Just what is a lasting marriage? Let's forget all about the concept that marriage is an idyllic romance full of bliss and mutual satisfaction. And, let's forget all about concept that marriage is comprised of lifelong mutual affection and undying devotion between two soul mates. Let's even forget about the concept that marriage is a happy union between two hopeful, devoted people. I want to express what I believe a lasting marriage is all about. A lasting marriage involves facing the unknown and living through its consequences.
In fact, a lasting marriage has no mold. Marriage is flexible to a fault. It comes in so many forms that it defies a singular, concrete definition or a psychological explanation of correct formation. Though much has been written and formulated about the perfect union, I believe none exists. A marriage reminds me of quicksilver: I can't comprehend its beauty or its form.
A lasting marriage means conquering personal regrets and retaining commitment. A marriage contains many times of buyer's remorse when partners sincerely wish they hadn't committed to the union. During these regretful times, spouses become depressed as they realize "they" put "themselves" into the contract. Despite the angry blame and venom they inject into their mates, they are forced to see their own problems as they relate to their own actions. They question vows and phrases such as "for richer or for poorer," "in sickness and in health" as well as "till death do us part." Then, they face the reality of their words: "I do."
Lasting marriage involves vast amounts of reconfiguring personal goals and dreams on the part of both individuals. Somewhere along the line, both spouses begin to realize "nothing is turning out as I planned." The very fact that huge sacrifices must be made to keep two people living together is overwhelming. Whether it be career change, life-style change, or cost-of-living change, the couple is forced to modify their cherished ideals in often uncomfortable compromise. Sometimes, loss of freedom becomes almost unbearable. Realization of reconfiguration usually "smacks" couples in the face and seldom occurs as a little "pinch" of awareness.
Lasting marriage also requires that both spouses accept great changes in their initial expectations of each other. Neither partner can possibly live up to the halcyon image proposed by their mate. The spouse questions living a life with a person who has faults that have lain heretofore undiscovered -- hidden until solemn vows had been spoken. The aggrieved spouse feels cheated and deceived while urging their spouse "to be more attentive" and "to return to their old self." Of course, time carves permanent niches from original human products and relentlessly requires these being accept the natural changes. Ripe, delicious fruits of young love must ferment. Some never survive the process.
In addition, lasting marriage can only occur when a couple rises to meet great challenges that threaten to destroy the relationship. These seem often to come at the most inopportune times. In these challenges, some individual defeats are inevitable. Spouses must weather emotional defeats while suffering pain. (I am not speaking of taking physical abuse. No spouse should stand for physical abuse. I refer to difficult, emotional times here that result from misdeeds, from unkind words, or from unforeseen tragic events.) Even when the damage has been inflicted by the other partner, a spouse committed to a union must grudgingly offers forgiveness. Keeping a scorecard of "tit for tat" and an attitude of "dredging memories of the past" poisons the future of lasting marriages.
The passion of marriage, if not fleeting, rides a downward slope as the union settles. Lines, creases, extra pounds, family demands, and just plain exhaustion eat away at the intensity of romance, sexual encounters, and spontaneity. And, as couples have children, they commit so much time and effort to parenthood that they neglect the spousal time required to keep flames of passion hot. I believe as humans, husbands and wives consider variety and seek added "spice." Both must fulfill passionate requests.
I believe it is impossible to have a lasting marriage without experiencing a stage of rebellion that threatens to topple the kindred kingdom. I see on the surface indications of wedded couples displaying complete satisfaction and total bliss; however, I always question those relationships as they play out behind closed doors. I guess it's the realist in me that disbelieves "Wedded Disneyland." I think I'm saying it's perfectly natural as a married person to say to yourself in a crisis, "I want out." It becomes extremely dangerous and, perhaps, permanently detrimental to the union to inject this opinion into a mate.
How do married couples reach reunion after serious rebellion? I, personally, don't believe Dr. Phil, Dr. Childs, or Pat Robertson can give all couples solid, foolproof advice. Human couples have far too many distinct variables in their relationships to put all ingredients through a psychological or a religious sieve that successfully sorts out their saving graces from their cancers.
I do believe that time and quiet opportunities for personal reflection and growth can lead to reconciliation. Often two combatants are too emotionally charged to sit down and face each other with any useful decorum. In my opinion, whoever said, "Never go to bed angry with each other" is a moron. I cannot count the times I woke up in the morning after an argument with my wife and realized I needed to rethink the entire controversy. I assume she has often done the same. Again, the realization that self-control and self-contentedness remain in the hands of the individual, not in the hands of a spouse, may suggest worthwhile methods of handling anger and discontent.
Then, there's this catchphrase that married couples "need to communicate more." I like the philosophy but question the practicality. Who doesn't need to communicate more with everyone, and who communicates most with those closest to them? I understand some families have these wonderful lines of open communication. I envy those people, and I want things that way myself.
But, speaking from my own experience and from the experience of my wife, spousal communication is often fraught with allegiances to complicated connections and coded in terms of "what you need to understand and what would make you upset." Have you seen the Hyundai Santa Fe commercials of parents doing risky things with their children and telling them afterwards: "Don't tell Mom/Dad"? I associate with these commercials so much.
As my wife and I approach four decades of marriage together, I realize to look back and construct any sensible roadmap of the journey would prove impossible. Two lanes, four lanes, straightaways, curves on gravel, on asphalt, on concrete, and off-road. Steering roads of marriage can often be trial and error. Fender dents and fixable crashes will likely occur.
And the destinations? They would sound like that song "I've Been Everywhere" (and mostly nowhere of consequence) -- "I've been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota. Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama. Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore. Salvador, Amarillo, Tocopilla, Barranquilla and Padilla."
And, like Bono, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Maybe that, more than anything, is the advice I would give to couples vowing to remain married until "death do you part." Just like the pleasures of life, the rewards of marriage are not found in reaching a particular destination and a final, grand achievement but rather they are experienced during the journey, no matter how difficult it may be. I think satisfaction is best taken in small doses along the way, not anticipated in unrealistic expectations of steady administration that are thought to produce total happiness.
Who knows what lies ahead in a marriage? Why wouldn't a couple look for better things? Retracing the past is impossible and predicting the future is too. My body and my mind have changed so much since I married my wife, I couldn't possibly "find" my needs, much less satisfy my wants -- they seem to change rapidly as I age.
I end by admitting this. Yes, I was divorced once myself after a relatively short marriage in my early 20's. I loved and fell out of love. I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing in marriage. I barely had enough experience with relationships to call myself a novice. I regret my mistakes. I hold no ill feelings toward my ex-wife. I would do it all differently if given the chance.
I admit my failure at a marriage because I also believe divorce is a viable option to ending a union. In saying that, I acknowledge the belief that a new start is sometimes the only course of action. Experience is a constant teacher, and an open mind can lead a person to better pastures. I am glad I remarried and cast my fate with another woman. Each day is a new experience that I hope to face successfully.
As far as my commitment to marriage, I live it each day and try to deal with anything that interferes with our union. If it ever becomes unbearable, I will have to face a new decision, but for now, along the way I do not consider each new tribulation of married life a definite means to the end. I realize a lasting marriage requires difficult work. I know my marriage is "my decision." I do not fault anyone else for my life, and certainly not my precious wife.
The Golden Hook
By John Montague
Two fish float: one slowly downstream into the warm currents of the known the other tugging against the stream, disconsolate twin, the golden marriage hook tearing its throat.