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There’s this woman I’ve been seeing off and on for the past 16 years, and last weekend I shacked up with her. Doesn’t that sound exciting? In fact I’ve been married to her for 14 of those years. The “off and on” part speaks to our work and travel schedules as opposed to the relationship itself, which has been solidly “on” since we said “I do.”

As any long-term pair can testify, “on” does not always mean “red-hot smooth auto-pilot love cruise,” which is where the shack comes in. It’s a smallish structure owned by friends in the northwoods. I was hiding out there in an attempt to hit some deadlines. The tiny house is remote and nestled amongst oaks, but does have electricity and cable TV in case you might want to pull a Walden but still catch the hockey playoffs.

I was set for a solo session when the weather changed. Snow, specifically, and what else would you expect in this our winter of busted records, shovel handles, and spirits? (Should you insist on noting it has “technically” been spring for over a month now, we will whack you with ice scrapers, roll you in our few remaining crumbs of rock salt, and bury you beneath the drift still visible on the far side of the pole barn.) This meteorology precipitated a cancellation that freed my wife from a previous commitment and she was able to join me for the weekend.

She brought work with her and we spent much of the time in separate spaces and separate endeavors. If that violates the Marriage Encounter Handbook, so goes self-employment. That said, we did sit face-to-face at a tiny table in the tiny house for meals and set aside a scheduled 1.5 hours each day for State of the Family discussions with an eye toward a Five Year Plan. Put that in a bouquet and lay it on your heart-shaped bedspread.

The concept of a Five Year Plan is rendered both essential and laughable in light of the State of Any Given Current School Morning, but if you can’t impose your will on life you can at least nudge it, and putting things down on paper helps with context and reframing and momentum and priorities and now you’re back at your Marriage Encounter. Privacy and respect prevent me over-divulging; let’s just say there was at least one Ceremonial Sharing of Shortcomings Session, but we also worked on holding hands.

I take nothing for granted, least of all our marriage. I am a fool, but not that thick a fool. You do the work, you hope for the best, you remain open to change. And on the last night of the shack-up, you maybe skip the hockey and instead watch “When Harry Met Sally,” which is not our story, but contains plenty of lines that put you in a “compare and contrast” state of mind, not the worst exercise as you sit quietly on the couch beside someone for going on your 17th year.

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An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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