Archive for February 10th, 2006

February 10, 2006

Much more than love to sustain a marriage

by Rod Smith

I do not “knock” divorce. I advocate clearer, healthier relationships. Much pain might be avoided if people were not so convinced that “all you need is love.” There is much to be said for intensive marriage preparation that most couples enter with the eagerness of a visit to the dentist.

Can you know someone is the “right one”? Probably not. I don’t believe even God would make this choice crystal clear. Divine leading would remove necessary development of faith in each other and obviate the need for strong negotiation skills. Note I have said nothing about love. Every couple that believes “love alone” will sustain them is in for a rude awakening. Every divorced couple claimed love for each other when they got married. It takes more than love to make a meaningful life together.

When couples answer questions like: “Does your relationship have what it takes to survive?” and “Can you admit you might become a divorce statistic?” they are demonstrating the kind of courage needed to stay married. Such questions seem absurd to couples “in love.” It feels disloyal, negative. I known engaged couples would rather have set fire to my office than believe their up-and-coming marriage had as much potential as any not to work. Planning a wedding itself changes the dynamics of the relationship. People are hardly “themselves,” engagement makes them “crazy” magnifying the good and blinding them from the “bad.” The expense alone, in fact a cheap set of wedding invitations or a down payment on a photographer, are enough to keep an anxious couple from expressing doubts about a decision to marry.

All marriages are tribal warfare to some degree to birth a new family. Family history powerfully influences marriages and will not be silent for long. It does not take too long before people are fighting yesterday’s battles, today, with the “wrong” person. Believing the “past is the past” without trying to understand it is naïve, and likely to facilitate the worst of the past repeating itself. History is uncanny in this matter; it refuses denial. It shows up, uninvited, in the present. Knowing and understanding what has occurred within the last three generations of each tribe is more important than being in love.

I have met many couples that are “happily” married and it is common to find that she (sometimes he) no longer exists. She’s physically present, but the woman has escaped her body. He has an empty shell at his side. She is dreamless, without ambition. She has sacrificed it all so “he can be all he can be.” Give me a break! This is not marriage – it’s abduction! I have much deeper respect for couples that who have developed their individual lives and achieved their shared ambitions.

While love is important “honesty with kindness” is probably as useful. People get derailed because they sacrifice telling the truth for saying what they believe the other person wants to hear. Clearly, it is better to tell the truth and risk losing a relationship, rather this than face the disappointment and the sadness that comes with battling over these things later. If a prospective spouse cannot cope with the truth it is unlikely he’ll “cope” with you once married.

I believe couples should not give in to each other so readily. This is not love. It’s stupidity. A couple that can negotiate without backing down, find a mutually acceptable position so that each person can grow, sits on a marriage with wall-socket potential. Perhaps you are prepared “to die” for him. It sounds so loving but it is not very realistic. Rather, I suggest, develop a relationship where each of you can truly live. If your fiancé is already threatened by who you are then the future is quite bleak. No marriage is strong enough to remove a partner’s insecurities. It is possible for both people to have a voice, for mutuality to reign, and respect for each other to be a deeply held value.