Both Ann and I are early risers. Since the first days of our marriage, we have sat most mornings in the darkness before dawn, talking together and enjoying our morning coffee. It’s my favorite part of the day. Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and I have been blessed with a spouse whose conversation I (usually) find interesting.
But last month, that suddenly changed. No longer was Ann the scintillating woman to whom I had been married for over twenty years. Almost overnight, she had become… Boring.
As a rule, our morning “coffee talks” have held my interest. The topics of conversation range from thought-provoking spiritual insights to friendly verbal fencing that leaves us both laughing.
I was worried. Why did my wife suddenly seem so dull?
Secretly I pondered possible causes. Maybe I had fallen victim to a low-grade, sub-symptomatic virus. Could being bored by your loved ones be a symptom of the swine flu? Indeed, a virus would explain the fatigue and irritability I was experiencing throughout my work day, tempering even my usual enthusiasm for practicing medicine. But on the other hand, a virus didn’t seem to fit, because overall I remained fairly healthy. Besides, I had already received my vaccinations.
Then the headaches began. Each time a patient of mine suffers from a new pain, my underlying concern is cancer. Likewise, I worried about myself. Was this the first symptom of a brain tumor? But just as I was entertaining the idea of getting a CAT scan, an even more disturbing diagnosis occurred to me.
Maybe I was having a Midlife Crisis.
A midlife crisis is no laughing matter. I have watched friends and patients suffer through these things, and I’ve read about celebrities’ lives ruined as tabloids expose every last detail of their midlife indiscretions. A midlife crisis seemed an even worse possibility than a brain tumor. When you are confused about yourself, about the meaning of your life, when you have no connection with the higher purpose for your existence, you can make bad decisions that cause a great deal of pain down the road.
I was reasonably certain I was not having an extramarital affair. But Tiger Woods took me by surprise, too, so I guess you never know. I was thinking about checking my cell phone records just to make sure.
But before I did, one last diagnosis occurred to me – a diagnosis that could explain every one of the symptoms I was experiencing. But I just couldn’t imagine Ann would betray me in this way. Sadly, when I confronted her, she had to confess.
Clandestinely, Ann had changed my morning coffee to decaf.
It was an outrage! A tumult of conflicting emotions washed over me: anger, relief, disbelief – and then concern. Is it possible my marital relationship is not based upon love, respect and admiration – but rather on caffeine? Was my wife the source of my morning happiness – or was it Starbucks?
As a physician, I endeavor to be a role model for my patients. I can say with certainty that couples who make time for each other – even if it comes with coffee – grow healthier marriages than those that don’t.
Certainly decaffeinated coffee is healthier for you than the hi-octane I prefer. But the way I see it, divorce is not healthy either – particularly from a loving, supportive – albeit surreptitious – spouse such as mine.
So Ann and I have since compromised on the coffee, now brewing half-caffeinated, half- decaf in the mornings. And even with this diluted morning mix, my marriage has never been better.
I just make sure I drink two cups.
-Dr. Mike Litrel