Marriage Gives and Gets, Part 2

In my first post I wrote about two important relationship experiences that we create together during marriage. One was empathy and the other was keeping track of each other. Here are two other important gives that provide us, over time, with so many more gets than we could imagine.

As you can tell, I’ve been reflecting on marriage. Not just because of the courses I teach but also due to a number of personal experiences, mine and those of others. Marriage and family makes, and for some, breaks us.

“You are not good for your own sake. That probably isn’t even possible. You are good as a courtesy to everyone around you. Keeping a promise or breaking it, telling the truth or lying, matters to those around you. So there is good you can do and always do again. You do not have to believe you are good in order to act well in any specific case. You never lose that option.”  ― Marilynne Robinson

This is tricky, but when we are in a long-term relationship with someone, there is a kind of accountability that develops. I truly believe a lot of this is subterranean. We unconsciously figure out what manners to mind and how to keep one another happy. We negotiate the best game plan for living and if we’re smart, we learn to first figure out how to make our partner happy. Over time we make conscious adjustments and also a great deal of internal shifting that happens as swiftly as paint drying.

Holding one another true to what we each know really matters, our values, beliefs, customs and norms – this keeps us civilized in our own little ways.

For some reason, I can’t seem to forget the dear pastor who was providing us pre-marital counseling. He told us this story about his new bride and her rule about never sitting on the bed once it was made up. He thought it was a strange custom but knew it was important to her, so that’s the way they lived the rest of their lives. I think this was part of his pre-marital counsel because he wanted to communicate that keeping each other happy, no matter how bizarre the expectations, would always be worth it.

I never made the bed during my married years. Who makes the bed in your house? Now that I’m alone, I make it every day, knowing it’s the right thing to do – in my heart being accountable to the memory of my spouse. Aren’t there things you do as a habit just because of the other person in your life? Likewise, aren’t there things you don’t do because that person would let you have it?

Ideas for Alternative Kitchen Tables

“Bravery is listening even when you don’t want to hear it.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

I joke with people these days about what it’s like living alone. If I see something that needs to be picked up, the new normal is, no one else is going to pick it up! When you live with someone else a division of labor of love evolves over the years.

I made sure that before I was married we had a prenuptial agreement that I would never load the dishwasher. It held up, even years later when I messed up every pan in the kitchen cooking for company. But mostly, couples figure out what works and doesn’t over time, as they navigate their shared life down the meandering road. It’s generally not something that can be pre-planned and written up in a contract.

Research tells us that opposites DO NOT attract. People come together and fall in love because they have so much in common. But if you ask couples they will tell you that they were opposites. After many years together, because of this division of labor – people use their selective memory to decide that they must have been attracted due to their evolved complementary relationship. He cooks and she cleans, he puts IKEA together and she cleans up the leftover bits, he rearranges the furniture and she vacuums the floor. Seeing a pattern here?

This kind of labor isn’t just the jobs that need to be done, it’s also what social scientists call “emotional labor.” There are emotional responses that are required from parents of adult children (and grandparents). Now that I’m the only parent and grandparent I feel the duty to play both parts and all the emotional scripts that go with each. I used to be able to sit back and relax while mom did all the mothering – being nosey, interested, expressive, up-to-date, involved, and actively participating. I was always very much in the backseat, ready to change any flats or provide the urgent directions when needed. What was I thinking? 

Adorable Clip Shows Grandpa Carry Little Girl in Bucket on Shopping Trip

I’m not always comfortable playing both parts – but it must be done for the good of all parties and the success of the family. It’s good for me too. The division of labor, to work well, must be oriented around our love for others – never about what’s best for me. That always poisons the soul.

“They never fail who die in a great cause.” ― George Gordon Byron

So, that’s what I think marriage is about when all is said and done. It’s a series of “gives” and in the long run we end up with a wealth of “gets.”

  • You have become a more empathetic personality because of those closest relationships in your life. You’ve given of yourself and in the long run, you’ve become wealthier
  • Keeping track of each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually is one of the best ways to stay honest and to remain connected to the world.
  • Long and deep relationships create a kind of accountability in each of us. This is one more way that we shed more of our selfishness and internalize civilization.
  • That division of labor that has evolved over time in your relationship has made you into someone more ready and better able to give of yourself to others.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” ― Donald Miller

Sit down and think about this most important relationship

Think about the one’s that were lived out before your eyes.  Be thankful for all that you’re getting. Figure out how to give some more.

293 Young Couple Doing The Dishes Together Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

A View From The Hilltop: Automatic Love

HD wallpaper: man with backpack standing on gray rocky mountain at daytime, man walking on rocky pathway overlooking rocky mountains during daytime | Wallpaper Flare

Loving is something to never take for granted.

There are two distinct memories from my early childhood when my father would make his every other weekend visits. One was being taken to the park to ride on the miniature train. That’s a child’s fun remembrance. The other memory is laying back with him on the hood of the car parked by the side of the road at the airport and watching the planes land (back in the ’60’s, when you could park that close to an airport). How long did a preschooler lay still on a car hood between jets? That’s a memory an adult hangs on to. My very young and probably broke father was trying to find a cheap way to spend time with his son who he knew he had already lost.

“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.” ― Roald Dahl

Most of what comes out of us as adults has been automatically “wired” into us through our early experiences in life. I think it’s impossible to be deliberate in each decision we make about every response, choice and attitude toward others. Patterns get laid down with all our early interactions with parents, teachers and peers. These ways of thinking and feeling help us to unconsciously organize our sense of self. This process works out well for most. Some people can get trapped in patterns that are dysfunctional.

How we go about loving (or not) is mostly automatic. Expressions and experiences are typically not conscious but internalized routines. For me, my early environment was not always one in which learning how to love was automatically normalized for everyone involved. As I look back, maybe it was a foreign concept?  As an adult, I haven’t been very successful at doing what comes natural (“nurtural”) for most people concerning loving relationships. Instead, I have had to try and be much more conscious and work on it – a lot of trial and error (mostly error). Usually learning about it academically and watching others.

I’m sitting here right this moment actually looking at a real Rocky Mountain. Surrounded by a breathtaking landscape, it makes me wonder about the things I’ve missed because I just wasn’t looking. Or just didn’t know how to feel? The other side of automatic love could be automatic indifference. When people don’t really know how to love other people, and don’t know that they don’t know, life is lived in a gray sort of twilight. Thanksgiving dinner with no side dishes!

Where to get Thanksgiving dinner takeout on the South Shore

All of us have know people who aren’t very good at relationships. Probably because they didn’t get the chance, early on, to have love wired into their thinking and feeling. They just need more time, forgiveness, space and extra syrup on their pancakes. Some people may not understand this about themselves and end up living unloved lives because they don’t know how to do anything else. I hope you can find within yourself the abundance to keep loving, in demonstrative ways, someone like this in your life. They mostly don’t know how bad they need it.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” ― Amy Carmichael

From up here on the hilltop at this point in my life, I see the reason love was so hard to find and then give. Because it wasn’t automatic. These days, due to circumstances, I’ve made a promise to love my children and grandchildren twice as hard. That’s a task and treat. But I know it’s even twice as hard for someone like me, who needs to be rewired. This project will go on and on in me, like searching for the Holy Grail, but I deeply know it’s worth every step in the right direction.

“I no longer believe love works like a fairy tale but like farming. Most of it is just getting up early and tilling the soil and then praying for rain. But if we do the work, we just might wake up one day to find an endless field of crops rolling into the horizon. In my opinion, that’s even better than a miracle. I’d rather earn the money than win the lottery because there’s no joy in a reward unless it comes at the end of a story.”  ― Donald Miller