Once again marital disasters make the news.
The latest “great” man to fall is Gen. Petreaus, the former (just) CIA director who, having been married for 38 years to a woman who has the appearance of a solid person, has openly admitted to an affair with a married woman who is much younger and clearly flashy.
I have not read much of the commentary that has ensued, but it is clear to me that we are wasting time assigning blame. There were two consenting adults involved. They both showed bad judgment and disregarded commitments they had made when they took vows. Life is not perfect, and marriages fail all the time, though mercifully not all do in such splendid public fashion. Both of these people are to blame. Let’s hope for them and their spouses they have the fortitude to figure out how to live the next phase of their life.
But what does the situation say about marriage in general?
I suppose it’s good that adultery still makes the news and topples careers. Extramarital relationships and divorces seem a fact of life, but we still have some standards. What a relief. And what a relief to think of all those marriages that don’t make the news, not to mention those who will survive such trials by fire. My thoughts are with the spouses of the public figures in question.
But really, my thoughts are focused on all those marriages that never make the news. The ones that we forget because two committed individuals overcome all adversity and endure. Hurray for all those marriages. In the face of a string of fantastic flops (Tipper and Al? Maria and Arnold, anyone?) let’s think about those people whose names we don’t know who are still married. What can we learn from them? What mistakes have they made or skirted?
Take my parents, for example. They are about to celebrate their 50th later this year. I am sure if you asked both of them, you’d find they have had their ups and downs. I certainly have witnessed a fair share of them. And yet, here they are, golden for the moment and looking forward to setting new personal records in the anniversary department as they live out their old age.
“You become totally dependent on each other,” my mother said the other day in the course of a conversation. “It’s not just the big things. It’s the small ones. You know, like going to the supermarket together and actually having fun.” (As long as she does not spend too much time in the detergent aisle, which apparently is not my dad’s idea of fun.)
What can we learn from these marriages? (Did I mention that John and I are also about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary?) Here are some of my thoughts–and I would love to hear yours:
1. Communication is the art of marriage. If you stop talking, you will not stay married.
2. Marriage requires work. Every day. Running away from problems will leave you at the finish line. And you won’t have won the race.
3. Adulation and flattery may not go a long way, but seeing the other person for all that she or he is does. Even if you know that your brilliant spouse every day puts his pants on like every other man in the planet, you’ve got to remember to acknowledge the greatness in the other. “The divine light in me salutes the divine light in you,” says our yoga teacher at the end of each class. Couldn’t have said it better.
4. Love is a lousy word in English (and for that matter, in Italian!). Off you go to Sanskrit which had 96 ways to express why and how it matters. Here are a few to get you thinking: appreciation, comfort, warmth, affection, trust, friendship, fun, sincerity. All of these and more are “Love”. Find the ones that matter and embody them in your relationship. Relentlessly.
5. Sharing your secrets, your true self, your dreams is what it’s all about. If you don’t do it with your spouse, you’ll never succeed at marriage. If you lose your way, you’ll lose your marriage…eventually.
I have always wanted to ask Tipper Gore what happened. Not because I am callously curious about people, but because she or Al must have lost something big along the way. I’ll never know what, but I know it must have left a profound sadness and a hole in their hearts somewhere.
But let’s not end it on such a sad note. Let’s raise our glasses full of bubbles to those great marriages we all know and honor. Let’s take the occasion to toast to our own beloved, to recognize their significance in our life today and every day…and let’s learn from every situation, whether it is our own story or the one we read about. I cannot tell us what to learn, but if we ask questions before we judge, we will.
Life is Amazing! Live well.
What a great blog about marriage! Yes, I felt sadness when a great man’s career was toppled by a lose zipper, a lapse in judgement. But adultery usually comes not with a bang, but with a whisper. It happens slowly. I am sure they neither one started out to do it, but time together and then boundaries crossed. He was sharing his life story with her and somehow she became a part of it. There was a line that was crossed, but no retreat issued. There are probably no marriages where someone comes across a person of the other sex, where somewhere deep inside something resonates. But, it is not the thoughts, but the actions that count. Love is a decision. A decision to stay the course even with bad breath, stupid things said and done. It is mostly about realizing that we are each imperfect. It is about always saying you are sorry and forgiving, forgiving and forgiving. Even adultery can be forgiven, the hurt perhaps not forgotten, but we are fallible. The more we realize our own shortcomings, the less we can hold a ourselves somehow higher.
As a newly married couple, the biggest change has been our perception of ourselves as a team. Your #5 is spot on – just like any team, we spend a lot of time dreaming, setting goals, and sometimes making sacrifices. We try to use our strengths to enhance the team and to side step the other’s weaknesses. (Yes, we all have them.) What these stories remind me is that individual achievements – independent from but supported by our spouses – are essential to preserving a sense of self-worth and value. At the end of the day, seeing our individual success as reflections on the strength of the team is rewarding, and knowing we have one another to help pick up the slack on an off day is comforting. Whether we win individually or not, when approached with a loving, open heart – the team wins.