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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

LOVE -- MARRIAGE – RESPONSIBILITIES

LOVE -- MARRIAGE – RESPONSIBILITIES


Several things have occurred in the last month that move me to make some observations about love, marriage, and the responsibilities that go along with marriage, children, and parenthood. Perhaps the first thing to think about is the actual word “love”. We say we love the weather, we love chocolate, we “love” a great many things and increasingly people use “love” as a routine end to a conversation or Email. But – love – true love is hard to find and from my observation – increasingly rare. I base this conclusion on the sheer number of divorces and the casual way people get divorced or establish households without being married. All of these things have led me to reflect on love and what it means.

These are simply my observations about love and marriage based on my own marriage and the marriages of my friends and family. These are not very scientific observations but they could easily be more realistic and accurate than those of the various pundits and psychologists who may be divorced themselves, study dysfunctional marriages, or view marriage in terms of groups and statistics. I’m not sure that is the way to study marriage or what makes it succeed or fail, but then my observations cannot be viewed as anything other than anecdotal and far from a universal view, nevertheless, these are my opinions based on experience.

Perhaps the first thing is to distinguish between marriage and “living together”. Somehow our society has come to accept pre-marital sex and relationships without marriage but with children as not just acceptable but normal. The position that I hear over and over is that marriage isn’t necessary because it is just a “bunch of words”. Of course this ignores the legal ramifications of that “bunch of words” but that is really only small issue. The primary issue is the meaning of those words and that meaning seems to have been lost somewhere along the way to our culture of self-absorption. The difference between a relationship and a marriage is the difference between a pond and an ocean. A marriage and the marriage vow represent commitments to each other – a commitment in the eyes of the law and the eyes of God – an irrevocable bond. A commitment to the other person that each will always be there for the other come what may. On the other hand living together or having a relationship is simply a friendship with sex with no real commitment by each partner to each other. Each person can leave the relationship at any time without penalty. There is no security, no commitment, and most important of all no assurance the other person will be there in a time of need and sooner or later that time comes to us all.

People who have been married for any length of time cannot visualize life without the other, but when people simply live together there is no expectation that the other person will be there tomorrow. Consequently, the partners spare themselves the enormous hurt if a partner leaves but the price they paid is not having that sense of security in knowing that the partner is as committed to you as you are to them. In a relationship you simply open the door and leave but in a marriage, especially a long one, leaving is rarely contemplated and can only be accomplished with difficulty – both legally and emotionally. Life without marriage is truly only half a life.

Most people get married in their twenties, when the partners are young, healthy, and vigorous. It is an adventure filled with fun and frolic. But the excitement fades – usually after about a year – and life takes over. Things become routine, life assumes a pattern, and day-to-day responsibilities begin to intrude on the excitement. For those couples who expected life to continue much like it was before marriage the first signs of dissatisfaction begin to appear. There is a feeling of entrapment, of not being able to go clubbing with friends, of being obligated to pay bills, wash dishes, make beds, and in general act like their parents. For most people this transition to marriage and adult responsibilities progresses, adjustments are made, and the early passion is replaced by the first glimmerings of true love. But sometimes the marriage partners are not psychologically prepared or even capable of putting themselves and their desires second. In these cases the dissatisfaction grows, the necessary give and take becomes less and less and then divorce ends the adventure. Frequently, this begins a lifelong pattern of dissatisfaction because the individuals never get past the idea that life should be fun and that their personal happiness is all that matters – and this brings us to what I think is the very foundation of a solid marriage.

The cornerstone of a successful marriage begins with “liking”, not with love. Certainly love enters into it but the love that exists at the beginning tends to be passion rather than love. Those who expect that feeling of exhilaration to last forever are in for a disappointment that usually culminates in affairs and ultimately divorce. Certainly this passion exists to a greater or lesser extent in all marriages but as it fades – and it always does – what is left is “liking” or friendship. Most happily married couples describe their partner as their best friend. If the partners truly like each other, this liking evolves into real love – something enduring and sustaining through all of life’s challenges. In these marriages the partners would rather be with each other than anyone else because they have more fun together than with others.

The second foundation stone in a solid marriage is unselfishness. The idea that a marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition is totally false and anyone who thinks that it is doesn’t understand what a marriage is. The idea that each partner is obligated to carry half of the burden all of the time is unrealistic. The fact is that a marriage requires each partner to give 100% all of the time. At any given time one partner may be giving 90% and the other only 10% but the roles shift and change and the balance always restores itself. Ironically when each partner is willing to give up everything for the other then neither partner must give up anything. A solid marriage requires that you give yourself 100% to the other person. When this happens then everything becomes equal and the partners have created a bond that grows in strength with each passing year. When you view marriage from this perspective you begin to see how arranged marriages might work, especially in societies where divorce is frowned upon.

It is worth noting that the purpose of marriage is not to have fun but to have children. Obviously some people cannot have children and others choose not to, but most people do and this brings one of life’s greatest blessings and greatest challenges – raising children. Although it is politically correct today to accept that there is no difference between women and men the reality is that they are different and different at a very fundamental level. If you doubt this watch very young children at play and which toys they select – boys and girls are different and all of the politically correct studies in the world will not change that and it is this difference that is carried over into marriage and parenthood. The stark reality is that children need parents – a mom and a dad. Each partner has a role to play and each child gains different things from each parent. Certainly children can be raised in single parent environments or same sex environments but that is more difficult for the parent as well as the child.

Women are the child bearers and it is their role to love and nurture the young but their role is truly much larger. It is the women of the world who make a house a home. It is they who create the warmth and comfort that we all associate with home. They do this in many subtle and indirect ways and they do it while maintaining the home, preparing the food, and raising the children. Now I can hear the screeches now accusing me of being old fashioned, of sexism, of male chauvinism, and a lack of understanding of the current reality of marriage. However, I am talking about successful marriages and child rearing based on personal observations not the reality of the contemporary state of marriage or the politically correct view of gender roles. Nowhere did I say that women could not or should not work outside of the home. No where have I said that they should not have careers. What I did say is that it is the woman who makes a house a home and that it is the woman who feeds, loves, and nurtures the family. This does not mean that the male half cannot or does not contribute but this is not his primary role. The man’s part is to protect, defend, to provide shelter, food, and clothing but also to train and introduce risk. The man is the rock on which the family rests.

Obviously this is a very simplistic view but not all people who get married and have children are prepared for these responsibilities. Some people become overwhelmed by these responsibilities for many reasons. Sometimes they are not financially capable of supporting the children, sometimes they are not emotionally prepared for the sacrifices that come with children, while others view the children as an impediment to their fun. These are the parents that leave their children alone and unattended, the ones that become abusive, the ones that neglect their children emotionally as well as physically. Many times these are the people who sink into alcoholism and drug abuse. These are the ones who lack the emotional strength to deal with life’s problems much less the responsibility of children. Ironically it is these parents who after a lifetime of neglect expect their children to love, respect, and care for them once the children are grown.

And this brings me to the point and that is what responsibility does an adult child have toward his parents? In my opinion no child owes his parents anything and anything that they do offer should be done willingly and from the heart. If the parent was abusive, neglectful, or abandoned the child then why should the child feel guilty for being neglectful and abandoning the parent? Being a parent is a lifetime commitment and should not be undertaken lightly. The child has no control and is totally dependent on the parent but if the parent fails the child, then the child is absolved of any commitment to the parent. This is not to say that the child should abandon the parent but that they should do what they wish to do, not what society or others think they should do.

So it is love – true love that spans all of these life experiences and it is love that sustains all marriages. Love is something that once found is to be treasured above all else.

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