VIEW FROM THE HILL- Test of a marriage comes post-wedding

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
“If life is a seven-course meal, how come I have take-out in a brown bag?” -Anonymous

Life happens, you know. It may not be what you wanted. However, it’s reality-in spades.

This month, Deborah and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Back then, we were young and very much in love.

Relatives and friends celebrated our wedding with us. We opened gifts at the reception and later departed on a honeymoon trip that took us through the hills and valleys of Kansas to the mountaintops of Colorado.

We enjoyed the scenery of the Royal Gorge and walked across the bridge, occasionally looking at the Arkansas River in the canyon below.

We took walks in the mountains and valleys. We enjoyed each other’s company as husband and wife. “Love” was everywhere.

Thinking about my opening sentence, life does happen-even when we go to extra lengths to ensure a happy, successful “life.”

Wedded bliss lives in “happily-ever-after” fairy tales and our imaginations. In reality, life resembles the rocky hillsides and deadly canyon walls of the Rocky Mountains. To say otherwise suggests a state of denial. We walk perilously close to the edge of a cliff, unaware of the danger, and risk losing our marital lives.

As a younger, 30-something husband and father of two with one on the way, I remember listening to James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. He reminded listeners the things we admired in our partners while dating were often the very things that later on in our marriage could try our patience.

“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “His quiet, reserved behavior, once admired as strength now provokes her to anger because he will not communicate. Her spontaneity and energetic personality that attracted her to him in college has become a source of irritation and frustration for him. He would rather sit at home instead of going out on a moment’s notice and meeting friends.”

Back then, this was an “aha!” moment. Before Dobson, few individuals communicated the facts of marital life as well as he. My ideal marriage met reality head-on.

Aside from personality differences and individual expectations of husband and wife, children add a dimension to the already crowded schedules of work and downtime. In addition, financial pressures and lifestyle preferences come to the forefront as each partner’s concept of “marital bliss” clashes with reality.

Extended family members also contribute to competing interests. Close proximity to parents can be a source of marital stress, especially if one or both sets of parents disapproved the marriage relationship.

Each partner’s needs for intimacy changes as people grow older. The presence of children affects the physical relationship, often negatively. One partner may feel abandoned; the other may feel “obligated.” An impasse results. Partners may drift apart as one finds another outlet to fill the need if the impasse remains.

If someone were to ask me for words of wisdom on a successful marriage, I’d tell them to come back to me in another 34 years-if I live that long. If hard pressed, I would say, “Listen to Dr. Dobson and work on it.”

Human wisdom can be fleeting and incomplete, at best. It’s no guarantee that it, if adhered to, will ensure happiness and a long life together. A successful marriage requires the participation of two individuals. If one quits, it’s over.

The death of a marriage is traumatic and agonizing. It may be a slow, ongoing process of withdrawal, lack of communication, continual conflict. In some cases, its end is abrupt and comes as a surprise for one party.

Yet, the symptoms lay below the surface, simmering, finally to emerge in with a devastating force.

There’s the blame game. There’s the breakup of the family unit. There’s the financial upheaval and social cost. There’s the mental and spiritual agony. There’s the loss of self-esteem.

As each year passes, I am tempted to downplay our anniversary celebration because I do not want others to think we are superior and better. Our life together has been a walk through tough times and good times. We have not been perfect. We are, after all, two individuals who must live day by day and submit to each other every day.

We have honored our commitment to each other. From my perspective, a good working marriage adds value to the community at large. Children coming from the union of husband and wife that, though fallible, are good role models, not only for their own offspring but to other youth that observe their daily behavior.

Even so, having known too many “victims” of marital failure, knowing my own weaknesses, the effects are too much for me to sit back and cast judgment in their direction.

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