Thoughts on marriage

The day before our wedding anniversary, I woke up with a realization: Caring is not in the eyes of the beholder.

When I was in my teens, I had a fantasy of what married life would be like: My husband and I would lie in bed, face to face, and talk for hours. We would share our innermost thoughts and feelings, our deepest wishes and fears - and we would do this often. Reality looked quite different. Bob and I both worked. Our first child was born nine months after our wedding and our second 20 months later. Life took over. Not only didn't we have long, deep, leisurely talks in bed, we rarely had long, deep talks anywhere. I began to wonder if Bob cared about my inner life at all. In the early years of our marriage, I would periodically explode at him: "You don't care about me! You're not interested in me! You don't ask me what I'm thinking or feeling or going through! You never ask me any questions!" He would say, "Ruthie, I do care about you. I just don't ask questions." I'm curious by nature and a reporter by profession. Asking questions comes naturally to me. I couldn't fathom someone just not asking questions. And then my niece, Lila, taught me something. On one of our transcontinental visits (when we lived in New York and she in California), I began to feel like we were spending most of our time together talking about her life. When I told her this, told her I felt she wasn't really interested in what was going on with me, she reassured me of her keen and abiding interest and then asked a good question: "What would it take for you to know that I'm interested?" "Well..." I said, "you could ask questions." She thought for a minute. "Oh. So you need to hear questions to feel that someone is interested, that they care." To me, it's a given. You're interested, you care, you ask questions. But for Bob and Lila, and, I've discovered, for most people, that isn't the case. Lila doesn't wait for me to ask her questions (though I usually beat her to the punch). She just assumes I care about her and am interested in her life. And she's right. On an anniversary vacation we took last year, I had another realization that moved me closer to the truth about Bob. We were reclining on lounge chairs, relaxing on the Tel Aviv beach on a bright, beautiful day. We were both reading, but I was also beginning to stew. If I had been with a close woman friend, I thought, we'd be happily yakking away hour after hour. The three days wouldn't be long enough to talk about everything we wanted to talk about, explore all the issues we wanted to explore, process everything about our relationships, old and current, that we wanted to process. But here we were, Bob and I, away from kids and pressures, just having a good time - and there were long periods of silence. Unless I broke them. I was just working myself up into a good anger when Bob, not even looking up from his book, reached over, took my foot and started massaging it. I relaxed into it. My agitation melted. There's not much I like better in life than a good foot massage. And the thought popped into my head: He doesn't talk as much as I'd like him to, but he gives a great massage. Last year, Bob went on a four-day scuba diving trip with a male friend. One of the highlights of the vacation, he said, was the silence. "There would be hours when no one would say anything," he exulted, "except maybe, 'Pass the beer.' It was great." Over the years, my fits of anger have gown further apart. I can't remember the last one. Sometimes I thought I'd given up. Other times I thought I was maturing and learning to accept Bob for who he is. But just this morning, I realized the truth. Bob cares about me deeply and shows it in a million ways. He knows I have a hard time getting up in the mornings, so throughout our married life he has done the whole morning bit: wakes up the kids, makes their cocoa, packs their lunches, helped those who still needed it with their shoes and socks. Sometimes he even makes me tea. He knows my shoulders get tight and so he massages my back - often. He kisses and hugs me all the time. He takes over everything so I can go away for a weekend to visit a friend or for a week to a far-away family wedding. He does just about as much as I do around the house. And when I really need to talk, he listens. I've already gotten my anniversary gift this year: My eyes were opened. I see that Bob doesn't show his caring the way I expected, the way I assumed a husband would care about his wife. But he cares. And how.