both did that a bit on this cruise, but to be honest, it always amazes me how little either of us takes advantage of this. Sometimes, just knowing that we can is enough.

Another big part of the equation, too, is that Claire is always there. She’s a smart girl and she already picks up on a lot – even if no words are being exchanged, but there’s tension wafting in the air. Having someone else there, bearing witness, naturally makes you a lot more accountable for your actions. It’s not that we never have disagreements in front of Claire – that would be unrealistic. But when we do argue, it reminds us to take a deep breath and step back. And to show her that, though it happens, we love each other and we can resolve the issue.

Every year when we get back to 31st Street, instead of heading for the car as soon as the engine is off, we spend an extra night on the boat. We have a lazy morning the next day. We talk about the trip and we always, always, wish we had more time. More time to explore. More time to spend together. And that, I think, is a true testament, to our marriage, and our family.

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