I have a friend whose marriage I greatly admire. While I’m sure that she and her husband have their share of differences, they seem to really enjoy being with each other. They have a houseful of children and guests but always carve out some private time. They’ve been married for 30 years, and despite the graying hair, wrinkling skin and widening waists, their affection appears to have deepened. In fact, they even seem to embrace the aging process! They have always seemed so in sync.
Which is why I was surprised by what she recently told me. For most of their marriage they were in business together. She would do a lot of it from home but it was an area of shared interest and an integral part of their lives. Although she knew her husband was getting restless, she wasn’t quite prepared for his announcement that he wanted to sell the business and change jobs. Or perhaps just leave it in her hands.
He tried to make it clear that it wasn’t a reflection on their marriage or his feelings about her. He was at that famous “mid-life” stage and wanted to try something different before it was too late.
She did her best to be understanding. In fact, she did understand. But she still felt bereft. And abandoned.
It took her a few months to accurately name her feelings and find her voice. “It feels like one of the essential terms of our marriage has been altered,” she explained tearfully. Her foundation felt a little shaky under her feet.
All this happened a few months ago, long before my friend actually told me anything. And they are slowly, together, working their way towards a new understanding.
It was an important lesson for me. Everyone talks about people growing and changing over time. And the same is true of a marriage. Circumstances change. New situations arise. Marriages need to adjust. And it’s knowing that your marriage can withstand these challenges that helps give you the strength to go on.
I’m glad I was privy to the inner workings of my friend’s marriage. While we know intellectually that no one’s life is without struggles, from the outside her marriage seemed ideal. And perhaps it actually is, because it can roll with the punches.
We all have to confront unexpected tests. How could the terms of a marriage contracted at 25 possibly be the same at 50? It makes sense that marriages need to be flexible. But facing the need to change can be frightening and threatening. Watching my girlfriend gave me hope and encouragement. If we put in the work ahead of time, our house won’t blow over when attacked (I should have studied “The Three Little Pigs” more carefully!) If we make our commitment to each other paramount, we’ll get through the challenges. If we work together we’ll forge a new way of being, perhaps something even better than the old. And if we ask the Almighty to help us, as He has through all of our struggles, He won’t let us down.
For some, change has become a dirty word. But it is actually possible to embrace change for the opportunity it really is.
We get used to the status quo. And families in particular are very invested in preserving their homeostasis -- often at great cost. Research has shown that schizophrenics who have achieved a stable existence often revert to their previous way of being when returned to their family of origin. Part of this is due to the behavior of their parents and siblings who are invest in preserving things just as they have always been. The familiar, even if horrifying, still has a strong pull.
We need to resist inertia and welcome new opportunities. We may just discover something wonderful.