My wife and I have entered a new phase of marriage. Anyone who's been married more than five years, which is where we are - actually, six - will recognize this phase. I realized we'd reached it the other night.
I got up at 3 a.m. to get a drink of water. When I got back in bed, her leg was on my side. This happens with frequency in most marriages, and in the past, all I've had to do is give a little nudge and she's yielded my turf back to me.That's how you behave in the beginning of marriage: Both spouses are always ready to accommodate - kind of like when you order one dessert at a restaurant, and both of you insist the other one have most of it. In truth, you want to eat the whole thing, but in the first phase of marriage, you accommodate.
It's the same with bed turf. During the accommodation phase, if your spouse crowds you, one small nudge and they'll instantly roll back. That's what I thought would happen the other night.
So I gave my wife a nudge. But what developed next showed we've entered a new phase of marriage.
She wouldn't give.
I nudged her again. Nothing. She held fast. Her message was clear: We've been married five years, and I'm sorry, but I'm tired of giving you the whole dessert. I want what I want and what I want right now is more of this bed. I've given you two children, and I've got my rights, and you'll just have to deal with it.
This kind of attitude is healthy for a woman, but hard for a male to process. The reason is that the motto most men bring into a marriage is this: "What about my needs?"
Women, on the other hand, are raised to feel their motto in marriage should be: "Needs? I'm not allowed any."
But at about year No. 5, they get smart. And suddenly, when we nudge them, they no longer give.
So there she was, refusing to give, and it left me with a dilemma. I could have nudged back harder, but I've decided there are two things in life you don't mess with: Southern sheriffs with mirrored sunglasses and a wife who's decided she's no longer going to give.
This attitude is called the male marriage preservation philosophy.
Having gotten the better deal in my own marriage, I want to preserve it. My wife clearly married beneath herself. Actually, as Dorothy Parker once said, all women do. Given those truths, men who realize they've entered that new phase of marriage have only one choice as to how to respond. We have to drop the "What about my needs" motto and begin to view our wives in a new way. How? In a way I saw best captured by another columnist who always refers to his wife in print with a simple phrase: "She who must be obeyed."
So, dutifully, I gave. Instead of nudging back, I scrunched up on 20 inches of mattress and got as comfortable as I could, accepting that the only way to stay happily married is to give up territory.
And to be honest, it wasn't so terrible. But then something else happened that also comes to pass around the time you enter this second phase of marriage.
Suddenly, our 4-year-old daughter appeared in the doorway of our bedroom. Without a word, she climbed between us in the bed. This, by the way, is the key skill mastered by all 4-year-olds: getting between you.
Now I was left with 8 inches of mattress. This, I decided, was where I would draw a line. So gently, I nudged my daughter. And guess what happened?
She wouldn't give.
In a moment she was asleep, and so was my wife, a state I failed to achieve myself until five minutes before it was time to get up.
The great thing about marriage is it doesn't stay the same. It moves from phase to phase, and the changes are what keeps it interesting. Still, speaking for all husbands in phase two, I have a question.
What about my needs?
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service