Could it be the story of many marriages –
or the solution for some problems?
A good marriage is like a piece of art, or quite often, like a circus act on the high wire. And it’s not easy to stay up there. You and your marriage partner develop certain habits, certain mannerisms. Some may be funny at the beginning, but some begin to irritate as time goes on, and some are just plain boring. Did you expect your marriage to be like that? One day you meet another couple. Diagonally across, you find the other marriage partner more interesting than your own. But all your friends tell you what a fabulous marriage partner you already have. Can you and your own partner not see that? Can you not just leave the somewhat worn tracks and snap out of irritation or boredom? Can you and your partner not simply jump over to a new and better set of tracks, at the same time—how else would it work?—then move along much happier—as you both once wanted to be? That reminds me of Tom and Evelyn.
Phase 1: Together in Harmony on One Track
I met Tom and Evelyn in 1977, in Santa Clara, California. They were both in their early thirties, slender, attractive—he was blond; she was dark-haired—and well dressed. He was the chief accountant at a small electronics company. She was a teacher. They had met in high school in Fresno, in the Central Valley, and had married soon after high school. In those years, many youngsters married before fully developing their own personalities, before getting to know each other. But, then, also in those years of their youth, their minds were filled with love. During Tom and Evelyn’s courtship, each did everything to be attractive to the other. They did everything they could think of to make the other happy. They lived with much laughter, like living on a different level of existence from ours, as never before … or ever again?
Tom had always been fascinated by numbers. He liked the accuracy and security of numbers, so he went into accounting. Evelyn had been fascinated by learning and the finer things in life. When she became a teacher, she tried to help young people make something of their lives and reach for higher goals.
Their marriage was harmonious, though without excitement. Children did not arrive. Both worked hard, and they had an impeccable home. Could they not have remained happy? Everybody liked them. Others considered their marriage a model one.
Phase 2: The Tracks Diverge
Tom’s colleagues considered him a nice guy. He was always friendly and reliable. His job did not require much creativity, rather the keeping of a low profile. It demanded none of the self-assurance that the engineers in the company had or of the ingratiating ways of the salesmen.
Tom worked long hours, quite often coming home late. When he got home, he just wanted to relax. He often watched TV—mostly sports.
The ideal wife for him would have been a tender woman, someone who wanted merely to care for him.
But that was not Evelyn’s main attribute.
It wasn’t long before Tom sensed that their marriage was cooling off. He learned to be content and to withdraw somewhat into his own world. But the situation weighed more and more heavily on him. The sparkle of life disappeared. He let himself be dragged down. He no longer cared how he looked or what he said to Evelyn. He lost interest in what few hobbies he had. In short, he felt as if he were locked in a cage.
Then something surprising happened.
Tom dreamed that Evelyn was his ideal wife again, full of tenderness, caring for him, always being there for him—a true partner in life. The dream became a second reality for him. He began to live in two worlds.
Evelyn’s colleagues also considered her to be nice. She was always friendly and reliable. Her work demanded much creativity, some self-assurance, and being at ease with people—both children and their parents.
She aspired to the higher and finer things in life. When she returned home in the afternoon, she often read a good book while listening to music.
For her, the ideal husband would have been a man who was interesting, dynamic, and somewhat elegant. But those were not qualities Tom possessed, as she well knew.
It wasn’t long before Evelyn sensed that their marriage was cooling off. But she adjusted and learned to be content. She withdrew a little into her own world. The spark of life had gone. She let herself be dragged down a little. She didn’t care how she looked any longer or what she said to Tom. She gained some weight. And, finally, she too felt as though she were in a cage.
Then something surprising happened.
Evelyn dreamed that Tom was her ideal husband again: full of intellectual interests, dynamic, a little elegant, always there for her—a true partner in life. The dream became a second reality for her. She began to live in two worlds.
Phase 3: Each Track Splits Once More
Tom’s Real World:
Tom got up early in the morning. Evelyn often slept later, because her classes started later. He prepared breakfast for himself and sat at the table in his undershirt, reading the newspaper. When it was time to go, he put on a dress shirt and necktie and drove to work.
