Tina Tessina is a marriage, family and child therapist in Long Beach, California. She is co-author of the book, How To Be A Couple & Still Be Free, (Newcastle, 1980), and she can be reached via 213/438-8077.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, after a difficult struggle between us, I gave my husband a card. All over the front it said, "I love you," and inside it said, "It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it." That phrase has carried us through many difficult times since.
I read many articles about what happens "after the passion dies" in long-term relationships, and my clients frequently are worried about the same question. I believe what happens, when all goes well, is that a sense of humor sets in.
The burden of passion can be a heavy one. Having to rev up the energy for a passionate, heavy-breathing session making love after a hard day’s work can be an appalling prospect. How much more inviting it is to be able to have a silly giggle session, complete with sexual play, with the dearest person I know. Suddenly, the heaviness and obligation are gone, and if I’m too tired to be passionate and alluring, I always seem to have the energy to "mess around".
Arguments are hard to have with a lovable three- year-old, which is what my husband can become at the drop of an accusation. He puts his hands on his hips, sticks out his chin, and (in a perfect imitation of a kid mimicking an angry parent) says, "Who did that?" He then points his finger at whatever offense (a messy table, a forgotten chore) I’ve lost my sense of humor about. Watching him, I can’t hang on to my anger. After we laugh, then we can do something constructive about the problem.
Please understand that I’m speaking of humor, not irresponsibility. We are both adults, both entrepreneurs, and we have an equal, relatively balanced relationship. We hashed that out a few years ago. We get angry with each other mostly out of irritability, exhaustion and frustration with our heavy schedules – not because either one of us is slacking off. Things don’t get done at times because we have hectic lives, and hectic lives benefit greatly from a sense of humor.
I guess it takes a certain amount of self- acceptance to create healthy humor, rather than the hurtful kind; but then again, this loving, shared laughter has also enhanced my degree of self-acceptance. The paradox seems to be that having permission for child-like play also gives permission to be responsible and self-accepting. We don’t make nasty jokes about each other and our love, and I don’t exactly know how to express the difference. What I do know is we laugh together, and it feels good.
We have been together only four years; so sixteen years from now I may feel differently, but I don’t think so. This is the first long-term relationship where I don’t feel in danger of being bored. I seem to easily run out of things to be passionate about, or dramatic about, but laughter never gets boring. It’s also difficult to store up resentments against the person in my life who makes it easiest for me to laugh.
I find myself looking for ways to make Richard laugh; and the more I practice it, the better I get. He seems to be getting to know my "laugh buttons" better, too. Could he be looking for them? I wouldn’t be surprised.
So, rather than treasuring old grudges, old hurts – we treasure old jokes and funny lines. I know I can turn to Richard and say "It’s a dirty job . . . " and get an answering smile. I also know he understands when I say that phrase, that I love him "warts and all." It’s a good feeling.
There are times when an overwhelming feeling of warmth and caring flows over me, and many of those times are when I laugh with Richard. Humor seems to be the secret, at least for us, in both keeping our love fresh and alive, and in feeling confident that we will not lose our "specialness" to each other.
The more we learn about living together, the less we struggle, and the less we struggle, the more we laugh and play. One of the things I have learned as a therapist, is that struggle is often used by families to structure time. As a partner in this relationship, I have learned that replacing the drama of struggle with the delight of humor can be a positive addiction; and a powerful solution for what to do with our time together.
The net result of all this is that I have become an advocate of the "silly solution," and it is working better than all the seriousness I used to think my relationships required.