The trials of marriage

Getting old doesn't have many advantages. But sometimes it provides a little insight borne of experience. Once, I came across what was supposed to be a humorous greeting card to be sent to one's spouse.

It read, "Being married to you would be so much more fun if we didn't have to live together." Anyone who has been married for any length of time can, with a wry smile, recognize at least a grain of truth in that statement.

Seriously, it does seem that many young married (and some not so young) people today frequently stress-out emotionally and verbally as they live together, with unfortunate psychological impacts. It can take many forms; but one or both partners continually picking at the others supposed faults or wrestling for dominance does not build a long-term mutually supportive relationship.

Recognition that this core spousal relationship is the foundation of the marriage - of a family and critical for the best nurturing of children - simply gets lost in daily battles over who's right, who's going to be in control, who's more responsible, who's money style will prevail, or which spouse knows what's best for the children.

Winning each encounter whether by righteous stonewalling or a blizzard of hurtful words becomes the goal. Unfortunately winning these skirmishes is the booby prize. The real prize is a relationship that works: Each partner invested in the others' growth and happiness.

The drama plays out all around us. Unions, initially forged with great optimism and affection, too often become weekly if not daily trials to hang on to civility. Efforts to improve the couple's relationship get placed on the back burner after attempts at marriage counseling ended with no progress; perhaps none were tried. After years of "hoping" for relationship improvement, they are now resigned to a marriage without partnership, mutual respect, or intimacy. Being right, trumps mutual growth and happiness.

Those of us with a lot of married experience recognize that living together day after day, year after year, not only has stresses but also can provide enormous benefits and lead to a love and joy that transcends that of even the first days of marriage. To those with less married experience, we would like them to understand that to reach that state in the marriage with those benefits there needs to be continued commitment, acceptance, and a balanced even-keel approach to keeping the core of a marriage, the relationship between the spouses, strong.

Obviously, it is good to say often and spontaneously from the heart that you love your spouse. It is also good practice to know when to say nothing - to edit the unkind thought.

There may be something to be said for the insights old marrieds wish they could impart to those younger. There is certainly also something to be said for acceptance, patience, and calm, caring, solution-oriented, and respectful discourse between spouses. But perhaps that is only to be learned - and relearned - from years of experience.

Richard Scribner lives with his wife in Manchester. They have three children and six grandchildren.


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