Friday, February 19, 2016

Til Death us do Part

At 37, I find few of my friends are getting together, getting married, buying houses and having babies. But some of them are getting divorced. Or going through experiences that could lead them there.

It's upsetting. In addition to lots of thinking and talking with my friends, I've been rereading the Church of England wedding vows .

Here are a few thoughts my conversations and reading have provoked:
1) Marriage is a community affair.....
During a wedding, everybody vows to "support and uphold" the couple. The public nature of the marriage is emphasised, as is the gravity of taking any action that threatens it.

A genuine community will make an effort to support couples; create space for honest, vulnerable conversation about marriage. How often do we share with others anything of our joys and struggles as a couple? Or dare to let friends know we are concerned about or proud of their marriages? It's harder to do this when we live at a distance - but still possible, either by keeping in touch or forming new support networks or both.

And this "marriage threatening action" isn't just about affairs. How often do we gleefully seek out, nourish and sustain another couple's story of conflict, for example?

2) ... but for the married individual, everything (including anticipated and realised offspring) must play second fiddle to Mr or Mrs.

Again, let's get over the obession with sex. Yes, 'forsaking all others' means not sleeping around. But often infidelity ends a long road of heartache.

Confide in your spouse, not your best, newest or oldest friend. Let go that great career, social opportunity or perfectly contented baby if it makes you forget the wellbeing of your partner or compromises the amount of time you have to be intimate with them. Defend and admire one another in public, even when there is opportunity to appear the 'better half' by attacking, mocking or letting them stand alone. Resolve the conflicts that parenting exhaustion bring into your relationship.

3) Marriage is not intuitive.

Why would anyone bother with vows that came naturally? We repeat these words in such solemn fashion because most of us will find it difficult to be faithful, to love in times of poverty or sickness, to share our souls and our bodies.

You can learn to be more and better married every day but for the majority, it's a job of work.

4) The churches have a lot to offer from their understanding of the sanctity of marriage: sadly, they often emphasise the wrong stuff.

For a church community, and any genuine community, marriage is sacred. (That is not to say a divorced or separated person is to be looked down upon - absolutely not. We have all fallen short if a couple we know and love is 'put asunder'.) In most cases, we refuse to accept its over until the fat lady sings. We fight tooth and nail to preserve it, where possible.

It isn't sacred because it's heterosexual. Or because you didn't have sex with someone else (or even your spouse to be) before you entered into it. Or because you got married in church. Or because you never had an affair or broke your vows.

A marriage is sacred because it is good - Godly - for people. For both parties in the marriage and for everybody else it touches, perhaps especially those on their own. A marriage that functions well builds up the wider community. And a marriage that breaks, be that officially or secretly, causes great hurt beyond its partners.

I'm going to do my best to be a good wife and a good friend to every other marriage on my radar. At least until I reach the next stage in life when all my friends are dying off. By then, I might be too depressed to be of any use. Said Eeyore.

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