June 12 of this year (2014), Rose and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. (The Golden one: that sounds like a long time!) While I know this milestone doesn't make me an expert or in possession of the secret to a lasting marriage, it does make me bold enough to think I have something worth sharing.
I am a bit hesitant, though, as the realistic thoughts I want to share might give the impression of marriage as something unexciting, unromantic, or unfulfilling. But, nothing (in our marriage, at least) is anything like that.
When I told a friend I was writing about The Trinity of Marriage, the friend automatically assumed I was writing about that meaningful view of marriage as a covenant relationship between the two marriage partners and God.The term "Covenant of Marriage" is not necessarily a religious term. My understanding is that a covenant is an agreement different from a contract. While both contracts and covenants stress responsibilities of the individuals, in a contract, the responsibility of one person depends on the behavior of the other. One partner's misdeed can break the contract. However, in a Covenant relationship, each partner make promises of commitment regardless the actions of the other. While that is a rich, sacred view, my "trinity" thoughts are just practical ones. In the Judeo-Christian view of marriage the two become "one flesh." In my practical view, however, that one-ness is really a three-ness.
(I will use Rose and Keith as the participants, but you can substitute whatever combination you wish.) While, in marriage, Rose and I become one, Rose still retains her identity and has wants, needs, and desires that are part of her makeup. I may not understand all these, and some may seem foreign to me. But, it would not be right (maybe even sinful) for me to think I should change her.
In like manner, I am another "face" to this oneness. My thoughts are not always Rose's, nor are my likes the same as hers. I'm guessing she sometimes wonders, but she allows me to be me. I think, as we have moved along through this marriage stuff, we have learned the importance of the each one to the total oneness. In talking about religious community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that it is not good for a person to be in community if that person cannot be alone. Because looking to community to define oneself and provide all personal needs can be destructive to the community. I think something similar is at play in a marriage. Neither partner can look to the union to meet all needs. Perhaps two should not try to be together unless they are able to be alone.
June 12, 1964
The third face of this trinity is the union Rose/Keith (or Keith/Rose). In addition to being individuals, we are also a couple, a couple in a covenant relationship. We are committed not only to one another but to being a couple. And this couple has a personality and set of needs and wants just as do the two individuals. We need to think of nurturing the couple just as we look at nurturing each other and ourselves.
While we can romanticize and spiritualize the union of marriage, I think it is helpful to consider these three faces somewhat as three entities. It may not be an idealistic way to look at marriage, but I think it is very realistic view. And to think of marriage over the long haul of years, it is important that our model for marriage be realistic.
This trinity view especially shows its value in decision-making. When faced with a big decision (whether to move, where to go on vacation, or to buy a new car), it can be helpful to discuss the decision in light of these three faces. What would Rose decide if she were considering only her own thoughts and needs? How would I decide if I looked just from my own perspective? This isn't selfish thinking, just two people being totally honest. Honest with themselves and with each other.
But, then we need to think about the decision looking at it as a couple. What decision makes the most sense for us as a couple? Often this joint decision is helped and molded by really hearing the individual thinking. Something subtle, too, can go on during this three-way thinking. By forcing myself to think first of a decision as just mine, I have realized that sometimes a plan I thought "best for us" was really just was best for me. This triune thinking emphasizes the honesty and communication necessary in a healthy marriage relationship.
This type of thinking also helps us from expecting that marriage will always make us fully satisfied and fulfilled individually and as a couple. We can put expectations on marriage that this wonderful institution is not always able to deliver. Just as we can expect the church or the bible to hold all the answers for us and fulfill all spiritual longings, we can expect that marriage is to be the be all and end all of human relationships. We can spiritualize and romanticize marriage to be more than it is meant to be.
Continuing in this realistic vein, I remember in a sermon on divorce (which was really more of a sermon on marriage)Sermon by Richard Morgan, Church of the Good Samaritan, Feb. 10, 2013. Sermon Video, our rector, Richard Morgan, talked about how some people think there is one person out there for you; that God has your marriage partner pre-determined. His grin and chuckle suggested he didn't think much of the thought. "I don't know about that or how it would happen," he said. Then he offered his best advice on the question of how do you know you are married to the one God has for you. In essence he said, "The one that God has for you is the one you wake up next to in bed after your marriage night." This seems a much more realistic and workable view than wondering over these fifty years whether I had indeed married the one God had out there destined for me. (Talk about thoughts that could be the seeds of destruction!)
It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on (at the wedding), it is the marriage that sustains your love.
Letters & Papers from Prison I think having realistic views of what marriage is and isn't has helped us grow together and mature as a couple. In his novel of World War II on the Greek island of Cephallonia, Corelli's MandolinCorelli's Mandolin, by Louis de Berniéres, 1994. (the Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin was based on this book), author Louis de Berniéres has the widower Dr. Iannis giving advice about marriage and the nature of marriage to his daughter Pelagia. Dr. Iannis says:
"... And another thing. Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because that is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of our body.
"No, don't blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being 'in love', which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two."Ibid., p.281
Perhaps I was mistaken when I started out saying this Reflection was not about the sacred view of marriage as a covenant of the trinity of marriage partners and God. I think it really is. Based on fifty years at this marriage thing, I think my rector and de Berniéres's good doctor speak the truth about who God wants our life-long partner to be and that love is that good thing a couple has when being in love fades. Binding the two individuals into a trinity with God allows God to work with us, to strengthen us, to make marriage work ... over the many years.
To some, these thoughts might suggest the marriage isn't much of anything. Certainly not something to look forward to for a lifetime! Just another human endeavor that takes work. A job to do. But, I would submit that this view makes marriage something unique, special, and a blessing of the human experience. I can imagine God looking down, as God did during creation, and saying, "Marriage: It is good. It is very good!
At this golden milestone, I celebrate! I celebrate the two of us who are also one, our marriage covenant that stresses reality rather than expecting magic, the God who works with us and in us, and our roots that have become more and more entwined. Thanks be to God!