Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Ball and Chain

Of what value is marriage?   Certainly the most exciting and fun part of any relationship is the first 6-12 months.  Then, after the initial honeymoon, relationships become work.  I know many people who only stick around for the first 6-12 months.  This is the hot time in a relationship.  When it starts to become work and the relationship cools, they leave.  Marriage locks two people in for an extended period of time.  Carl Whitaker used to say that the value of marriage was that no matter how bad the fight, no one was going to leave easily.  So is the value of marriage that it makes it more difficult to end a relationship?  
  As a marriage and family therapist everyday I get to study the effects marriage has on individuals.   Marriages are forever changing and the people have to change with it.  Over time children arrive.  While children multiply the love in the house, they make it much more difficult for the couple to connect and keep up the glue between them.  Except for the benefits of having two people to raise children, why get married?  I believe I have found the answer to this question.  But let’s start at the beginning.  During the first few months of my marriage, I learned an incredibly important lesson.   
I had no doubts about my marriage to Catherine.  I knew she was good for me, that we could talk about anything and we had immense fun together.  However, during the engagement process, we both experienced an external force, squeezing us into a ‘onesome.’  You have to fight to retain your own identity and not be totally merged into being part of a couple.  A healthy relationship allows one to join and then separate and find themselves, and then join again.  So this experience of merging was suffocating.  Catherine would get mad at me for things she hadn’t noticed about me in the two years we had been together.  I was frustrated at how difficult it was to hold onto me.  None of this, however, shook my confidence in our getting married.  
There is an old joke about how ‘it’ happens on the third day after you get married.  You wake up, look at the other person and somewhere in the back of the head you hear, “for the rest of my life!”  One has to adjust their perspective on life.  Snarch says: “No one is ready for marriage.  Marriage gets you ready for marriage.”  
Several weeks after the wedding, my loss of freedom started to invade my thinking every night on the ride home.  I slowly was becoming more resentful.  Before I was married, I was choosing to go home at night.  Now, I had lost that choice and was forced to go home.  I had lost my freedom.  Hence, I understand where the term ‘ball and chain’ comes from regarding one’s spouse.  I felt enslaved, not to my wife, but to the marriage itself.  One night something happened to change my whole way of thinking. 
I was riding home and thinking about how I had lost my freedom.  I was getting angrier and angrier.  Then I had the thought, if I wanted to go to the airport and get on a plane tonight, I could.  I could go anywhere I wanted to just by pulling out a credit card.  There would be different consequences for my going off to Tahiti by myself, but I could do it.  I had a choice and I was actually going home by choice.  I was choosing to be with Catherine that night, because I wanted to be with her, not because of a ring on my finger.  
The ball and chain slipped off and I have never experienced it since.  Everyday I am responsible for the choices I make.  Marriage is one of the choices I make everyday.  
After 30 years of marriage I can tell you the advantage of marriage.  While the hot stuff at the beginning is the most fun, it is superficial.  A long term marriage provides you with a root in your life.  My marriage has grown a deep root into my soul that grounds me, makes me more stable and allows me to be more than I am just in and of myself.