The rabbi's wife challenged her husband's glowing “60 years of wedded bliss” with “ you've got to be kidding. 30 years at the most! 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, a day here, a week there. That comes to about 30 years of wedded bliss.”
Marriage is less about romance than commitment. In fact, staying in love with our partner may be the hardest thing one can do. Working with another to create a relatively functional, relatively happy family unit is very demanding!
When hubby and I walked down the aisle we didn't anticipate the broken hearts and broken dreams that shaped our years together or that 50 of our 56 years would be shaped by chronic illness. That a significant part of our story would be shaped by teen addictions. That two of our four would drop out of high school, one be incarcerated. That my father's untimely death necessitated caring for my mother.
We didn't anticipate the ways we'd both change. I am not the same compliant girl he married. He is not the same laughing romantic I dated. We've had to re-choose each other many times over. There have been times when I've thought, “this is not what I signed up for,” But the reality is, this is exactly what I signed up for. Our marriage vows stated, “for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” Fortunately our shared faith, values, and goals helped us survive the challenges life dealt us, even making us softer, gentler, wiser, more accepting individuals.
Somehow we muddled through crisis after crisis, thanks to family support, marriage counseling, 12 step programs, individual determination, a strong church family. When I complained to a favorite college professor that I felt stifled and my brain was dying he suggested I go to seminary. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start thinking about what it's like for your family to feel responsible for your unhappiness. The only person you can change is yourself, so do what it takes to make yourself a better wife and mother and go back to school.” What good advice!
Arranged marriages involve fewer expectations of romance or hot sex since they are basically business arrangements. We feed our young the rosy promise that love and sexual compatibility will solve every problem and romantic passion will never go away. Thus few of us are prepared to get gobsmacked with the challenges of marriage, work, and family. Those of us who realize our spouse and children are not responsible for our happiness have a fighting chance to succeed. It takes friends, challenging jobs, meaningful hobbies, support groups, community involvement, and a strong faith to diffuse the demands of raising a family. Marriage, after all, is all about sharing your life with someone you mostly recognize, sometimes understand and occasionally like.
Looking back I am grateful for every challenge that came our way. We are both better persons for walking a different path than the one we anticipated that hot summer day we said “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.“
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can follow her blog at www.Fairfield Mennonite Church.org