Over the recent holidays, I got to spend several days in my childhood home. The place still feels like a haven for me. It cradles me. I love its energy, its vibe. Around Christmas, though, that calming influence is mixed with utter pandemonium, as 20+ people, a few dogs, and a cat all share the space every hour of the day. It is a circus. A delightful circus, but still a circus. The tendency is for the days to whirl by in the madness, and suddenly I am in the car again, heading back to the uncertainties of “real” life and away from the place that still fills me with the comfort and security of a child in his parents’ arms.
This time, however, even amidst the chaos, I couldn’t help but pull back a little bit and take stock. I had a few moments—when the decibels were at peak level as all the kids tore into their presents, or as the multiple conversations criss-crossed at the three tables (one for the adults, one for the teens and people like me who don’t want to grow up, and one for the little kids) at Christmas dinner—when I simply sat back and appreciated the overwhelming swirl of Love and community that filled the house. It was truly awesome. I couldn’t help but notice myself mouthing the words “Thank you” as I looked on in wide wonder. I was humbled by the gift of a seat at the table amongst such beautiful souls. What a family!
Of course, when I think about my family and its remarkable run of happy togetherness, the road leads swiftly and certainly to my parents. The part of this trip that made it extra special was that we all got to share in their 50th wedding anniversary. FIFTY YEARS! Even as I write the words, the concept astounds me. Fifty years of marriage. I was patting myself on the back when my wife and I hit twelve years last Summer. I guess we better pack a lunch!
I have spent a lot of time thinking about marriage in the last couple of years. My own, my parents’, and the concept in general. I think about how tough it is to make marriage work, why so many of them fail, and why some people stay in them long after they should probably be gone. I have seriously pondered most of the couples that I know. Gradually, though, as my study has progressed, I have spent more and more time thinking only about my own parents. They have become the example.
For many years in my adulthood, I wondered why in the world they stayed married. I wanted what was best for my Mom, and frankly, I just wasn’t convinced that being married to my Dad was a healthy thing anymore. Alcoholism lays waste to most things in its path. It is clear to me why most relationships with an alcoholic end badly. Some disastrous combination of untruthfulness and hurtfulness wears the other down until there is nothing left but to leave or be lost.
I once asked my Mom if she was thinking about cutting ties and moving on. From her reaction, it was clear that the thought had never even occurred to her. Her only goal was to get my Dad feeling well again. She knew that the magnificent man that she had married when she was only twenty years old was still in there, that he just needed some help to find himself again. And she was darn sure going to be there every step of the way. Encouraging him. Comforting him. Challenging him. Holding his hand. Loving him. And always, always believing in him. In them.
I have to admit that at the time, I just couldn’t see it very clearly. I would have cut and run, not wanting to go down with the ship. I am hypersensitive, so lies and hurtful words and acts turn my heart in a hurry. I was always amazed—but also dismayed–by my mother’s capacity for patience and forgiveness. There were definitely moments that I wanted her to stand up and shout, “ENOUGH!!!” And I thought less of her for not doing so.
I see it differently now.
As I said, I have been thinking pretty hard about this lately. I think about my parents at that time and how miserable it seemed from my view on the outside. And then I think about them now and how happy and in love they seem, so grateful to be growing old together. I realize now that I was wrong and my Mom was right. She took a lot more than I could take, and a lot more than I wanted her to take. But in her seemingly unending love and patience—and more importantly than that, in her unyielding belief in her husband and in her commitment to him—she was able to weather the storm and carry them back onto the road, where they now walk hand-in-hand to their Happily Ever After.
There are a couple of things I take heart in when I think about their long journey, and in particular about the storm. First, even though I am sure she would do a few things differently, I am even more sure that she would carry his burdens again if need be, and that her belief in him and commitment to him would never falter. And second, I know he would do the same for her.
This is how a marriage works.
I am thankful every day that I was born to these two amazing people. I am thankful for the way they raised me, the love and self-confidence that they instilled in me. I am thankful for the way they have supported me and my siblings as we have endeavored to live meaningful lives and build families around their model. I am thankful that my kids get to love them and learn from them. And I am thankful that, amidst all of my ponderings of the difficulties of marriage and the many ways that marriages fail, I have a shining example of how marriage succeeds, of how marriage is meant to be. I only hope that I can follow their lead.
How about you? Who are your greatest relationship role models? Open up your journal and examine what it is about the couples you know who are doing it right. What characteristics do they have that makes their relationships work? Do both parties have that characteristic equally, or one more than the other? Do their personalities and skill-sets complement each other? What makes some relationships last where others fail? Is it the depth of commitment each person makes? It seems that people in my parents’ generation felt more of a moral obligation to marry for life than is expected in the current generation. While you can definitely argue that that doomed many people to remain in unhappy relationships, what do you see as the upside of that moral obligation? Is my mother’s resilience and willingness to weather the storm a byproduct of such a morality? Do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing? If you are married now, how confident are you that you will make it to the end of your lives together? If you aren’t married, does the poor success rate of marriages make you more hesitant to marry, or does that awareness not play a role in your confidence? How happily were/are your parents together? Are they a good role model for you in the marriage department? What about their relationship do you most want to avoid? What do you most want to emulate? Do you expect to live happily ever after with someone? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would people say about your relationship 50 years from now?
Let Love Rule,
P.S. If this made you think about your life, pass it on. Let’s build a community of self-aware people!