Friday, December 17, 2010

Marriage Symposium - Dan

Please welcome Guest Blogger Dan...

On Marriage

Let’s face facts. There are marriages that fail because they never should have been in the first place. And there are those that fail because something has happened that makes the relationship untenable. Either way, some marriages are doomed from the start. The question is, how can those doomed relationships be avoided and how can successful unions remain so?

My guess is that if partners in a thousand long and successful marriages were asked what the secret is to a long and successful marriage, two thousand different answers would be forthcoming. I suppose one would hear responses ranging from love and devotion to stubbornness and a refusal to accept failure. My wife and I have been married over 43 years. When we married, I was 25 and she was 22. So she has spent almost twice as much time with me than without me. We joke about it, but we agree that it is difficult to remember any time that we weren’t together. As for the secret – well I can only guess. And certainly, I can only guess about my own experience and no one else’s.

So, for what it is worth, here are my guesses. First is luck. We were lucky to find each other. Obviously, with billions of people in the world, there are lots of potential matches that would be successful. So, why this one? Well, we were cautious. We learned over months of courtship that we had a lot in common and neither of us found anything in the other’s behavior or attitudes that gave us a headache or cause for concern. To this day, I believe my wife is my best friend and I think she feels the same about me. Without common values, attitudes, beliefs, interests and judgments, it is hard to imagine a couple being best friends for very long. And, we have never tried to change each other’s characteristics. So, as I said, we were each lucky to find a partner with almost everything in common.

Second, has to be respect. If we didn’t respect each other, how could we ever love each other? And respect implies lots of things. Sure, we’ve had disagreements and maybe even a real argument or two. But, given a few minutes of reflection, we realized that we respected each other too much to allow anything to hurt the other. Maybe a great deal of respect is compassion. But whatever it is, I wouldn’t hurt her for anything on earth and I think she feels the same about me. There is a lot of give and take in a marriage. I often think, I’d like to have my way, but is it worth winning a point or forcing and issue if it threatens a relationship? Sometimes I have said some stupid things and maybe some hurtful things – we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t wish we could retract something stupid that came out of our mouths. But, having enough respect to recognize that and correct it and do all you can to prevent it ever happening again, is paramount in a relationship.

Third, is responsibility. A wedding vow is an oath. Whether it is a civil marriage where the oath is given before a witness or a religious oath that is given before God, it is still and oath. And are we responsible enough to take it seriously? Marriage is not a test drive or a rehearsal. It is the real deal - especially if children are contemplated. If you are not ready to assume adult responsibility for your actions, then don’t do it. Some people say they are ready, but their behavior says otherwise. Being responsible means many things. Some of what it means to me is accepting the psychological burden, the emotional burden, the social burden, the physical burden and perhaps often shoved in the background, the financial burden. Trying to carry a burden that is too great, can lead to stresses that will eventually lead to failure. So, my feeling is to be responsible enough to look soberly at reality. Are we prepared to face these burdens together? Forever!

Fourth, is hard work. If we really value something, we will work hard for it. A marriage may not be a tangible entity, but it certainly should be considered something of immense value. I have often considered our marriage a work in progress. It is the canvas of our lives that will never be quite finished. It will always demand my attention to keep making it better. Maybe some of the colors didn’t turn out as vibrant as I wished, and maybe some of the shapes aren’t as perfect as I would like, but it is our canvas and I will continue to due do my part to be sure it is as good we can make it. And that can be hard work. It cannot be taken for granted. It needs constant attention and constant devotion. Sometimes all it needs is a lot of thought and other times it needs a little touch up here and there to keep it interesting. And above all, I want our canvas to be pleasant to look at. It should reflect overall satisfaction and evoke warm feelings when contemplated. Being pleasant is not always easy, but I believe we reap what we sow and pleasant behavior today will beget pleasant memories.

Fifth, is a sense of humor. I know that life is a one way-street, that sometimes seems to have too many bumps and potholes, but the trip can and should be as enjoyable as we can make it. If we can’t laugh at our foibles and smile when challenged, we are missing something really important. As partners, my wife and I do a lot of teasing and look for fun things to do together. I realize that life can’t always be one joyful experience after another, but I try to challenge myself to seek new experiences that bring joy to us. Learning and growing should be fun. Even on a limited budget, we can still find libraries with wonderful books to open our eyes to new adventures. It’s not hard to find enjoyment in everyday life. It’s achieved with a sense of humor and a positive attitude.

Now, you’re probably wondering when, if ever, I’m going to mention love. Well, there may be such a thing as love at first sight, but I am more inclined to believe that love grows slowly and needs to be nurtured to fully bloom. If the above five ideas or guesses are there, then love has a chance. In our case, I think our love grows stronger every day because we have these five things in common. In other words, if you are lucky enough to find someone, who shares your interests, your values and your respect, your sense of responsibility, is willing to work hard to make the relationship enjoyable and has a sense of humor, you have a great chance of developing a life long love affair. There will be highs and lows, there will be challenges and disappointments, but if the foundation is there, the structure will weather the storms.

And one last thought about relationships. There are people who start projects, but never finish them. I avoid those people. They are quitters who clutter their lives with unnecessary baggage. I want to be around people who take pride in what they do and finish their projects, however humble they may be. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you enter into life’s major project – marriage and pro-creation, then do so with the commitment to see it through. Don’t be a quitter who runs away when the going gets tough. That kind of behavior is not fair to you, your spouse and especially your children. Choose your canvas carefully and then take pride in maintaining it.

- Dan

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