Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Marriage Is a Discipline

My good friend, Sue, celebrates 55 years of marriage today. I asked her what, more than anything else, kept her and her husband together for so long.
“Compromise,” she said. “And friendship.”
“Oh, thank God,” I replied, “I thought you were going to say ‘hot, steamy sex,’ and then I’d be in knee-high animal waste.”
I need people like Sue to remind me of how marriage really works, of what you really need to be able to go out to dinner with the same mate five decades later.
Throw out infatuation. Throw out common interests. Throw out chemistry (for the most part). Throw out basically everything the media feeds us on what a relationship between a man and a woman should look like: the head rush, adrenaline, savage sex, chivalry, and the excitement and easiness of it all.
If I’ve learned anything from the marriage experts, it’s this: if you want to stay married, you have to work at your marriage like every other aspect of your life. You have to communicate and compromise. You have to bite your lip when you want to cuss, and you’ve got to be kind when you don’t want to.
Beyond Blue reader Peg, who has been married for more than 40 years, wrote this on the message board of my “Stay or Leave?” post:

Marriage is a discipline like any other discipline taken seriously (i.e., sports, dance, etc.) and each day I have to work at it. My Catholic faith keeps me going against the odds society gives us these days. I had to look deep into myself to realize my own shortcomings that contributed and contribute to a good relationship.

  • Nancy

    Amen – unless it’s abusive or hopeless, etc., marriage is a “work in progress”, and yes, Steve and I are great friends. Not that we don’t slip in the frienship department, but it’s our greatest strength and foundation to our marriage (plus his ridiculous on-the-spot humor – which cracks us all up).
    Even with all of that, there are those moments that I go, and I did this again (second marriage) – WHY?!? But, fortunately, those are times where we can come together and talk “issues” through.
    Believe me, it’s not all daisies and sunshine, but it’s so worth the effort. Not for nothing, marriage combined with raising young children is a challenge. There are the great day, the okay days, and the days where it’s just a matter of making it through.
    When Steve and I got married (which took forever on my part), I told him that this truly would be ’til death do us part, whether by natural causes or if I killed him. (lovely terms of endearment) He would not get out of this alive. One divorce in life is enough, thank you.
    The last paragraph is naturally tongue in cheek or foot in mouth, but the truth of the matter is that this is the man I look forward to raising (oops – no spending!) the rest of my life with.
    Young lady, you are getting very racey with your Post “topic headlines”. Are we going to find out more? Enquiring minds want to know. Thanks for the lightheartedness, but also for the substance of what Sue knows to be the truth. Her marriage is obvious proof of that.

  • Lynn

    George and I no longer live together but, we do still love and like each other. We lived together for aprox. 15 years. I do not do marriage very well. In those fifteen years , because of his scitzophrenia, it was difficult for george to trust anyone , me included. We had a tough time having any true intimacy. He went back to live with his Mother, He has always felt safe there, it was never an issue with us I knew he needed to be where he felt safe. After he moved back there he needed help with his personal care, so I did this for him. I helped him with bathing, dressing , foot and hand care shaving ect. after a little while of doing this I started to feel something I had never felt when we lived together, Intimacy( Real intimacy) While shaving him one day I felt closer to him than I ever had. Real intimacy I found out doesn’t always happen in the bedroom. In that moment ( in the bathroom, him with shaving cream all over his face and me with a razor in my hand)I found what had been missing all those previous years. The connection to another person that comes from and goes straight to the heart. I have never felt that kind of closness with another person, I may never again, but I am so happy that it is possible and there is nothing better in the world than that kind of connection. It doesn’t happen overnight , it is worth waiting for though.It is like a special secret between the both of you, something just for two. :)

