for release May 18, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Recipes for Long Marriage: Weathering Bumps Along the Road
"I don't think young married couples know how to weather the ups and downs these days," said an older gentleman whose wife had hurdled more downs with him than I'd frankly care to handle. "You have to give and take in marriage," he went on.
But the point was an excellent one, even if cliché, a truth too many forget. The secret to long-term marriage is making a commitment to live your life with your mate and then hanging in there. I think couples that got married 50 or more years ago, when people really never thought of divorce as an option, got married in an atmosphere or culture where you expected to work things out. Getting rid of your mate would be as severe a choice as getting rid of your children. That is not something you would do unless they were irreparably abusing you. And so couples were more prone to weather the bumps.
This month my husband and I celebrate our silver-25th wedding anniversary. Aside from how ancient that makes me feel (I always thought pictures of 25th anniversary couples in papers looked so old), I hope you'll agree that this is an appropriate occasion to indulge in a little personal reflection on what works for us. This is really scary to write because it makes me feel so vulnerable: none of us have any guarantees as to the future. A disaster could occur that would change our landscape completely but rather than worrying about that, I'll look at disasters we have weathered in the past.
Somehow some of our worst disasters happened while traveling: there is nothing I know of, other than a blizzard, that throws you in confined, sometimes uncomfortable quarters for so long, in unexpected/unplanned conditions as traveling. We were driving to our honeymoon spot when I said something like, "You know there will be times when I just want to be alone, don't you." My poor husband went into shock. Here we were on our honeymoon and he thought I was asking to be let out of the car. In reality, all I was trying to communicate was an awkward version of the old proverb, "Let there be spaces in your togetherness." He is a people person, so he didn't understand where I was coming from at all. In retrospect, we have agreed my timing was rotten but he now understands where I'm coming from. Most of the time.
I remember another trip as we approached an intersection in the road in the middle of the night back when we still young enough to travel all night to get to my parents' house. He woke me from a deep sleep, not understanding why I was always drifting off anyway, asking "Which way do we go now?" We were lost, exhausted and very grouchy at each other, and I wondered why on earth I had married him. Now we try to map out our routes better ahead of time, and I time my naps to occur in stretches of road where decisions about direction don't have to be made.
Gradually we learned to appreciate each other's strengths, even when on the road. When carsick toddlers, diapers and nursing kept me hopping all 600 miles to my parent's home, he was just glad to be driving. I, on the hand, would have rather been taking care of the children than be bothered with driving.
On one trip we got stopped for speeding but the cop was called to an accident before he had a chance to write us a ticket. We were elated, until Stuart tried to restart the car and the battery was dead. It was the middle of the night, and when he finally got a ride to go for help, the kids cried when he left us alone. As I cleaned up messy diapers and calmed their worried nerves, I was just grateful for a partner to go off for help, and he appreciated not having to handle three kids and a broken down car on his own.
Over time, you learn to accommodate your mate's weaknesses. No husband or wife is perfect. You will always have to put up with things you don't like in a husband or wife. When you divorce and remarry, you usually just trade in one set of problems for another-and get a whole new set of step-relationships.
Today we have a culture of non-commitment. Young adults are scared to get married because they have seen the devastating effects of divorce and don't want to go through it themselves-so they just don't get married and live together. Or put off getting married and making that commitment (which can be good). You hear kids talking about their fear of commitment. They've experienced falling in and out of love and wonder, well, what can I do when I fall out of love if I'm married?
The benefit of long marriage is the freedom and stability that commitment can bring. I'm a firm believer in couples not marrying too young; but when the time finally comes to put down roots, accepting your mate with faults and flaws, and being accepted in return is liberating and life-giving. The beautiful, erotic feeling of "being in love" comes and goes. It will not last. But committing yourself to love even through the times when you temporarily "hate" your mate is the key to a long and ultimately good marriage.
For a free booklet "Creating a More Loving Marriage," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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