Evenings were not much different. Tom came home late from work. If Evelyn had not eaten already, he helped to prepare dinner. They ate at the kitchen table.
Afterwards, Tom washed the dishes. Later, while Evelyn corrected students’ papers, he watched TV—sports or financial news, perhaps a romantic love story with a little excitement.
Sometimes, he longed for a woman he could really love. It was no wonder that he started to look at other women. When he met an especially attractive one, he really turned on his charm and became even more critical of his own wife.
In his fantasy, Tom saw himself getting up in the morning. He found the breakfast table already set and the meal prepared. Evelyn stood there, smiling at him. He kissed her before he sat down. Later, they cleaned the table together and went hand-in-hand through their little garden before he kissed her good-bye and drove off. She waved for as long as she could see him.
In the evening, on the way home, he looked forward to seeing Evelyn again. His wife would certainly have prepared a little refreshment for him.
When he reached home, she opened the door for him. She had been waiting for him to come home. She really looked chic—what a radiant face she had! You had to love this woman. He tenderly drew her close and gave her a kiss.
They sat together for a long time that evening and talked about their work.
Evelyn’s Real World:
Evelyn no longer got up early, because classes started at 9:00 a.m. Since Tom usually left early, she prepared breakfast for herself, efficiently and swiftly. She checked some textbooks she intended to use and even telephoned some parents who wanted to see her that day.
Their evenings were not much different.
Evelyn often returned early from school. When she knew that Tom would be late, she ate dinner alone. Otherwise, she helped him prepare dinner. They ate at the kitchen table.
After dinner, she went back to correcting students’ papers. Occasionally, she read a good book—perhaps a romantic love story with a little excitement.
Sometimes, she longed for a man she could really love. It was no wonder that she started to look at other men. When she met an especially attractive one, she really turned on her charm and became even more critical of her own husband.
In her fantasy, Evelyn saw how they had breakfast together. Tom looked so elegant in his new business suit. Why hadn’t they made him a vice president at the company? While they had coffee, they talked animatedly about their respective tasks for the day and about the interesting people they would meet. After Tom left, the house appeared empty to her.
At home in the evening, she looked forward to his return from work. Her husband would certainly bring her some flowers again.
When she heard his car arrive, she quickly opened the door for him and stepped out with a radiant face. How elegant he looked, and what an interesting man he was! You had to love this man! How happy she was when he drew her into his arms.
They sat together for a long time that evening and talked to each other about their work.
Phase 4: Jumping to the New Track
Tom’s New Mind-set:
Then the unexpected happened: suddenly, Tom couldn’t distinguish dream from reality any longer.
He was on his way home from work and thought that his dream wife was waiting for him.
So he actually stopped at a flower shop and bought a small, beautiful bunch of flowers. Before he walked up to his house, he combed his hair and checked his looks in the car mirror. Then, with elastic steps, he walked to the door.
Evelyn’s New Mind-set:
Then the unexpected happened: suddenly, Evelyn couldn’t distinguish dream from reality any longer.
She had arrived home early and thought that her dream husband would come home to her soon.
She actually prettied herself up a little, brought in some flowers from the garden, and prepared a little refreshment for her husband. When she heard his car pull up, she arranged her hair and checked her looks in the mirror by the door. She put on some nice music and opened the door with a radiant face.
Phase 5: In Harmony on the New Track
They hardly dared to sink into each other’s arms—to realize their dream, to sense the spark of life again, to be their better selves again, to be loved again, to have found somebody to love and to share laughter with. What joy and freedom! They could not speak at first. Tom kissed Evelyn lightly, and she blushed. Then she pulled him into the house, took his briefcase out of his hand, and led him to the dining table where the refreshment waited for him.
“You are wonderful!” he said.
“I love you!” she answered.
“You have such a radiant face today!” he said. “What was so good in school today that you look so happy?”
“Nothing special. Tell me about your day, my love,” she answered.
I’ve seen Toms and Evelyns a number of times since then.
Sometimes, things went well.
But now, occasionally, I buy a bunch of flowers on my way home.
Then my “Evelyn” drops whatever she is doing, and we laugh together, grateful for each other.