Marriage Gets and Gives, Part 1

Come Sit Beside Me on My Mourning Bench – Leading Captivity Captive

“If I get married, I want to be very married.” ― Audrey Hepburn

The other day I was sitting outside in the rain waiting for an Uber to take me home. For the first time ever I realized that no one on the planet knew where I was or where I was going. I really was living more detached than I ever have. Throughout my life, I never had to think like this.

I teach classes about family relationships, how they work and what they look like these days. I gave a talk a about a month ago to a senior adult group about some of the stark numbers related to the family situation here in American. It was a very depressing presentation. You should have seen everyone’s face as I went on and on. I’m certain I won’t be asked back.

People today put off getting married until much later. They probably do this for many reasons. These days, most people decide to live together for a short period of time before they tie their knots. Five years, on average. There are a number of explanations for this new phenomenon. Not wanting to try to forge a meaningful relationship probably isn’t one of them.

A friend just told me she was celebrating 40 years of marriage. As I was thinking about two people living together for most of their adult lives, I realized that there are several shared experiences that may, over time, just get taken for granted. We wake up one day and come to believe this is just the way life has always been for us – but it’s a creation of two people who have given and taken to build a joint project called life together.

Here are two important shared experiences. I’ve got two more in a second post next week.

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“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” ― Jonathan Franzen

Once you’ve been married for a good long while, you realize that there isn’t going to ever be anyone else who is will truly be able to empathize with you in the same way. No one else is going to “get you.” Think about it:

  • A look across the room
  • Laughing at the unspoken joke
  • Hearing their voice in your ear when your alone

An empathetic relationship takes time. It grows like the plants in your back garden. It can’t be overshadowed with fear or reservation. You’ve got to learn to be yourself and grow together, and let your partner have space to grow as well. That’s always easier said than done.

“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”  ― Dave Meurer

Sure, you know of people who’ve jumped ship, trying to search for that perfect dance partner who will deeply understand. Typically, these don’t last. This kind of person is still in love with himself. A truly shared life produces real empathy. Research tells us that there are three important components of empathy:

  1. Real feelings – we need to share our hearts with each other. Sometimes men and women experience roadblocks when it comes to expressing and understanding each other. It takes effort and humility.
  2. Real knowledge – this one is simple. If you’re not communicating nor spending time time with each other, it’s almost impossible to empathize. We just won’t know what’s really going on.
  3. Real concern – this is easiest for couples, because love has drawn them together and kept them connected.

If you’re not feeling enough, that means you’re not sharing enough. Come out of your hiding places more often. Some people can’t take that risk, or at least it’s so much more difficult. Over time, partners learn how to understand this and with patience, love and deep understanding slowly dance in rhythm.

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

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My first anecdote about waiting for the ride reminded me about being married and always having someone tracking my movements. Sometimes this drove me crazy. I felt like I wanted to live like a spy sometimes and go underground. Very silly. In hindsight I now see how valuable it was to have someone in the world out there who knew where I was, and visa versa. That balloon is no fun at all if it comes loose from my hand and gets pulled off into the clouds. It’s meant to be held. In our relationships we are meant to be connected to others. Literally as well as figuratively.

These days, when I get up on the ladder to change the light bulbs in the kitchen, I have to call someone in case I don’t come down the right way. Before, there was someone there that knew where I was and was not supposed to be. Like it or not, at the time, being connected was a lifesaving constant way of life. Couples can’t help but take each other for granted. What we talk about is when that person is late,  missing, or somewhere else and we don’t know why.  I don’t mean to infer any sort of insecurity in the relationship here, just that feeling that something essential to yourself is not where it should be.

“He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began.”  ― Leo Tolstoy


More to come in the next post…

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