Growing a marriage over decades
In my thoughts on marriage I separate what we usually think of as marriage from the fundamental building block of society regardless of legal and cultural contexts. When I use the word marriage it's in that context rather than a specific legal or societal norm: two people leaving their families and forming a new one. I use the term because it still carries the essence better than alternatives. Terms like marriage, religion and Christian have come to mean so many different things it is necessary to ask what people mean by a word before we can enter into meaningful dialogue.
I've changed over the years. Major changes have often followed trauma - knocking down the walls I had let build up in my mind. Some changes were more gradual. The ones I enjoyed most came from people arguing with me. And when I say arguing, I do not mean what is commonly thought of today as arguing. I mean tossing ideas to and fro - not attacking each other.
Each of us is unique - we have different combinations of learning styles, motivations and so on. We have our own personality - and that personality does not stay the same as we grow. If we don't grow, we're dead (even if not physically dead).
In marriage two people agree to marry each other. If they're like me, they don't really understand what that means and what they would go through together. They don't know how they will grow, let alone how their partner will grow. Is it any wonder that so many people "grow apart" - even those who stay together physically.
I'm not suggesting that two people should live their lives as one person, eating the same food, going to the same places, having all their friends in common and so on. We are individuals, with different needs.
But the two also, in ways I'm still learning, become one - while still two. It doesn't make complete sense to my mind either: 1 + 1 = 2 is such a basic lesson. The fact is we are both individuals and part of something bigger. Those who know us appreciate there would be little benefit from me attending music or craft activities, or my wife attending accountants' meetings. However we should also be interested in and appreciate the other's efforts .
I was the photographer in our family - two cameras, lenses, filters and so on, while my wife had a "toy" (not an SLR). These days without the costs associated with film, my wife is free to explore and experiment. I am proud of less than a handful of the large number of photos I took. I tended to follow the "rules" most of the time, getting the best balance and light - but most were still at best "ordinary". Today some of her photos are ordinary - but her "success" rate at achieving great, pleasing or stunning photos is far higher than mine was.
There is an old joke about a married man having a great memory - because his wife never lets him forget anything. We all have things we'd rather forget - yet trying to forget is not easy. However, we can, over time, replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. Some of us don't see this as a negative / positive thing - we're "realists".
I have recently come to see that even though those things did happen in real life, they are in the past. Things that we did in the past don't need to be carried forward into the future. This is where being a friend of Jesus can really make a difference. A few can change themselves (at some times for some matters). Others may spend time with counsellors on parts of the issue, but Jesus can greatly shorten the process and deal with it all. It may still take time, and require effort repairing relationships, but it lets the problem be rooted out.
However, while behaviour can change instantly, more often old ways persevere. After my stroke, I apologised to my wife deeply and sincerely for some of the ways I'd been before the stroke. Within a week of my recovery, I had to apologise again. With my mind came all the baggage as well as the positive stuff. But the past is the past, and together we're working on growing.
Which brings me to the main thought for this article. If we have trouble jettisoning our own weaknesses, how much more does our partner still see us in light of our past behaviour? We have two people, each growing and discarding unhelpful things in their own lives - and each trying to support the other in their own growth - and together trying to grow their own relationship - and if they're Christians, to build their and each other's walk with Jesus.
As if that wasn't enough of a challenge, they do the same with others - children, family and friends although less intensely. We need to work at understanding our own growth - and our partner's - and not revert to our past ways - or treat our partner on the basis of their past ways. This isn't easy - not least because at times we still fall into our past ways. But we are not the same person - and neither is our partner.