Here’s something I wrote in 2001 and it went into a book: Midlife and Happiness, Rachel Green (NMBC Publications, 2002).
The strange and threatening path to a marital merger
How two opposites met in a foreign country, retained their opposition and, finally, joined forces.
by Jon Doust
My first marriage was all about lust. I met her late one afternoon, she said what about it, I agreed, and we did it.
My second marriage was based on friendship. I was living on a kibbutz in Israel, getting over the first marriage, when she popped into my line of sight, looked me right in the eye and asked why I was there.
Her impudence fascinated me. No-one had ever bothered to ask me before. I was the silent, resident revolutionary on the desert-based kibbutz and the other overseas volunteers kept well clear of me. She didn’t stay long, about one week, then went home to Holland to start the new school year at the large pre-school she ran in her local village. I waited on the kibbutz, milking cows, reading, drinking coffee, and making occasional visits to my first wife’s psychologist.
When Grytsje returned three months later, I was still there, ready, with space in my room. Oh, she’d move in all right, but only if I would make space for another bed, her bed. That was the way she was, strong willed, dismissive of anything resembling peer-group pressure and very keen on her private time. It worked perfectly. After three months of talking and working out how to manoeuvre past each other in the tiny space, we decided we knew enough to get serious about the relationship.
In our first ten years together I was a heavy drinker and marijuana smoker. She tolerated my addiction, but would never participate in the groupculture. When I arrived home after a binge she always insisted I slept in another bed, in another room, it didn’t matter where I slept, as long as it was away from her.
We’re in our twenty-fifth year now. It’s been up and down, round and about, but our friendship has always pulled us out of the mud, always brought us back, always seen us through. It’s been tested, severely, and has sometimes lain dormant for weeks. Like many long-term couples we both allowed a number of long-running wounds to fester. Her brooding silences intimidated me. My emotional outbursts often sent her running from a room. Then there was her attention to detail, which I perceived as negativity, and my flexibility, which she viewed as my inability to apply myself. The ability to stand aside and recognise our ugliness, our flaws, our stupidity, often saved us, brought us out of the madness of passion, anger, and frustration.
Love has played it’s part too, but not anywhere near the contribution of friendship.
Friendship holds everything together, gets us through the day, the mundane, the business, while love allows us to explore the depths, to shower each other with intensely personal gifts and to reveal and discover secrets. Love has never lasted more than a month or two. When love comes we don’t try to hang onto it. It arrives, it flourishes, it takes its course, it leaves. It makes the relationship exciting too. We are never quite sure when we will fall in love again. I am probably a little more eager for love than she is, because I’m the romantic, the dreamer, the idealist. She is the realist, the loyalist and the steadfast.
Now we are in midlife there seems to be few crises and those that arise are often dealt with as a team. In line with many our age, Grytsje has her menopause and I have my arthritis, but we were ready for them and although they cause minor lumps, bumps and hot flushes, we always manage to laugh in their faces.
Sometimes we sit with a coffee, look at each other and marvel that while all around us people seem to be falling apart, we seem to be gaining strength. Our sex life gets better. There is something about the nakedness of love making that helps strip emotional inhibitions and it is in this aftermath that we talk openly, passionately and revealingly, with complete trust. Our laughs come from deeper places and occur more often. And we appear to be merging.
Perhaps more than anything it has been through our study of the Jungian Psychological Types, often referred to as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator™, based on the work of Carl Jung, that we have come to terms with many of our differences and begun celebrating them.
A classic example is that for the first ten years of my life in small-business, I kept the books. This was not the first time. When I was in my twenties I managed the books for a supermarket I ran with my father. I hated doing them then and I hated doing them again in my forties. Whenever I began the books almost immediately I would became irritable, anxious, frothy at the mouth and sometimes violent towards inanimate objects. I pleaded with her during each and every one of those ten years to take the books. She stubbornly refused. I knew she should do them, she had that kind of brain, she enjoyed manipulating numbers, playing with figures. I was a people person. Bookkeeping made me hate people.
Last year two wonderful things happened. I took on the role of Captain Washing Machine and she became Commander of the Books. We swapped. She hated doing the washing. I hated doing the books. She now gets to exercise the money side of her brain and I get to exercise the side of my brain that needs to keep harmony and do something useful for the
I think we would both agree that I started the change-ball rolling, but thatwas probably because I had more that needed changing. There was myaddiction. I changed that as I hit the outskirts of midlife, suddenly, justlike that, one night I was drunk and the next morning I was at an AA meeting. Giving up was the easy part. Facing myself sober proved somewhat more difficult and nobody helped me more than Albert Ellis, American psychologist and psychotherapist. Someone recommended his book “A New Guide to Rational Living” and I carried it with me everywhere for three years. I also read hundreds of self-help books, took advantage of my growing career in comedy to expunge demons on stage and began doing more and more things that were good for me rather than the opposite. I rekindled my love of swimming and surfing, walking, hiking and reading fiction.
All was not rosy, however, because I wanted to impose this newly found zest for life on Grytsje’s life. I wanted her to change and grow with me, at my pace. This caused conflict.
And then I discovered Myers Briggs™. In the beginning it was just me again, running rampant with the new knowledge, telling everyone who they were and what they should do to get on better with me. It took me a while to realise that people don’t change like that, with people like me enthusing in their faces. They need to change at their own pace, in their own way, with their own version of enthusiasm.
If we look at our marriage through our Myers Briggs personality types, the ISTJ and the ENFP, two of the most obvious characteristics are that she is an Introvert, while I am an Extrovert. She is a Judging type and well organised while I am a Perceiving type and live in a precarious,unstructured world. For much of our lives these personality preferences have remained extant and cause for conflict, but this cause is now in decline. For example, the once vigorously organised ISTJ is setting loose the ties of systems and lists, just as the shambolic ENFP is getting organised. And, perhaps even more surprising, the Introvert is taking over the speaking part, while the Extrovert settles into a mime like existence.
These changes have brought us much closer together, although seemingly driving us apart. It has meant that for the first time in our lives I understand, precisely, meaningfully, sometimes impatiently, how she felt as she waited in the street to be picked up at 11am, and seethed as she watched her partner arrive at 12.10pm.
Although these changes sometimes switch on old conflicts, more than anything they give rise to much mirth, soul bonding, and in those times when two Introverts meet, or two unmethodical waifs bump into each other, something magical happens, we’re in flow, we’re in love and we go with it, because we don’t know how long it will last.
The question is, of course, why are we merging now? Why didn’t we do it earlier? The simple answer is we weren’t ready. And we needed time, to grow, to understand that our differences were real and not about personality flaws and we needed time to develop the kind of trust that requires time to pass and the kind that allows one partner to accept assistance and encouragement from the other during change. While I was changing on my own, Grytsje sometimes found it strange and threatening, but this need for change was consistent with my personality type and her resistance was consistent with hers. All those years together have given us a background, a knowledge, a trust that is now greatly enhanced with the addition of Myers Briggs™. The two work hand in hand.
And as for the laughs, well, we always had them, but now our merging, and our friendship, has meant that the laughs are born from a deeper understanding of each other, where we have been, why we were there, how we got to where we are now. We are even able to laugh our way through minor crises almost as they occur, because our awareness, each of the other, has also given birth to trust and for laughs to work well and deep, trust is absolutely essential.