My wife and I subscribe to the “Oncoming Train” theory of relationship management. It’s based on the idea that every so often a gargantuan freight train of a problem will come along and try to obliterate your marriage. I mean a problem like losing your job, or a death in the family, or bouncing around the house for a year rearranging all the furniture by weight because you think the foundation’s moving.
We’re too puny to stop an oncoming train. We’re too sedentary to outrun it, and we’re too clumsy to dodge it. Our only hope is to keep our heads down and trust that the track won’t come apart.
Within our theoretical framework, my wife and I are each a separate rail on the track. I like to think I’m the right-hand rail, because that’s the side I sleep on and that’s where I sit in the car when my wife’s driving and I’m praying to Jesus. I’m not even religious, so that says something. Our theory states that rails must stay some distance from each other in order to be structurally sound. Really, if two rails are leaning all over each other, then you have mushy rails. What kind of weenie rails are those? A train will squash the snot out of them.
As an example of this, my wife invited me to see an exhibit of steampunk-inspired art. Since that sounded like as much fun as doing something nasty with a dirigible, I declined. But never in the grimiest depths of our psyches did we think that meant she shouldn’t go without me. She’ll go see the brass gears and crap while I stay home and sharpen knives. We’re both happy in our own little worlds.
(This also lets us believe different things without going to war with each other. Recently we’ve argued about issues like teaching intelligent design, and why we don’t just assassinate people we don’t like. We’re both still ambulatory and sleeping in the same bed.)
You may see the flaw here. Independent of one another, rails can sort of drift apart, and they won’t stand up to a Monster Train Assault when one is heading east and the other is heading to Vegas. So our theory contains railroad ties that keep the rails linked.
As an example, here’s how we behave when the other is sick. When my wife feels bad I bring her tea and snacks and the TV remote. I put her in the recliner, cover her with a blanket, and throw two or three cats on top. She seems to like this. When I feel bad, the first thing she does is ask whether I’ve taken aspirin/benadryl/pepto bismol. This is great, because I can say no and she can feel helpful, then I can go off and wait undisturbed for nature to either heal me or kill me. We each provide the nurturing that the other needs. It’s something we share.
Over the years my wife has created, refined, and frequently explained the “Oncoming Train” theory. I came up with the name, which by the standards of our society means I am the theory’s inventor. She says we’re two parallel, independent rails, but all along the way we’re tied by certain things we share. Whenever Hell’s Own Locomotive arrives, we plan to hang on and ride it out.
Or, my wife can just assassinate the engineer.