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Going Tandem: Harmony in Marriage

Going Tandem: Harmony in Marriage

The cool morning air brushes my bare legs as I snap the last paddle together. The mist makes its final ascent as the sun warms the air. Other than a few shore birds and a lone fisherman, the waterfront is quiet. My husband, John makes his way down the rocky embankment and sets the tandem kayak into the still water. He settles into the rear seat while I take the front.

We heard about the difficulties of paddling a tandem kayak—also nicknamed a divorce boat. Despite the warnings and fear of clacking paddles, we decided to give it a try.

I grip the cool paddle, feeling the resistance as it cuts through the water’s surface. I set the pace; we are in sync, harmonizing our paddles, keeping perfect time. The azure sky is a beautiful contrast to the jade-green tree line. Clouds billow and tumble along as if to say, ‘follow me’. We paddle in anticipation.

Going tandem requires cooperation. Tom Holtey says in his article on tandem kayaking, “…being patient with your partner, and communicating are the keys to a successful and enjoyable paddling experience.”

When paddling tandem, the power of moving forward is multiplied, resulting in more speed, less effort, pure joy. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Like being married—it may look easy to an outsider, but those in the trenches can attest to the energy and hard work required. Marriage, like tandem kayaking, assumes that you are going in the same direction, working together and have the same goals. Trust is essential as you listen and yield to one another. In the front seat of the kayak, I can’t see behind me. And, while in the rear seat, John can’t see beyond me. So we need to communicate clearly as we paddle together.

“The water is rushing fast.” I say, turning my head so he can hear me. “There is a tree down on one side and rocks on the other.”

The rushing current demands careful maneuvering as I yield to John’s experience—“Stop paddling…paddle steady…hard on the right.” Working together we make it through the swirling current to the calm water on the other side.

Going tandem is a depiction of our relationship. We’ve been married for thirty-one years and have gone through many rough waters together. Similar to our kayaking, we have needed to learn to yield to one another—to match pace as we have dealt differently with life’s challenges.  

There was a time when we faced a churning current. John’s idea for a home business ramped up quicker than he anticipated and one day I uttered the fateful words, “Can I help you?” What followed was the toughest time in our married life because as I see it now, we were clacking paddles. Suddenly, we were toe to toe with battle lines drawn; our hardened hearts seeing no further than our own hurts and desires. John was working a full-time job in addition to the mounting work at home. I could only see myself—drowning in my to-do list. I was busy with three teenagers, transitioning them into school, taxiing them to and from activities, and running a household.  Stress mounted when I added the business demands; I couldn’t keep my head above water. I was physically and emotionally exhausted until one day I couldn’t do the next thing. When I told John I couldn’t continue the pace, his voice rose along with his frustration. He couldn’t do it without me. I tried to communicate where I was emotionally but in his panic he couldn’t empathize or communicate in return. We needed to see the other’s point of view but we just couldn’t get to a place of objectivity.

Through the help of our pastor we began to untangle the issues dividing us. He seemed to understand my need to care for my home and family first. As I followed his suggestion I began to take charge of my daily routine. I did what I could during the day and then John and I would work together in the evening to get packages ready to ship. It was hard on John after working all day. But, I felt I had the help I needed, not doing it all alone.

Working together also helped me—as a people person. While being home all day alone would be a perfect fit for John as an introvert, I was withering from lack of interaction. After awhile we decided to hire a girl to help in the mornings. That freed both of us and gave us our evenings back. It also provided me the people contact I craved.

After awhile, we were able to understand the differences in the way we work—his needs, my needs and how to make allowances for them in the course of a tyrannical business paradigm. I wanted boundaries on our family time while John wanted to set aside for our retirement. The balance was a continuous struggle for us but we had reached a place of inner calm because of our understanding of one another.


As I sip cool water from my water bottle, we enter a sanctuary—a narrow inlet that opens into a secluded pool. Cardinals skip from branch to branch on the shore. The sweet smell of something blooming fills the air. Off the beaten track, I get anxious—I am a little claustrophobic. But John is in his element. He loves to explore—I like it safe. He sits on his life preserver. I wear mine at all times. But together I can be brave enough to go into uncharted places. Together we are one, paddling and taking in what nature has to offer.

As we break out into the open, we decide to relax and eat our snack. I lean back in my seat, drape my legs over the bow and watch animated clouds skip by. John begins to paddle as I lounge; it feels good to rest.

Our relationship has grown through learning how to complement one another. Marriage, like tandem kayaking, it isn’t about having our own way or wielding our own agenda—it’s about submitting to one another as we listen to the ways of navigation that are needed.

When life gets overwhelming we can give one another the freedom to relax. When our spouse’s stress level needs a hiatus, to intervene and encourage them to enjoy the quiet is a gift of love. I feel like John did that for me when it was difficult facing the stress of family and business. I know it wasn’t easy for him, but he yielded to me and allowed me to set the pace just like I do when I paddle in the front seat of our kayak.


Feeling rested, I sit upright and begin to paddle. We work in tandem to enjoy the gift of today, matching strokes, listening well and taking on the adventure together. Going tandem isn’t easy—but the rewards ripple outward and we reap great benefits; together we are one, meeting what life has to offer.

Jeanne Doyon encourages others to love God's Word and to draw nearer to the Lover of their souls. She is a graduate of Christian Communicators. She writes, teaches and is available to speak at your event or writer’s workshop. Jeanne is a contributing author to Fighting Fear: Winning the War At Home, and Kisses of Sunshine for Women as well as and Her articles appear in Evangel, Live, Proverbs 31 and Living Magazine. She shares her reflections on her blog at Email Jeanne at and find out more about her speaking topics at She lives in Connecticut with her husband, John, and they have three grown children who all live too far away.

Publication date: January 16, 2013