Nurturing Fragile Vows (On Marriage)

When you’re 22, what is marriage? What is a set of vows, a union, a sacrament? What is the cloud of souls witnessing your specific affirmation of monogamous love? For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

What is the honeymoon, the union, the sex? When you’re 22, what is any of it but an awkward entry into a commitment you’ll never understand, one that is wholly un-understandable? At 22, who can say what it means to be one? Who understands the fusion of souls?

No one.

This week, almost 18 years into my marriage, I caught wind of a divorce, and another, and another. Two were brought on by infidelity. (Who can blame a spouse for leaving a lover who’s taken another lover?) The other couple went Splitsville over Lord-only-knows-what, though it is said that one lover fell out of love with the other lover. (And yes, love dies on occasion, no matter what the Marriage Gurus tell you. (But know this: Every death is an occasion for resurrection.))

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This is an excerpt from last week's newsletter (sign up HERE to read the entire newsletter), and it was spurred by another round of divorce news. This is how the news of divorce comes--in rounds.

Every time the news of another spate of divorces reaches me, a dark cloud sets in, or maybe my brain feels as if it's melting into existential goo, or perhaps the world seems to spin backward. I'm not really sure how to put it, exactly, but the point is this: [tweetherder]news of divorce makes everything feel so broken[/tweetherder]; it makes me ask too many questions.

What makes my marriage any different?

Is my love impervious?

Do I think I'm any better than Mr. X or Mrs. Y who couldn't seem to muster up enough stick-with-it?

What is marriage stick-with-it, anyway?

Existential marriage questions are worse than existential death questions, which is saying quite a lot coming from an Enneagram 5 with a 4 wing who lives his life squarely in life's existential gap. (This is a thing worse than melancholy, I assure you.)

Who knows all the ways the thread of a marriage can be pulled, the ways it can be unwound? I'm not sure anyone does. What's more, I refuse to explore the multiplicity of ways, because my tolerance for angst and paranoia only stretches so far on a beautiful Ozarkan summer day. But somehow, the simple awareness that marriages are akin to loose-threaded scarves (vows subject to being pulled apart) keeps me attuned to my own pulling penchants, the ways I could unwind everything with a few bad decisions. That attunement--it reminds me that marriages are things to be nurtured, to be repaired when necessary.

I'm inviting you to tune into the fragility of your own vows today, and in that attunement, to consider the ways you might nurture or repair your own union. And for those who lack creativity, perhaps I could offer a few suggestions:

-Confess that thing that's been eating you up and ask for forgiveness;

-Schedule a date;

-Buy your spouse a bouquet of flowers;

-Schedule an appointment with a marriage therapist;

-Write some new vows (consider these by Tim Willard);

-Have a good bedroom romp. (Yes, I wrote that.)

Nurture, repair, nurture, repair--this is the way to cultivate a healthy marriage, I think (though I'm no Marriage Guru). Isn't this the thing you want more than anything? Isn't it worth the effort?

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Marriage Letters: Opposites Attract

Every Monday, Amber and I join Joy and Scott Bennett in writing Marriage Letters.  It is an effort to encourage other married couples to fight the good fight, to do the hard work. Did you write one this week? Visit Amber’s blog to link it. This week's topic--Opposites Attract. ***

Matthew 10:7—For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

Dear Amber,

They say that opposites attract, and in the early days I think that was true.  You were funky, wore vintage clothes, and listened to Seattle rock.  I was straight-laced, wore Polo shirts and Birkenstocks, and listened mostly to Rich Mullins.  You had a deep drawl from the dirty south.  My accent was more neutral.  You wrote poetry.  I wrote economic analyses.  You were bound and determined to burn a slow mysterious wick.  I was bound and determined to percolate.

From the moment we met we stuck like magnets, my negative to your positive.  There was joy in discovery each others’ styles, tastes, and doctrines.  We found a common love in turtle cheesecake, so there was that.  Otherwise, we were an engaged contradiction, a young conundrum.  I think the best things start that way.

But if opposites attract, we’ve found that it is the commonalities that bind.  Over the last 12 years, we’ve learned to dance to the same music.  We’ve hurt together, forgiven each other, healed together, rejoiced together.  We’ve left churches together, found churches together, put down roots.  We’ve made deep and lasting friendships together, found a common love for common people.  We’ve shared love for four babies.  We’ve discovered that everyone (even the Baptists) love good wine.  We’ve both put off old habits, tried to kill the worst of our flesh.  We’ve both found the joy in Come Thou Fount.  We’ve managed to raise common ebenezers.

And through this process, we’ve learned the hard lesson.  We are neither opposite nor similar.  Instead, we are one.  The process wasn’t easy; it wasn’t pain free.  But it has been good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Drinking coffee with you is still the best part of the morning,

Seth