Community//

Truths About Marriage

interviews on a questionable oath

Yesterday, while on a beach with my boyfriend and 3 year old daughter, an older man and woman walked hand in hand in front of and sat down beside us. He knelt down on one knee, opened a tiny red and black velvet box into her lap and asked her to marry him. Then followed the requisite celebratory applause from anyone within line of sight.

A sucker punch knee-jerk feeling left me simultaneously overjoyed for them at this monumental ritualistic gesture and also forlornly broken that I was not part of that which justifies so much of our searching.

We all know the stats on marriage. We know that love and commitment come from a place not warranted by government or parties, yet still we are swept away by the fairy tale. Brutus, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, won’t swear an oath because he believes that if you must swear an oath, the pact is not firm enough in your heart. Yet it’s the oath makes us longingly swoon.

People swear oaths for all kinds of reasons, and they don’t always last, often they don’t. But even in this couples’ older age, the magic and mystery of marriage was still alive in their hearts, and in the air around them, as I felt it too.

Why do we marry each other when we can still love each other in earnest without the party or the papers?

I asked some people some honest to goodness questions about marriage, and they were lovely and open enough to share what their experiences.

What’s a big misconception about the dream of marriage?

That you will always continue to be flooded with hormones and that your spouse will have your health and happiness a top priority.

What’s the unsung hero of marriage?

Communication.

What are your ingredients for a healthy marriage?

Tolerance, compassion, generosity, sharing, and many supportive friends.

What has marriage taught you about yourself?

That I have grown to have become determined, kind, strong, flexible, and resilient.

What has marriage taught you about love?

That you like an individual BECAUSE, and you love an individual ALTHOUGH.

What advice would you go back and give yourself at the start?

To remember that marriage should be a partnership. Don’t think that you have to postpone or give up your own priorities in order to be a good spouse. It should be a give and take partnership where strong commitment to each other and good communication give both partners the flexibility to support their spouse while feeling able to achieve most of their own aspirations, too.

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What’s a big misconception about the dream of marriage?

I think that some women, and some men feel that after they get married, love and understanding will be available 24/7. People get busy, they get frustrated, and even mad at each other sometimes, and fall in and out of love. That’s when you need to take a break from each other, to regroup, and notice that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s true. At least for us it’s true. How would your life be if the other person was not there any longer?

What’s the unsung hero of marriage?

It’s the little daily things, like making her coffee, making her sack lunch, having things ready; laundry, dishes, tank full of gas. A constant pleasant attitude goes a long way, letting the little things go, a loving touch, a smile from across the room, a compliment for a job well done, even if it really isn’t anything that special. It took effort on his part, and by acknowledging that you notice, it says, “I appreciate you”. Saying how well the lawn looks after he’s mowed, showing how proud you are of him and his accomplishments by telling your friends and neighbors. If she drops and breaks something, I always say, “I’ll clean it up”, and I do because it takes him right out of the way, which can lead to anger. He helps me and I help him.

What are your ingredients for a healthy marriage?

Being trustworthy and someone to rely on is so very important. By letting the other person have interests that you don’t have, you can grow in your own direction and they can grow in theirs’, too. We each need to support the other.

What has marriage taught you about yourself?

It has taught me that I am more balanced when I am married. I like to be in a solid, loving relationship and have long term goals.

What has marriage taught you about love?

Love gets sweeter as you get older. It’s so nice to be committed to one person, someone you are always proud of and want to introduce to your friends and co-workers.

What advice would you go back and give yourself at the start?

I would look for an occupation that would allow me to have more financial independence and a pension for old age. Money makes life and love easier. Being financially dependent on your husband can lead to overwhelm.

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What’s a big misconception about the dream of marriage?

Biggest misconception may be that love, unconditional love, is all that is needed. I read somewhere that, married love is among the most conditional of types of love. Taking of vows reinforces this. I don’t look at marriage as the way to achieve my highest selfhood. While the marriage can support that, much of the responsibility for being the best me is my job. Marriage is more about being part of something greater than oneself.

Also, as Edna St. Vincent Mallay said, love is not meat nor drink. Issues arise in marriage that love alone cannot solve.

Marriage is based on creating and maintaining a family, whether it be only the couple, couple plus children or couple plus friends/family. This requires work. While love cements all this, it is not enough on its own. And for a lot of people there will be times when one does not love the spouse. Dedication, perseverance, therapy, patience, kindness and forgiveness, one or more may be needed in those times.

What’s the unsung hero of marriage?

The unsung hero of marriage is the ability to be unselfish, put oneself second before the needs of others. This is actually impossible, but it is a goal. And this does not mean being a doormat and slavishly never meeting one’s own needs, with attendant building resentment. But it does mean not always insisting on one’s own way. It also means trying to step back and view the world through another’s eyes.

At the same time, women need to stay focused on the fact that marriage is not the best system for women. I don’t know what is. Marriage is what we have, and a good marriage is the best system for children.

What are your ingredients for a healthy marriage?

Wit, humor, love, kindness, forgiveness, unselfishness, hard work, perseverance.

What has marriage taught you about yourself?

Marriage has taught me that I am a valuable person with talents that deserve to be taken seriously. It has also taught me that standing up for oneself is half the equation, with the other half being an attempt to see the world through the spouse’s eyes. Finally, it has taught me that I am human, capable of huge and stupid mistakes, but deserving of forgiveness.

What has marriage taught you about love?

Marriage has taught that sometimes acting “as if” when love seems in short supply can lead to deeper love. It has taught me to be open to possibilities I cannot even imagine.

What advice would you go back and give yourself at the start?

Advice to my younger self: you have no idea what you are capable of. Believe and pray…

I have spent a lot of time trying to get these answers, and yet I feel they are totally inadequate. Marriage is not one thing. One of the beauties is that two people have an opportunity to create what works for them. What works one year may not work the next. But the possibility exists to keep creating.

If I could give only one suggestion to those wondering about their marriage it would be to try to be patient and wait before making any big decision.

When my daughter was a teenager we had the usual mother-daughter stresses. After a particularly nasty argument I asked her why she was still willing to go on trip with me. Her response stunned me with its wisdom: Mom, this is temporary. It will pass.

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