How Wrestling Is Saving My Marriage

Playful Redhead Pinning Man

It’s hard to not to find the childish amusement in two grown-ups thrashing around like floppy fish. Most times our bout ends with us laughing, sometimes we have sex, and occasionally we take a nap.

“I’m going to wrestle you so hard right now,” my husband Craig says to me.

We’re in the kitchen, making chicken tacos, and I just told him he’s cutting the onion wrong. I’m cranky. I’ve been sleeping terribly, my night terrors rearing their ugly delusional heads. Earlier in the week, I thought a rumpled bathrobe on the floor next to the bed was our 3-year-old daughter Hattie, dead. I got up and screamed. I also punched Craig in the back.

As if he wasn’t already pissed at me, I’ve been letting my clothes pile up all over the house, something he can’t stand. Me, I’m annoyed that he’s been working on the computer long after the workday is over and is quick to lose his patience with Hattie, leaving me to clean up the tearful aftermath. Around the house there’s no shortage of outbursts involving the word “fuck.”

Any chance we have to talk or cuddle or watch a movie together to make up is co-opted by Hattie, who has decided bedtime is the hour to try on every piece of clothing she owns, or by our newborn daughter Marvi, who needs to be at my breast at all times.

So we wrestle.

In the 10 minutes we have before we both pass out and start the parenting-work circus that is our life all over again the next day, we collapse on the bed, our makeshift wrestling ring. It begins gently enough, with some rolling and tousling of the hair, nothing too major, and picks up as our bodies start to feel really good about slamming into one another. He chicken wings me, a move he perfected with his little brother. I knee him close to his crotch. We have no rules; anything goes.

The thing is, I like the wrestling. Maybe even love it.

See, I have a little sister, but growing up we would only fight in the ways that females stereotypically do. Sort of. When we were younger, I’d pull her hair and chase her with a vacuum cleaner, the mere threat of it enough to send her screaming to her room. (A memory my mother never lets me forget even now at 35-years-old.) When we were in our teens, we’d steal each other’s clothes and stay on the one landline phone we all shared way longer than we said, out of spite. In our adult life, it looked more like throwing purses and calling each other every curse word imaginable.

Yet, while those outbursts might have temporarily relieved some frustration, they weren’t enough to let it go.

That’s where wrestling—a sport I knew little about and continue to know little about—comes into play. In those moments when Craig’s pinning me or I’m trying to cheat by nudging him off the bed with my feet, it’s hard to not to find the childish amusement in two grown-ups thrashing around like floppy fish. Most times our bout ends with us laughing, sometimes we have sex, and occasionally we take a nap.

I never win. And I don’t care.

I hesitate to tell people about our wrestling trysts. For one, they take one look at me and don’t believe I’m capable of it. I’m soft spoken. I have freckles. I look like the type of woman who rode horses in her childhood. (I didn’t, as I’ve never really liked animals.) And when they hear I met Craig in the Peace Corps, then it’s really over. The Peace Corps. Surely I’m some calm hippie who eats kale and meditates.

While I do, in fact, love kale, what they don’t know is that there’s a rage I’ve inherited from my Irish, bipolar father hidden deep within me. I’ve been drawn to things I could hit my whole life—a volleyball or drumkit, for example—and have an unabashed crush on JWOWW from Jersey Shore for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to use her fists when necessary. Wrestling lets me safely tap into those primal urges that women have been typically told to reign in. Sit still. Don’t cause a scene. Don’t fight.

This body of mine that has spent hours, days even, pushing out two humans wants another body pressing up against mine that isn’t going to back down. That’s committed to this moment. That’s going to make me twist my limbs and bend my bones in ways I don’t normally do, and come at me hard. I don’t believe in soft. I never have.

On the bed, I thrust my body on top of Craig’s back and have an advantage for a few seconds. Then in an instant he’s twisted himself out from under me and is holding my hands above my head. We stare at each other, breathing heavily. The kids are in a deep sleep. The laundry remains dirty. The anxieties about our careers and creativity are forgotten.

I surrender to the loss of control.

I examine the number of gray hairs in his beard, hairs that have multiplied in the 10 years we’ve been together, and think of the number of gray streaks popping up on my own head. I imagine us old together, and how delicate our wrestling will have to be with our creaky bones and droopy skin.

Then claustrophobia starts to set in. I wiggle free from his grip and tickle him in a moment of weakness. We both laugh and fall into spooning. Match over. His workaholic tendencies will probably annoy me another time, but right now, they don’t seem so irritating.

“I’m sorry about the mess,” I say.

“I’m sorry about working so much,” he says.

Nothing is completely resolved. Not yet, at least. But there’s always tomorrow, when maybe I can get one more half-nelson in.

Celeste Hamilton Dennis is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon with a focus on social good. She’s currently at work on a book of short stories linked by her hometown of Levittown, New York.

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