  • Cully

    re: “George and I no longer live together but, we do still love and like each other. We lived together for aprox. 15 years.”
    Posted by: Lynn | November 8, 2007 2:37 PM
    oh Lynn… (yes it’s Cully – the one who went all gaga over one of your posts)
    I have been with the same man for 20 years… we lived together for 10 and I got to a point that I just wanted to die to get away from him. He’s a wonderful person but his problems overwhelmed me totally. Now after 10 years of living in seperate houses he has gotten it into his head that we should live together again!! Why? because he can not take no for an answer. When we began living apart he was totally convinced there was another man involved – would NOT believe that it was because of him and for my own personal well being. Everyone in his life except for his mom and I have walked away and only have passing contact with him (if even that).
    Like you, I feel very close to him now – I care profoundly for him but I can not live with him ever again. When I read you other post I was so touched because you love George so much (as I do my “George”) and I felt so guilty because I will not/can not/will not live with him. To read that you don’t live with George has made me feel much better about my very strange relationship. Thank you!

  • Babs

    Lynn — I find your posts about George illuminating and touching.

  • james

    My wife & I have been married for 13 years. The foundation of our marriage has always been a commitment to the promises we made to each other, before God, on our wedding day. For us they are lasting promises while we’re both alive.
    We’ve also been through a lot since being married (though perhaps not like Lynn & Cully). I’m nothing like the person she thought she had married, and illness has caused many problems for us. But the commitment we made makes our marriage successful and helps us to get through the really difficult times. It’s sounds dry, but we are very happily married most of the time.
    This is nothing like what the media portrays. I wonder how much the divorce rate, of 40-50%, reflects this media influence. The romance and infatuation dies in most marriages, and it comes back to hard work, commitment, discipline, and the other things written by you (Therese) in the post above. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Lynn

    Dear cully, any relationship that is a loving one ( weather you live in the same house or not) is by no means strange.Please do not feel any guilt about saving yourself, for that is how I see it. Part of the reason george and I no longer live together is that I had to save myself and guilty is a big part of what I felt when we split. The guilt does diminish, we must save ourselves so that we can be of assistance to others. Just to be honest here, I now live 3 thousand miles away from george, he has a caregiver that comes to his home, I still keep in touch almost every single day( to make sure he is doing the right things for himself, cause I just know so much about taking care of him ( Not) ).I drove him crazier with my fussing( nagging is more like it) at him to do the right thing. We are better not living together. I do love him so , but I am not well enough( mentally) to really be his best caregiver. I think he has more peace not living with me( I pushed him very hard to be better, sometimes I almost pushed him over the edge). I have had to learn to love myself and to take care of myself(I still am learning these things) Keep loving yourself cully because just getting to know you through Beyond Blue I LOVE YOU. Your comments and kind words have brought tears to my eyes and have provided me much needed validation. THANK YOU :)

  • Larry Parker

    Sorry to provide a contrarian perspective …
    For the record, yes, I was undisciplined in my 5-year marriage. Which is not to say I cheated or stole (although my then-wife thought I used the credit cards too much — she never stopped me if it was for a treat for her, though) but that I would sometimes be home 45 minutes late without calling, or take off on a Saturday morning by myself even if she wanted to do something later that day. Total passive-aggressiveness, I realize today.
    Here’s the rub, though — that roaming instinct is a classic symptom of bipolar disorder (and certainly UNTREATED bipolar disorder). Not to say it wasn’t wrong of me, only that our diseases and our inability to control them sometimes sabotage our partnership and love with our spouses. (All the more reason why, when it comes to treatment, it is so important to focus on ourselves first. In the big picture, that’s not selfish at all.)
    Now, of course, I’ve been divorced far longer than I was married. (And I’m not even in a position to date right now — even if I wanted to, which I really don’t.) At 38, I value female companionship as much as ever, but I don’t want the trappings — word choice intentional — that almost inevitably come with marriage. (Not just kids, but the expectation of the house in the ‘burbs with the white picket fence. I don’t even WANT that. I’m a “crunchy” city-dweller kind of guy.)
    If you had asked me upon my divorce, I still would have said, “I believe in marriage, OF COURSE I want to get married again one day.” But now, I’m not so sure.

