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

All in Our Family

How are you staying in touch with your grandchildren during the coronavirus  lockdown?

Maybe the root of so many of our problems is that our families are falling apart?

While our society seemed to be falling to pieces every evening on the television screen, for so many reasons, depending on who you were hearing from, I couldn’t help but think there was a basic cause. For a long time I have looked at the numbers, the outcomes, the long term effects and I honestly think that almost everything that’s wrong with our society right now can be traced back to the fragmentation of our families.

We decided during the decades of revolution (Civil Rights, Sexual, Youth, Women’s) that our own personal happiness was the ultimate goal in life. It’s in the Declaration of Independence, after all! This goal was so much easier to pursue once our economy boomed after WW2 and we could focus our attentions on inner and subjective desires for satisfaction, instead of external and objective standards of success like surviving the winter or having enough to eat.

Fragmented families started to happen because we decided that other people (our spouses and children) weren’t making us happy anymore. Instead of leaning on each other to help and making sacrifices for the sake of someone else, we started looking at our family members as sources of our own happiness. If they dropped the ball, it was time to bail and maybe find a replacement. I need to find someone who will make me happy, not I need to make someone else happy.

Here's The Number One Reason Couples Fight In The Run Up To Christmas |  Her.ie

What do families in America look like today?

During the current quarantine the divorce numbers in America are twice as high as they were a year ago at this time. What’s really discouraging is that newlywed divorce numbers are ALSO twice as high as the were a year ago! Being locked up and facing a seemingly unending crisis together is just too much for many.

People don’t just wake up one day and decide to become self-centered. Our culture is one with an economy that’s oriented around selling more and more stuff. The prevalent hook is guaranteeing happiness – buy this pillow and you’ll get a good night’s sleep, feel rested, refreshed (and so much happier the next day).

There are more couples living together than married. People who live together do so for approximately five years – then they either break up or get married. It’s not a step before marriage, not an alternative. People are afraid of the marriage commitment, of failing at something so important, at not finding happiness.

Right now, less than 20% of households in our country are composed of a married couple and their children. This is true for 86% of African-American children. This practice is setting these children up for an almost impossible future and brings harm to society as a whole.

“Childhood, after all, is the first precious coin that poverty steals from a child.” ― Anthony Horowitz

A majority of children in America will spend part of their growing up years in a single-parent home. On average, children from single-parent homes don’t do as well in almost all measures of life (health, school, social, economic, etc.). Every semester, my student learn this yet the overwhelming majority tell me that if they were in a marriage with children and were not happy they would get divorced. Ending marriages for the sake of personal happiness is today a very strong belief and practice here in America.

Happy Single Mother and Teen Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free)  15559906 | Shutterstock

Even though they are working outside the home in more numbers than ever before – many more in college-prepared careers – (more women attend college than men) women still feel the bulk of the responsibility for home and family work. He’s not really sharing the burden very well.

In times of social conflict why don’t we look at our families as a possible cause?

While families in our society are in collapse, we feel helpless. What can I do to stop the flood from spilling over the levee? All you can really do is to keep loving your own family. Sometimes that means keeping your big mouth shut and just loving people in the middle of their mess. Praying for someone you love is different than talking about them to others. Criticizing never does anything good. 

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

What’s Your New Normal?

Have you heard about what the “New Normal” is going to look like once the current quarantine is lifted? Mostly it seems that our collective focus is on the strategic rearrangements that will have to take place so that we can get back to work, school and leisure as soon as possible. The media is streaming into our homes constantly with information and opinions about how all of this will or won’t work.

  • More online learning and working
  • No more crowded restaurants
  • Empty sports stadiums
  • Temperature checks
  • Less travel

At least for the immediate and unknown future, things will surely be different. Who really knows how permanent some of the changes will be. What about changes that you have decided to make in your own life?

What’s starting to interest me is how this intense period of social isolation has effected all of us, has changed each one of us in subtle ways that we may not have consciously thought enough about.

Certainly we all know that changes in these areas of our life are coming:

Family – you probably know each other at a new level now. Did you make music videos together or find places to hide for each other? Of course, for many, there are the concerns related to extended family members who needed extra help. That’s not going to go away. What’s your plan for the days ahead?

Friendships – who did you keep in contact with during the quarantine and who was too much trouble? Who kept up with you?

Work – we all now know that all those meetings are going to have to change, but what else? The economic hardships are going to cause painful changes and reorganizations for many. What’s going to change about the way you do business with the people you work with?

What’s your normal going to look like when it comes to some of these other pieces of your life?

  1. Your big goals in life – and all the little ones getting you there
  2. What you choose to get mad about – and complain to others about
  3. How you spend your free time (when you had too much!)
  4. What you took for granted about other people – and your relationships
  5. Your every day conversation with God – who’s talking, who’s listening?

This plague that spread across the globe and our response to it stole so much control from our lives. But as we re-establish ourselves in a post-pandemic life we can make choices and be less driven about by circumstances. Raising your self-awareness puts you on the road to higher levels of self-control.

“In a very tragic kind of way, sometimes things have to be gone before I fully realize that they were ever there.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I was pulling out of the driveway the other day, watching my daughter holding my grandson in her arms. For a minute I thought to myself, hang on to him as long as you can. What I wouldn’t give to have one more day to hold you in my arms like that again – and to not take it for granted.

Your new normal ought to be something that you stop taking for granted.

So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.  – Jesus, Matthew 6:34 (The Voice)