Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An American Marriage: A Political Parable

Once there was a couple.  They did not fall in love over romantic dinners at fancy restaurants or through intimate late night phone calls.  Instead, theirs was a marriage of convenience and necessity, one where many outside forces destined for them to be together and so it was.  Over time, this distant but respectful union grew into a genuine fondness, where each came to love, appreciate, and care for the other.  Maybe it was not a passionate marriage full of take-your-breath-away kisses but nevertheless, they did care for each other.

They enjoyed many years of feeling content, of going through the hard and the easy.  In the hard, they put one foot in front of the other and soldiered on, coming out on the other side a little worse for wear but intact.  They reminceed about the easy with smiles and laughter.

This everyday, pedestrian relationship though would not last.  At some point, tiny irritations and big betrayals happened.  The man and the wife continued to walk through life together, looking like a union on the outside but fractured on the inside.  Eventually, they found themselves fighting to stay married, each one maintaining that they didn't want the marriage to end but each one focused on self-preservation and righteous indignation. 

Each one would point fingers at the other, using both current and  past history to show the others lack of love.  "Two years ago, you forgot my birthday."  "Well just yesterday, you were short and angry with me because you thought I was speeding."  Tit for tat, any attempt at conversation soon dissolved into a back and forth recounting of each  person's faults.

Without much provocation, hurtful words would fly through the air.  It always started with small words, rooted in perhaps truth.  "Selfish."  "Mean spirited."  "Rude."  Slowly but slowly, the words evolved into insults.  "Cry baby."  "SOB."  "Idiot."  "Fool."  And with each word hurled, slowly but surely, they stopped using their spouse's name.  "HE always ignores me when he gets home from work."  "SHE never does anything but nag me."  "Nope, I can't watch the game at your house tonight.  THE WIFE wouldn't like it."  Humanity stripped away by such a simple change in language.

No marriage relationship exists in a vacuum and this marriage is no different.  Well meaning and sometimes not so well meaning in-laws, parents, and friends all offered opinions on every topic imaginable.  From child rearing to housecleaning to money and religion, there was never a shortage of opinions injected into their marriage.  Some were rooted in facts.  Others were based merely someone's perception of the facts.  Often, neither the man or the woman delved deep into the opinions being offered to them.  Instead, they clung to the opinions that they liked best, the ones that did not challenge them and their perceptions of the relationship.  It felt good to have one's perspective affirmed and lifted up.  It was much easier to bask in one's own rightness than to examine one's heart for wrong thinking. 

Soon every issue carried the same amount of weight.  What to eat for dinner became just as important as paying the bills.  What color of sofa to buy became just as important as helping their child decide upon a college.  And with each instance of minutia, the couple never failed to ask the opinions of their friends and family, specifically those whom they knew would agree with their position.  There was no attempt to let go of something trivial because it was a small thing that could be overlooked.  Instead, any dispute was a war, a battle to be won.

Many times, both the man and the woman would use the children as a guise of selflessness.  Each one would say that what the other was doing was not good for the children, that it was not good for the future of their family.  In some instances, this may have been true.  But more often than not, the children, the future of the family, was merely a pawn, being used when it was convenient or when it would rally others to support that person's side.  No family member or friend wanted to stand opposed to the children and the future so it became a instant way to win support.  Lost in the conversation was the present impact on the children.

Both the man and the woman knew how to push each others buttons.  In fact, they were experts at it.  The woman valued neatness and order and rule following.  The man valued creativity and learning and being social.  So it should have come as no surprise that at some point, the man started deliberately leaving his dirty socks beside the bed instead of in the laundry hamper.  Likewise, the woman took joy in refusing to allow the man to bring any more books into the house.   At some point, the empty laundry hamper and the books were no longer objects.  They were sacred cows, symbols of the things each person loved, symbols that were being trampled on, inanimate objects that were placed onto pedestals, worshipped by each person as more important than their spouse.

Actions and reactions became more about what each person's individual rights were rather than focused on each person's responsibility towards the other.  "Who can believe the way he acts?  I guess he's free to choose his actions but he's not free from the consequences.  It's my right to respond to his callousness."  "She's so full of herself, completely self absorbed.  It's my right to bring her down a notch."  Never once did someone question the role of personal responsibility in the relationship.  Never once did someone consider that his or her responsibility was to listen to what the behavior was saying, to attempt to empathize and connect to the heart of the person in question.

At long last, they decided to make one last attempt at salvaging their embroiled relationship.  The drive to the therapist's office was tense with no eye contact and a few clipped phrases.  The man and the woman exited the car, neither bothering to wait for the other as they walked to the door.  As they sat in separate chairs in the waiting room, it was easy to see how the physical divide mirrored the divide within their hearts.

Once they entered the therapist's office, they were unsure of what to expect.  The therapist began introductions and then stated a few sage words.  "Reconciliation requires effort and compromise.   It requires listening and responding with understanding, not listening and reacting.  Pride has no place within the work of reconciliation.  Because it springs from a place of humility and vulnerability, reconciliation should break your heart.  Even if you are certain your actions were unintentional or misread, you must learn to seek to understand the perceptions of your spouse.  Reconciliation is not the same as assuming a servile position although it does require one to consider the needs and viewpoints of the other party to be as valid as your own.  Reconciliation will require nothing less than 100%  from each of you, not a commitment to do half of the work while your spouse does the remainder.  Now where do we begin?"