Aug 132013

kisssmallI was terrified of getting married.

I had trepidation from a painful false start, with an undercurrent of general emotional immaturity.  That’s not a particularly promising cocktail, and I’m so thankful my wife took that chance with me.

I knew I loved Lea.  I knew she measured up from a practical perspective (intelligence, values, responsibility, and so forth).  I felt good when I asked her to marry me, and I felt great when she said yes.

I still made it tougher on her, and us, than I should have during our engagement.  I picked at scabs.  I touched the plate to see if it was hot.  I hit myself in the head with a hammer, just because it felt so good when I stopped.  At least once, I solidly second-guessed the whole idea of us getting married.  I still vividly remember the look on her face and the sound of her crying.  To this day, it’s a powerful negative example—something I never want to reproduce.  I can effortlessly remember her expression, and cringe.

We survived.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were already an organism.  We were several systems working together for a larger purpose.  That severe local damage never genuinely threatened us, because we were strong enough to survive it.

In most cases, a marriage is a seriously considered thing.  It’s right in the traditional vows:  “not to be entered into lightly.”  You are casting your lot.  Consequently, the institution that is your marriage has considerable mass on its maiden voyage.  Most marriages are never jet-skis.  They’re at least large yachts from the beginning.  They’re valuable, they’re powerful, they’re deep, and they’re not always easy to steer.

But their size means they’re inherently forgiving, too.  Barring a truly appalling indiscretion, it’s hard to hurt them quickly.  It’s about actions and words that move them this way or that—a little bit at a time.

So which way are you moving?  Are you cutting, or are you healing?

Did you see Fireproof?  In the movie, a husband who’s severely and sustainedly alienated his wife and now wants to repent follows a program called the Love Dare, in which he does nice things for her every day.  He is disheartened when he can’t measure results immediately.  He is disappointed when she doesn’t respond as he’d like her to.

But see, here’s the thing:  he didn’t damage his marriage quickly.  He screwed it up with day after day of negative strokes.  Why would he think he could recover quickly?  Yanking the wheel violently to the positive one day doesn’t work when it follows a thousand days of not caring.

I know more than one real story of a husband—it tends to be a husband, and not a wife (and we’ll get into what that might mean in a future post or two)—coming home from work one day to find his marriage ending.  He walks in, hangs his coat up, she says “we need to talk,” and 20 minutes later it’s over.  Never knew what hit him.  He was totally blindsided.

Was he really?

What’s happening with you?  How do you feel about your wife day to day?

Do you absently join in with the guys in the office when they talk about their “ball and chain”?

How many times in the past six months have you asked “what’s for dinner?”?  Is it more or less than the number of times you’ve asked “what can I make us for dinner?”?

Does she really nag you?  Or do you just complain about her nagging you, because she’s a wife, and we all know wives nag, because that’s what wives do?

Have you emptied the dishwasher this week?  Done any laundry?

Have you taken the kids out for an hour or two in the evening just in the interest of her peace?  Rubbed her feet just because?

Are you listening when she tells you about her day?  Or are you just patronizing her until you can get away to your man-cave?

In recent memory, have you taken ten seconds, gently grasped her cheeks, looked into her eyes, and told her you appreciated her for all she does?

Most marriages are strong by design at their outset, because most of us don’t go in trivially.  You’ve considered all of the large things and found them satisfactory.  That’s exactly the reason that marriages live and die by the “small stuff”—and I put that in quotes because it’s not small stuff at all.

You’ve sussed the big stuff. Because it’s settled, in a very real way, it doesn’t matter.  It’s the solidity of that decision that magnifies the so-called little things.  They’re not little things.  They’re decisions you make every day that either contribute to or detract from the health of your marriage.

Your organism.

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 Posted by at 12:00 am

  16 Responses to “ On Marriage, Part I: It’s an Organism”

  1. This Thursday, August 15, Linda and I will be only One Year away from the “Big One” …We plan on enjoying some of the “Small Stuff” …Oh … I have to empty the dishwasher now …Bye

  2. One of the nicest memories I have of David’s actions are one night, I had a large book club group over for dinner and discussion. There were about 10 of us and we left the dinner dishes behind to go upstairs and chat for a few hours. When we came down, David had cleaned every single item, forks, pots, glasses -everything. Then he had retired to bed so I couldn’t even profusely thank him until the next morning.

    It’s telling that it is one of the first things that pop into my mind when I think about the “little things,” so to speak, and not some other supposedly major thing like jewelry. (Don’t get me wrong, I think about those surprises, too, but in a different way.)

  3. WOW, you are seriously talking old fashioned types of marriages? So glad I’m not in one of those. I’ve got a good one that’s for sure and I tell him every day. I am lucky and blessed. Thank God!

  4. Excellent post. To clarify for myself from a woman’s perspective. It’s not about doing laundry, cooking dinner or washing dishes. It’s about being appreciated for whatever role you play in your household.

    This goes for us women as well. We should be doing the same for our husbands. Ladies, when was the last time you looked at the hubby and praised him for what he does for the family? When was the last time you told him you were proud of his accomplishments? Men need to hear that they are appreciated too and not just a paycheck.

  5. Thank you all. I’m glad the post resonates. Hopefully I can keep that vibe going!

  6. Hi Bo. It was nice to meet you and the others at last night’s networking dinner. This may be trite, but it’s true: Your writing is like hearing a friend talk to you. That’s good writing, by my count, and I don’t compliment lightly.

    I like this post and the post about Madison Square Mall. As a lady, I find it almost creepy to go to b/c it’s so deserted. Shout out to JCPenney, though. It really looks nice.

    Best regards,

    • Wow, what a wonderful compliment, Stephanie! Thank you so much. It was great to meet you too. Looking forward to future Bloggles. Next month will be closer to us. 🙂

  7. Great post. I have a confession though….when I first looked at the title, I did not see what you actually had written…I saw a different word completely, and I was thinking, “Wow, Bo, you’re really getting down to brass tacks right out of the gate!” 🙂

  8. “Do you absently join in with the guys in the office when they talk about their “ball and chain”?”

    This is a pet peeve of mine. I HATE hearing the guys at the office rag on their wives (I don’t like it when women do it either, but I work with all men, so…) There is one coworker of mine who I have seriously NEVER heard say a positive thing about his wife. It’s incredibly depressing if you stop to think about it.

    • MrsDragon, I made friends with a fellow at work several years ago because this was going on ahead of a meeting starting. He noticed that I hadn’t participated, and I noticed that he hadn’t participated. We shared a few minutes after the meeting talking about the tremendous blessings our wives were to us. It was a nice moment.

  9. It’s not about doing laundry, cooking dinner or washing dishes. It’s about being appreciated for whatever role you play in your household.

    Exactly, Tonya.

    I don’t need the dishes or laundry done. I need to know that I’m your partner, that we’re on the same page in raising our children, that we have a future together, that you give a damn about what I want and how I feel. Otherwise, I’m a live-in maid you can bang.

    • Y’all have got it.

      But y’all are also farther along than a lot of folks.

      A click or three south of where you are, picking up a mundane task or two without complaint or expectation of specific praise can be crucial.

  10. I had some time to think about this, and I wanted to add that little passive-aggressive moments will tear down just as much (or more) as picking up those mundane tasks builds up. If she asks for help with something and you deliberately screw up so she’ll never ask you again, well, you won that round, but you lost trust.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately done something badly to avoid being asked to do it again. Whenever I’m guilty of a transgression over such, it just tends to be grousing. (Not that that’s any better.)

      It’s not always easy, and I don’t always succeed, but I try to look at it as being blessed to be in a position to help.

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