So, to review, we’re thinking about the differences between what I consider to be “real” marriages (as opposed to just legally binding contracts) and the fantasy-land couplings that fall apart at the arrival of real life adventures. This recent bout of introspection is inspired by the re-legalization of same-sex marriage in California (YES!) and observations I’ve been, er, observing in the marriages around me. I admit, some of the political ads being slung around have also added a little height to this soapbox.
But, you know, I don’t think this is a soapbox. I think these thoughts are more along the lines of “things we really need to be thinking about, really need to be told in life.” So often we make decisions based on impulse or limited information, and most of the time we can get away with that — but sometimes we really can’t.
As mentioned yesterday, I believe that the following questions are the fundamentals behind and underneath marriage. Let’s approach them one at a time.
Question 1: Are you prepared for the “worse” part of “for better or worse?” The “poorer” part of “richer or poorer?”
I find that for most people, the answer to this question is a resounding NO. People in general have an impressive ability to avoid thinking about the possibility of becoming unemployed and going bankrupt, becoming severely – perhaps chronically and debilitatingly – ill or injured, of having a special needs child and how that would change your vision of “happily ever after,” of the possibility that your beloved, or YOU, could develop problems with addiction (another variant of the chronic illness problem), or even what it means to age and the complications that arise with aging. Somehow, I notice that most people seem to believe that none of these things could ever happen to them. They will always be young and pretty and healthy and upwardly mobile.
I can promise you that something will go horribly wrong at some point in your life. Eventually, it happens to us all. I’m not suggesting that you dwell on this idea, but that you do introduce yourself to it and become passing acquaintances. At a minimum, this will help you be supportive of your friends’ hard times when they come, and it can help you prepare for many of the low and away curve balls you will receive in life.
You need to seriously consider if you can handle your rose-colored dreams of your future with the possibility of the color scheme changing into something completely different. Can you withstand helping someone – without resentment or blame – who needs your help? Can you tolerate a massive change in lifestyle? See, your vows promise you the company and companionship of your beloved. They do not promise success and good health. Can you be someone’s strength when they don’t have their own? And are you certain that this person can be yours?
In other words, are you getting married because you truly love this individual, no matter what changes happen (abuse is of course the MAJOR exception here)? If you have to hesitate before saying “yes,” I recommend you postpone your wedding date.
Question2: Do you respect your partner and do they respect you?
Respect is the foundation of real love. So, we need to make sure we understand what respect means. At its most basic level, it means that manners do matter. Even after decades. Say “please” and “thank you.” Hold the door. Ask how your beloved’s day was. Ask how they would like to spend the evening. Be nice. No name calling. No yelling. Hold their hair back when they have the flu.
Now, the graduate studies level: respect means honoring the essential nature of who someone is without trying to change them or make them into something that they are not. It also means encouraging that person to be the best possible version of themselves everyday.
This is absolutely critical. It’s the difference between trying to “catch” a spouse and asking someone if you can purchase the sole ticket in existence for the front row view of their life and the way they see it. It means that you want to help someone fly as high and as far as possible, with no conditions other than honesty, loyalty, and an occasional description of their view (monogamy is however a very reasonable expectation ;p).
Question 3: Are you absolutely certain you can rely on this person for the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it may be?
The trick part of this question is that first and foremost you must be willing to tell yourself the truth. About your opinions, your feelings, desires, priorities, fears, favorite flavor of ice cream, whatever. It is extremely easy to ignore what we want or think, either because we’ve been trained to do that or because we figure we’ll get back to that later. Only if you tell yourself the truth will you be able to tell someone else what you think……. And also be able to handle hearing the truth from them. Like it or not, we all blow it from time to time. Sometimes the explosion is loud enough that we notice it without assistance, but sometimes we all require someone to call us on our behavior. You need to know that you can trust your spouse to tell you what you need to know, and you need to trust this person’s opinion enough to take it seriously even when you can’t see their point of view right away.
Question 4: Are you willing – and ready – to care for someone, defend them, stand by them and their dreams, and also to tell them when they are acting like an ass? Are you prepared to be on the receiving end of these things?
This question is related closely to questions two and three. As someone’s “other half,” your primary – yes, primary – function in life changes a bit. You no longer exist as a single unit. You have to stop thinking of yourself that way (if this shift in thinking hasn’t already happened, I again strongly recommend that you postpone the wedding date). Everything you do or don’t do, everything you say or don’t say, everything you remember and forget directly effects your beloved, and obviously the reverse is true as well. If you continue to think of yourself as separate from your spouse, rather than as an equal part of, your union will split. You’ve built in a fault line, and when the earthquakes come, your continents will shift.
This means that the things that matter to your beloved, matter to you. Okay, maybe you didn’t cry when Aaron Boone hit the home run off of Wakefield, but if your beloved does, be sympathetic. That was a sucker punch, man. All of Red Sox Nation *knew* Grady left Petey in too long… Sorry, I digress. Two World Series rings and nine years just haven’t healed that wound yet…. If your beloved dreams of returning for an MBA, support that dream. Look into whether or not it is viable, or when it might be. Discuss why it matters, etc. When someone – including, and perhaps most importantly, family – belittles, degrades, or is mean to your beloved, stand up for him / her. You don’t have to be snarky to make your point. A simple but firm comment is all it takes to show them you will not tolerate someone treating your loved one badly – and it shows your loved one that you will stand up for him / her. And when this defended person needs a little “time out” – well, don’t embarrass them publicly when you tell them that they have put their head on backwards and need to realign it and their thinking (see above comments on telling the truth).
Be gracious and grateful if you are on the receiving end of these things from your loved one. All of these are demonstrations of respect, value, and your importance to your spouse.
Question 5: Do you share the same values? This is not the same as liking the same past-times. This one comes down to what a person stands for, what you know they will do when their back is against the wall, whether or not they have integrity, whether they can be counted upon? And can they count on you?
Obviously, it is important to discuss Major Decisions when they arise. Consensus needs to be reached and concerns addressed before selling the house and moving across the country to begin your life as a painter, for example. But you shouldn’t have to call a caucus or search someone’s cell phone records to trust that they are making decisions with which you would generally agree. You need to be able to sleep at night knowing that you can trust your spouse to be – trustworthy. To consider you and your family, however new or grown, when away from you. This confidence spans everything from relying on how they behave at work to what decisions they would make on your behalf if you could not speak for yourself to how they treat your children and what they teach them.
Question 6: The issue of children and how they are raised is so obvious that I truly hope I do not have to discuss it.
It looks like we’re going to finish this off with a Part Three section discussing the last two questions listed below. This is more than enough opinionating for one day, don’t you think?
Thanks for hanging in here with me, dear Reader. 🙂
Next time, questions seven and eight, and the conclusion of this series.
Question 7: Do you feel safe enough – ARE you safe enough – to trust this person with all of your nightmares? Can you be trusted with theirs?
Question 8: Do you actually like this person? They aren’t going to change. You might be able to negotiate a putting the cap on the toothpaste deal – but that’s about it. What you have today will be the same decades from now – the sense of humor, the sense of style, the sense of fashion, and most importantly, the nature of your friendship. Yes, change is a constant – when it comes to circumstances, but not often when it comes to people. Are you happy with him / her today, or do you feel a need to renovate? Do they try to change you?