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Is It Wrong If You Love (But Don’t Really Like) Your Spouse?

How I learned to relax and enjoy an imperfect marriage


Last week, my wife and I were in the car together, dropping off our youngest son at preschool. We were arguing about … something. I don’t even remember. Once he was gone, we let it out: barking across the front seat like two stubborn dogs aggrieved by the smell of each other, and without the language or inclination to communicate beyond what amounts to guttural dissent.

When we got out of the car, the fresh air calmed us. I touched the small of her back.

“I don’t like you,” I said. 

“Ugh,” she grunted, putting her arm around me. “I don’t like you either.”

You might think this is some kind of ironic term of endearment, the way “bad” sometimes means good or how a big-boned friend gets the nickname Tiny. You would be wrong. On some days, I absolutely do not like my wife, whom I’ve been married to for more than a decade. Other days, she can’t stand to be around me. 

But what some might see as weakness — that we argue, we seeth, we bristle — I contend is a reason we have lasted as long as we have.

When did the default, expected setting for marriage become antiseptic and smooth? Was it the same time people started injecting botulism into their foreheads to stop their skin from moving?

In 2016, Alain de Botton wrote an Opinion piece for The New York Times called “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” He points out the Western notion of love was founded on the idea of Romanticism: that there is, for each of us, a perfect partner, your soul’s ideal mate. And that erroneous assumption has caused countless bouts of heartache and piles of divorce lawyer fees. 

“[E]very human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden, and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them,” he writes.

I respect de Botton a great deal, but I think he’s wrong here: I anger and annoy my spouse all the time with some degree of malice very much intended. What’s decidedly not human nature is to be a perfect steward of humanity all the time. One needs a release valve. Especially when we attempt to fit the messy combined shape of two individuals into the round hole of marriage.

All couples answer this question — the inherent challenge of staying together — differently. Some choose polyamory. Some choose infidelity. Some choose pent-up misery or begrudging, idle acceptance. Some even choose murder, according to our weekly Friday night watch of NBC’s Dateline, my wife’s favorite show and, I suspect, one of her personal release valves.

What I’ve come to learn is that the moments when we annoy each other, when I can’t believe I’m forced to live the rest of my life with this person, is not a sign that our marriage is in trouble. It’s a sign that marriage is fundamentally an imperfect thing, and we’re two flawed human beings trying to figure it out. 

Or to think of it another way, our mutual dislike does not act as a detonation device, but as a bomb-sniffing dog. When you dislike someone and tell them the reasons why, that is, in itself, an act of love. 

My wife likes to remind me about the time we visited Niagara, long before our marriage, and how I almost shoved her into the falls so a rude group of strangers could move past us. She still brings this up as evidence against me, that I don’t put her (and now, our family) first.

But I need my wife, and she needs me. We love each other and our kids more than anything. So she can not like me for almost pushing her into the surging chaos of a natural wonder. Because it forces me (and us) to be better.

Follow Article Topics: Sex-&-Relationships