The Marital Bubble



After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the “greatest form of friendship” It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the
resemblance born of a shared life. Marriage joins to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life. Let us be honest and acknowledge the signs that this is the case. Lovers do not see their relationship as merely temporary. Those who marry do not expect their excitement to fade. Those who witness the celebration of a loving union, however fragile, trust that it will pass the test of time. Children not only want their parents to love one another, but also to be faithful and remain together. — Pope Francis

…nor would a girl, at the peak of her love for a boy, feel bored with hearing his thoughts about daily events. She is interested in everything about him and as eager to help him overcome petty annoyances as to come to his aid in grave difficulties… — Ronda Chervin

That is a description of my wife, whom I befriended 28 years ago this month. Quite a sustained peak. She is the best listener I know, bar none. She knows me better than anyone else precisely because she listens long, deep and patiently. Just the other day I came home and rattled off a litany of petty annoyances and trivial details about my administrative duties, and when I paused to say, “sorry this is deadly detail,” she said: “No, I love to know what happened to you. Go on.”

Patti and I have had a tradition that we began in 2003 called, “The Bubble.” The Bubble is a distraction-free time/space that we defend zealously every evening after I come home from work. It usually lasts 30-45 minutes, fluctuating based on the day’s circumstances. It is a sacred time when she and I can focus on each other exclusively, catch up on the day’s events, process issues, plan future events, and so on. During this time, the children are not allowed to transgress the boundaries of the Bubble physically or by attempting any form of creative communication with us from the Bubble’s periphery. If they do, they get an immediate consequence (though obviously as they become adults “giving a consequence” is a bit passé — it only requires a verbal reminder). They know the only reason they can break the Bubble is “blood or fire.” One time, when we lived in Iowa, one of our children created a sign for us and posted it every day on the sliding glass door we would meet behind. It said, “Only Blood or Fire!!!” and was colored with red drops of blood and tongues of fire. And though the Bubble has been stretched and stressed over the years, we have largely maintained it and our children have largely respected it without issue. With some notable exceptions.

Without a doubt, that Bubble has saved our marriage from conflict, misunderstanding, frustration, and has allowed us to sustain and grow our intimacy that, without a planned approach, would unquestionably have suffered great loss and harm. Work, children, life’s general busyness can pose powerful threats to the unity of marriage if they are not deliberately put in their proper place, which is in orbit around the covenant bond of marital love. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…” And then comes work, family of origin, etc. The Bubble has, in a very tangible way, made it clear to our children that mom and dad are first husband and wife. The health and stability of our family entirely depends on the health and stability of our marriage. While there is no competition between our love for each other and our love for our children, there is a right-order to those loves. And in the Bubble, Patti and I remind each other: “You are my first love.” There we listen, talk, laugh, laugh more, pray, cry, argue, confess, pardon, correct or sometimes just sit silently, sipping our cocktails face-to-face, returning to the original posture we held as we exchanged our nuptial promises on 10.14.95. There we elaborate every day on these foundational words:

I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

I’ve quoted here several times from a letter my paternal grandfather wrote to Patti and me a month before our wedding. It is for me the most magnificent testimony to marital love I have ever read, and we never get tired of rereading it. I will end with his words, which for us give the Bubble its ultimate meaning and purpose. We want this, and we want it for that many years:

He brought you together so don’t expect Him to orchestrate the wedding sonata. From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules; there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I”, “me”, “my”, “mine”. Only “us”, “ours”. I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends. There is and always has been the union of all singular pronouns into a composite image of joy, happiness and fidelity which floods our togetherness which has never lost the first moment of magnetic reverence and worship which blanked out all the world and its occupants. And for over 69 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc 2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity. So, Tom and Patti, to you we bequeath our heritage, our fidelity and reverence for each other and our gratefulness to God for bringing us together. We know He has never shed one tear of regret!

10 comments on “The Marital Bubble

  1. Judy Svendsen says:

    I loved your post today! I shared it and tagged my daughter Abby. She got married this summer and I thought it was great for her, her friends that have been married for a couple years and are starting their families, and her engaged friends. What an awesome idea! I hope they put it in action.

  2. Claude Kenneson says:

    You are a wonderful couple. Congratulations upon 28 years together and still strong. The Bubble and God’s blessings really work.

  3. Michael says:

    What blessed timing for your posting! This afternoon, after 30 years of marriage, my wife and I are being married in the Church.
    Glory to God for all things!

  4. Nos says:

    I only see two wine glasses , we here is my bottle of PBR…


  5. Patty McCormick Key says:

    I’m not sure which was more wonderful – to see these two smiling faces that I have not seen in 25 – 30 years or to read the beautiful testimony that you so eloquently shared, Tom. Please send my love to Patti!

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