Could You Survive Alone With Your Spouse For A Year?

My wife often likes to tell this anecdote about our honeymoon, because it highlights one of the great differences between our personalities, and it reveals our naiveté as newlyweds. We honeymooned in Washington state, and did a lot of driving through its beautiful countryside. My wife likes to talk while driving: about where we’re going, what we’re going to do, and so forth. I, however, dislike talking while driving. I prefer to simply absorb the passing scenery, preferably while listening to some music.

For whatever reason, we didn’t think about this difference in traveling styles, and when I demurred from some driving conversation on the second or third day, my wife had this terrifying thought: What if we don’t have anything else to talk about for the rest of our marriage?!

That was nearly a decade ago, and we’ve found a few more things to talk about over the years. (Having three kids helps in that regard.) But it raises the interesting point of how couples get along with one another, and how little misunderstandings can lead to faulty — albeit humorous, in our case — conclusions.

Our misunderstanding took place on a weeklong vacation spent sleeping in luxurious bed and breakfast inns, eating at gourmet restaurants, and enjoying some truly awe-inspiring scenery. But what if you spent extended periods of time in one of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on Earth, Antarctica in the dead of winter? That’s precisely what explorers Rolf Bjelke and Deborah Shapiro have made a habit of doing since getting married in 1987. Since then, they’ve made several round trips, by boat, to Antarctica, and have even spent up to 9 months in complete solitude during the Antarctic winter (where temperatures can dip to below 100˚ F and winds can reach nearly 200mph).

What was the secret to them not killing each other in a bout of cabin fever? Shapiro recently shared some of her “marriage tips” and, not surprisingly, they can be just as applicable here in warmer climates as they are in polar regions, and even beyond Earth. For example:

  • “One has to be able to give the other person mental elbow room. During our winter, when a person settled into the sofa in the salon with a book and started reading, he or she was not interrupted.”
  • “Showing tangible signs of caring and of empathy ensures that cabin fever never takes hold.”
  • “[W]e alternate cooking days. Each day’s food becomes a present to our partner. We try to surprise the other with new dishes. There’s a prize to be won – the other person’s admiration.”
  • “We also developed thoughts during the winter as a team, mostly along the lines of our favoured subject: world politics and management.”

Shapiro admits that these practices fall under the “simple, but not necessarily easy” label, and that people “can and do have a difficult time living together in this era of self-reliant independence.” What Bjelke and Shapiro model for each other is a relationship based on mutual respect, admiration, and kindness, as well as shared goals (which, in their case, was survival and documenting their adventures). These are qualities we can all put in practice in our marriages and other relationships, even if we’re not planning an expedition to a frozen wasteland.

You can read more about Bjelke and Shapiro’s adventures here. Image via Cruising World.

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  • Trillia

    This is really fascinating to me, Jason! Thanks for writing. I wonder if our busyness would ever even allow the opportunity for a year alone. Yet, soon, if the Lord allows, we will all be empty-nesters. I think that is a good reason to keep conversation, mutual affection, and even mutual interests alive and well now. (I’m speaking from a 34 year old with two young children). Your article made me want to make sure my husband and I are pouring into each other (which I think we are but there’s always room to grow). Because in the end we will most likely have years and years of time “alone.”

  • Kerri

    One might even say, if you don’t put some of these into practice, you might find yourself *in* a frozen wasteland. :) Good thoughts, Jason. (And a shout out from that beautiful, awe-inspiring place you visited!)