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Monday, March 3, 2014

The Tolerable Marriage

Some marriages are great, but some are only tolerable.

And all great marriages are sometimes only tolerable.

If you've been married for more than about two weeks, you will be well aware the marriage is more like a rollercoaster than an endless bounty of joyous epiphanies. There are moments when you look out  from your marriage at a single world you used to inhabit, and, just for a moment, sigh for the things you used to do.

And there are moments when you look inward, at your mate, and wonder, What am I doing here?

This is not a reason to panic. It's normal.

Life is a constant adjustment to changing circumstances, and marriage is a changing circumstance. It takes two people who probably did not know each other for very long and puts them into the most intimate human relationship imaginable, with no way out but the radical surgery of divorce.

(Yes, I know...you've never considered divorce, but have often thought about murder.)

People change during a marriage, sometimes quite quickly, and often neither together, nor to the partner's immediate liking.

A man who was wonderfully laid-back during courtship can become fanatical about exercise when he realizes that his peers are putting on weight and starting to resemble their fathers, and nothing will convince him that there are other ways besides three hours in the gym, every night. (This was me.)

A woman who liked the outdoors and cared little for domestic order can suddenly develop nesting instincts that turn a comfortable house into a place of precious objects and rules, the penalty for the breakage of either being too terrible to contemplate.

A generous mate can become a miser, and a responsible mate, a spendthrift in your eyes.

Sure there are reasons for change, and a lot of digging with the cheerfully expensive help of a therapist can uncover them, but the immediate issue is simple.

How do you cope?

The answer  is simple enough to say, but hard to put into practice.

Focus on core values - You married this person for a reason, and those basic traits are still there. Go back to them, and concentrate on reaching and interacting with them. It's tempting to cry out - "He/She just isn't the same!"

True. They're not the same. Neither are you, but there's a common thread of values that you both carry, and those are what brought you together. They're still there.

Accept the importance of the change - the exercise nut is really frightened, and the domestic dictator's life is spinning out of control. The miser's worried about security, while the spendthrift's trying to buy something that's lacking in life.

Pop psychology answers? Maybe, but the point is that there's something driving changes you don't like, and if you can accept that it might be something important, you'll be better equipped to be loving and supportive.

(And, yes, if the change looks like it involves profound unhappiness or other serious issues, do get counseling, however expen$ive it may be. It's worth it.)

Nobody's perfect - You've changed, too, only you probably don't know it...or think it's for the better.

Don't do anything drastic - There's a saying in NASA - "When in doubt, do nothing." An ill-considered and quick response can be far more damaging than taking the time to sit back and let the situation develop until a good course of action presents itself.

Neil Armstrong was an example of this way of thinking. He was known for savoring decisions until the last minute, and then making the right one. This got him chosen as the first man to walk on the moon, and actually saved the moon landing, when the Lunar Module was seen to be coming down to land in a boulder field rather than the expected smooth ground. He hand-flew it to the end of its fuel, and put it down safely as the engine ran dry.

In your marriage, when you see changes in your partner, they've probably been developing for awhile, so nothing 'quick' you can do will change things. That only works in movies.

Let it develop. Don't make sudden decisions, and for Pete's sake, don't make angry, reactive ones. ("She's at the gym all the time, so I'm going to the bar with the guys!")

Accept seasonality - Probably the hardest thing too do, since we really want the good to stay forever. We want our honeymoons to last the life of the marriage.

But you will have bad days, and bad months, and...yes...bad years.

It's what you do during those times that will make sure that the good times come back.

It's said that trouble came to pass, but nowhere is it written that trouble came to stay.


  1. Oh to be free of tolerable, mundane, rote ... Oh to embrace sparkle, joy, surprise!

    1. The key is to embrace them, I think - to recognize and capture those times, valuing them to the full!

  2. Great encouragement. I must admit coming in I didn't realize the roller coaster aspect. Now I know :) I love the call to accept seasonality... I think that is key.

    1. I didn't recognize it either.

      But I wonder if that seasonality is actually necessary, like a lift hill on a coaster builds potential energy for the fun bits?