  • Jim G

    “Compromise,” … “And friendship.”
    The two things missing in my marriage. Which would explain my experience of mediocrity. With our children the glue keeping us together.
    But there is always room to improve friendship, if I really gave it a shot, even if my wife is too stubborn to compromise.
    The honeymoon phase usually lasts 2 years. That is the period of time mother nature needs us to be together to make babies successfully. So having one mate for life isn’t natural. Having a new mate every 2 years is. But we are not apes – thus another part of the human predicament.

  • Kay

    I tried every approach possible to keep my husband but he left all the same. He first left for a month to travel to India….he then left for rwo years to spend it back packing in the East. finally he came back home and we were supposed to work it out but after a year he left and is living on his own. He says its his fault and has nothing to do with me. He says he just likes to do his own thing and return to an empty house after work. All the same he visits me regularly and sometimes we go to the movies together. I wish i could have a full time husband. I find the loneliness too overwhelming to cope with sometimes.
    Is it possible that as Larry suggested that he has bipolar illness?

  • Cindy

    Another timely topic for me, Therese! Our couples counselor used the word “compromise” to define a way for my husband & I to work on our marriage. My husband has never understood my depression and just say’s that I’ve changed, that I’m not the person he married. Those things are true. I’m not the person he married. The illness and my slowly, but surely, progressive improvement has changed me. He wants me to commit to things as part of that compromise that I don’t know that I am capable of yet. He wants me to be able to say that 6 months from now I will be different or back to my old self. Somebody, please tell me if I’m being unreasonable or unwilling to compromise here. I have told him that I’m still making baby steps to getting some solid ground under me, but that I can’t promise that 6 months from now I will be better, stronger, or different, only that I’m trying. I’m taking my meds and seeing my drs. as prescribed. We are now legally separated, but he has not moved out yet. Something deep inside me is telling me to let him go. That I will be happier without him. We have 2 children. The oldest is 13 and wants his dad to move out. My husband & I have both said that we don’t want a divorce, but can’t seem to live together either. Quite the conundrum! I’d appreciate any comments and suggestions?

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Cindy:When my ex finally moved out (at my oinsistance when he refused too give up his affair…I left the choice to him, simply stated that he had to MAKE one because I wasn’t going to continue to live that way it was both liberating and scary as h–l! Although it was three years and yet ANOTHER mistress before we divorced(As members (he a pasrtor of the Church of Christ, divorce wasn’t something I wanted to file foreven though i was the one who had Biblical grounds as stated in Mark because I had remained 100% faithful to him in spite of his behavior and the interest of a former boyfriend in rekindling our relationship. I fibally saw an attorney to find out what my rights were in terms of our joint financial responsibilities and ended up suing him for “separate maintenance, which I was awatded. Interestingly enough, my ex’s response was to counter sue for divorce, something he had claimed he simply COULDN’T do because he had no Biblical grounds (Evidently his bank balance persuade him where I had been unsuccessful!) We had been physically but not legally separated for monthsby this time and it ended up being threeYEARS before we were actually divorced. (Michigan is a no-fault divorce state and so the courts are VERY backlogged.) During this time I remained in our home, desperately tring to meet the mortgage/upkeep expenses so that my son wouldn’t have to face yet ANOTHER loss (He wasn’t by my husband; we were a “blended family, each with a son when we wed. In the same six month period, my child had faced the deaths of both his biological father and my mother as well as losing his stepfather and stepbrother to our failed marriage and I was DETERMINED that he not have to lose his home and high school as well (Or community had two high schoolsand my boy was a well-established athlete at the one he had been attending. On hindsight, that probably wasn’t the most prosaic stance to take as I eventually lost the house due to my inability to meet the expenses on my own in a timely manner, but at least my guy was able to graduate with his class before that happened! I tell you all of this so that you’ll know that he separation is only the BEGINNING

