This is an excerpt from a book about marriage. No editing yet so I’d appreciate your kind critique, suggestions and praise. Oh how I love praise.
You know what sounds ass backwards, a bunch of drunks hanging out to help each other stay sober. But it works. Alcoholics get together, some having been sober for 4 hours, some 40 years, but they get together. They stand up and tell their stories. They say their name. They say how long they’ve been dry and then people clap. It’s called a support group, a family, finding sojourners. It works because everyone who stands up is screwed up and everyone sitting down is screwed up. They all have a major thing in common, they can’t fix themselves. So they show up, stand up, clap, nod their heads in empathy and agreement. They whisper “Yes” and “hmm” in agreement. They know each other because they’ve all fallen into the same hole. They’ve each chosen a bad road. They meet in sobriety but they connect in drunkenness. Their weakness connects them and their shared desire for sobriety emboldens their allegiance.
“How’s your marriage?” Put that in the “Things you don’t hear over lunch” category.
My wife and I have these friends that don’t fight much. Totally pisses me off. They’re like, “Yeah, we just don’t have that much conflict. When I heard that my first thought was, “You want some of mine?” The reason it really bothered me is that I immediately felt distant from them. Humans can connect in our strengths. There are clubs for smart people, fast people, attractive people, rich people. God bless them. Those are small clubs though. You want a big club? Join Alcoholics Anonymous. You want to join a club, join mine. Join the “Am I the only one who thinks marriage is a lot more *%($ing work than I thought it would be.” Ask me 99 days out of 100 if I have a great marriage and I’ll say yes. I’m not tempted to cheat on my wife. I have great kids. We just got a sweet eight year old minivan that rides like a dream for $4,400. My life is pretty rockin’ but my marriage is hard. It’s hard like finals week is hard. It’s hard because it’s not easy stuff. It’s not easy spending time with someone because they see what a jerk you can be and you see how annoying they can be (or at least you let them annoy you, which really isn’t their fault it is?).
One of my favorite things to ask a worker when I’m a customer is, “How are you today?” If they say something negative I say, “Well at least you’re getting paid right?” I’m annoying optimistic. My point is not to tell them to be happy because they’re making $8 an hour. The point is to focus on the good in the midst of the work. Marriage is the same way. It’s work. If you don’t expect it to be work then don’t sign up for the job. But if it is work, and it will be, then don’t be surprised and remember that you can focus on the positive part of the job. There are benefits to marriage and work is part of the job.
If your picture of marriage is unrealistic it’s probably because you watch too much television and believe what you’re watching or the people in your life haven’t been honest with you. Sounds harsh doesn’t it? Imagine if you were a war veteran and you found out that a friend was just called into active duty. He’s getting a pay raise because of it (benefits increase) and he’s excited to fight for someone. Do you tell him congratulations or do you sit him down and try to prepare him for the reality of the inevitable battle? Andy, are you saying marriage is like war? Is your marriage that bad? Yes, marriage can be like war and no my marriage is not bad, but it is a battle. I’m not always fighting against my wife though. I’m fighting against my own selfishness most of the time. I’m battling my impatience, my laziness…I could go on. The veteran tells the rookie the truth because he cares about the other guy. It’s irresponsible to only talk about the positives in marriage (or war). Your best friend tells you the most truth.
A few weeks ago a woman in our small group at church talked about how she watched a lot of television. I turned to her and asked, “Do you want to watch less?” She didn’t ask for advice on her television habits but the way she said it carried a tone of “I shouldn’t be doing this so much.” My question was a door for her to walk through. It was an opportunity to walk a new way. She didn’t take it.
The reason you should talk to people who are married and people who are considering getting married about the difficulties of marriage is that they need you to open the door. They need someone to tell them what’s behind every door. They need to hear the truth so they can be prepared for it. Like a soldier going to war, there can be victory but only through preparation. Preparation means talking about the enemy, who is often yourself, sometimes the world around you and rarely your spouse. You talk about the difficulties because you care. You talk about the hard things because they’re as real as the wedding dress, the rings, the vows, the marriage license and the first morning of waking up next to your forever lover.
Is that impolite? What’s polite? Letting someone go into a situation unprepared? It is polite to let someone live ignorant of reality? Ignorance is not bliss, it’s stupidity that never even had a chance. If you know then you must tell. I’ve been married all of six years. My kids are so young they don’t wipe their own butts yet. There are people who know more than me. So why am I qualified to give advice on marriage? What good is knowledge if its never shared? What good is wisdom inside a heart instead of on our lips? Most of us are wisdom fat and action anorexic. There aren’t too many people sharing their stories. Encouragement and empathy are in short supply and if you’ve got experience then I’m asking you to share them with anyone who will listen and could use the help. That’s all I’m doing. There are better writers, Lord almighty there are better writers. There are people who have studied marriage. There are people with degrees, tens of thousands of hours of counseling couples and profound wisdom about this subject. Then there’s me. Then there’s you. We’ve got something to share too. This isn’t about comparing you and I to the experts. Stop looking up and start looking next to you. Look next to the guy at the office. Look next to you at church and ask yourself, “What would happen if I asked her how her marriage is?” If you’re scared then just keep reading and maybe you’ll become brave. I’ll go first. Then you can follow. We’ve got to “go there”. We’ve got to talk about marriage in an honest way.