This past week we spent time with our daughter and son-in-law and their girls. As frequently happens in our conversations, the topic of marriage; building and having a good one, came up. She said that many look at the relationship they have and comment, but seldom think about the time and energy it takes to be where they are. In other words they work at it. Marriages have higher expectations than ever at any time in history and yet, in our immediate satisfaction and achievement oriented society, we fail to see that marriage, like our jobs and parenting, require time and energy. A marriage cannot grow and help us to be the persons we want to be in a vacuum. Love doesn’t, by itself, conquer all. Love is the decision to enter into a relationship where the needs of the other are put ahead of one’s own. This is difficult for many when their lives are filled with wanting other things such as a fulfilling career, star-studded children, bodies that make others envious, pets that will fill times when one or both of you are alone, and of course the newest need to be connected at all times.
Marriage has changed throughout history. We have the cartoon image of the caveman dragging a woman by the hair off to his cave. Biblically wives are told to be submissive to their husbands. At many times in history, and sometimes still in the present, women were a bargaining point for families. Fathers made economic arrangements by marrying off their daughters to the man with the best dowry. Whether there was any chemistry between the two wasn’t important, as they married for economic gain, to parent children who themselves would contribute to the economic situation and probably, for the men especially, satisfaction in having a sexual relationship at the end of a tiring day.
Television added a lot to the perception of marriage in the fifties when we saw Ozzie and Harriet, Desi and Lucy or Rob and Laura Petri, and of course Jim and Margaret Anderson in Father Knows Best. Both partners went about their business. The husband provided for the family and made most of the decisions. The wife appeared in a dress and an apron, kept the house immaculate, had a wonderful dinner on the table every evening, made sure the husband had his newspaper and perhaps a pipe to smoke. Only on rare occasions did you see difficulties aired between them. There was no hint of a sexual relationship as they most likely slept in twin beds. Did people live like that then? Some did but many didn’t. They looked at that as the ideal but didn’t always achieve it. Much was kept behind the scenes in the average American home. Likely the biggest difference from today is that few thought of ending the marriage. Life was still better for both of them than being separate. Women had finances that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Men had well kept homes and children. For many, their spouse was still someone they could talk to, count on and enjoy a little time together. Few talked about having to work at a marriage relationship.
Much changed with the personal freedom that developed through the sixties and beyond. Woman began to be educated and got well paying jobs. The contraceptive pill meant sex could have a greater role in a relationship without necessarily having children. Families had more than one car so; there wasn’t as great a need to rush home. More and more families had a level of discretionary income. In many love songs and a myriad of relationship movies of the time infatuation became confused with love. Romance abounded everywhere. Working at the marriage relationship became the subject of conversation as divorce became more public and lost some of its stigma, psychologists hit the air waves and groups began to have weekend experiences to help couples learn to communicate. Expectations of the role of marriage began to change. People wanted more personal fulfillment from marriage and looked for a companion to share their lives with in their marriage, and were ready to split when it didn’t happen. And so it continued as the 20th century came to a close.
Where does that leave us today? Marriage no longer is closely ted to financial security or parenting. Women have well paying jobs and many children are parented by one person. It is well-documented that many live together and never marry, or put off marriage until later in life. Those who choose marriage want someone to help them become the best person they can be. Unfortunately, few, as our daughter said, realize that it takes work. Mike shared her dream to get her doctorate. She shares his dream of working in the music industry. While they have two daughters whom they are helping to reach their potential, they realize that they need to take time for themselves, as well whether it is grabbing a glass of wine while the girls are at dance or sneaking a little time together when she gets home from teaching and taking time to talk things through when necessary.
As we reflect back on all of this, Bob didn’t drag Rita off by the hair (actually, for a time, she pursued him), nor were we in an arranged marriage. Rita would be the first to admit that she wasn’t exactly submissive. We did both gain economically by being married. We have a nice home and Rita put meals on the table for many years while Bob brought home a paycheck. We had some wonderful romantic expectations at times. Through most of our years together, even if we didn’t realize it, we worked at our relationship. We knew we had at times to clear the air, to communicate our wants and needs. Time for a little fun was always there even when budgets didn’t allow vacations or expensive dinners out. Being the other’s biggest cheerleader was always there no matter what was on the agenda at the time. While we love our four children and tried to help them be the best persons they could be, we made a point, at least much of the time, to put each other and our marriage first. Likely the biggest thing we did was to both commit to being together forever and being determined to do whatever we would have to do to make that happen.
Just some thoughts on another Wednesday morning! Let us know what you think about your marriage and how you view it and stay together.
Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer:
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetimeis available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.