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Once again a continuation is necessary (please orgive) I was saying that the sepration is only the BEGINNING of thelong ugly road to the death of a marriage, although I realize laws and timelines differ from state to state. My advice to you is THIS: if you truly feel that wyou need to let your husband go, DO IT! Living in an intolerable relationship simply isn’t worth the pain, and it’s surprising, but you really DO survive! Once my ex was gone I felt lonely, but there was also a tremendous feeling of relief that it was over! I was able to begin to make the house “mine” by painting, wallpapering and rearranging furniture in ways he wouldn’t have agreed with and I no longer had the added pressures of wondering when(if) he would be coming home at the end of every day or the frustration of still desiring our sexual relationship to continue despite his infidelities (Ir was SO hard to set that boundary when he was still crawling in on the other side of the bed each night even though I knew I was risking possible disease and inevitable emotional pain One mistake I DID makre was continuing to “see” him throughout the separation; I now know that “cold trkey would have been a much easier way to go, especially since it was going to happen eventually anyway. try and focus on your OWN likes for a change, both in terms of your physical environs and pehaps returning to interests you had before you were a couple that your marriage ended because he didn’t have the same interests. Go back to old volunteer work, take a class or two at the adult ed program in your public school system, meet new people and ABOVE ALL, continue to explore support groups/counseling for your illness. You’ll be AMAZED at how your life can become fulfilling once again once you start catering to your own particular wants and needs! Be prepared to face the stages of grief, because (IMHO) divorce is a kind of death…of hopes, dreams, a belonging..and the stages are similar if not identical. But bever doubt that you can and will get through them, quite likely better off than you were living with a dying relationship. I didn’t walk out of the courtroom happy to be divorced, for sure, but it didn’t take too long for the rational part of my psyche to understand that I was better off without the daily emotional upheaval of “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. No one can flourish in an environment where they aren’t emnraced for who they are and validated as a wrthwhile individual. So make it a point to “mother” yourself by affirmng your positive qualaties and indulging yourself a little. Celebrate the fact that compromise doesn’t have to be your watchword any longer! It will feel strange at first, because you probably aren’t used to being good to yourself( Most of us aren’t), but it will also be very LIBERATING! LIKE Larry, I’ve yet to develop an interest in dating again, but I HAVE reconnected with pre-marriage friends(both male and female) and have found that to be validating as well. I play nore frequent games of trivia, Scrabble and Boggle (the only games my ex was into were emotional ones)and have rediscovered my love for reading and the restorative powers of journaling, both things that I had actively pursued before my mattiage but which had gotten lost in the demands of married life. I have also rediscovered that I CAN be contented without a man to link my arm with, maybe not totally HAPPY, but at least content, and there’s something to say for that. I cook MY favorite meals, go to bed when I”M ready and choose what movies I want to attendand in the process have begun to rediscover the Margaret I was prior to the disastrous years of being unappreciated, walked on and hurt. i’ve also learned to listen to the inner voice I used to heed but stopped listening to and have rediscovered that it’s usually right! that’s why i’m advising you to “go with your gut” If you’re feeling like you need to let him go, there’s a REASON for that and it just might be self-preservation!

  • elizabeth

    I don’t know if any of you are familiar with a site called marriagebuilders-dot-com but you might check it out. It is a comprehensive theory and outline for marriage designed by Dr. Willard Harley.
    There are a few fixed rules, like no acted-out anger or unkindness toward one another, ever. If you can’t say something without being unkind or harsh, take a walk until you cool down. Also, the policy of joint agreement instead of compromise. A couple agrees to take no action without joyful agreement of both parties – no power struggles, no grudging assent, which, like expressed anger, eventually kills love.
    Powerful stuff. If your mate is unwilling to even experiment with the program, that should tell you something.

  • Larry Parker

    For the record, I’m not dating right now either.
    2/3 because I need to get my life together financially and otherwise, 1/3 because I still have a bit of a broken heart from / torch for my last girlfriend :-(

  • Lois

    I know just how you feel. I have acute Fibromylgia and I hurt from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet 24-7. Just like you I have lost any desire for sex but my husband just does not get it.
    I hate that I have to say no so much, but it is just more pain for me and it takes all my energy out of me.

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