Marriage for a Lifetime

He hears footsteps and two laughing voices in the hall, approaching his door. Yikes! He forgot he had that appointment now with Andres and Corazon, for another session of marriage preparation. Good thing he got back from the spiritgame in time. They’re too young for marriage really, only 23 and 25. But he’s working through the materials with them that he uses—mainly this book Marriage for a Lifetime. It’s time to show them the video that goes with it, and get them to try some of the role playing illustrated by actors there. He pulls down the book and videocase. They covered chapters 1 and 2 in the last two sessions.

Chapter 1 is background about evolution and socialization. Average humans, until very recent centuries, had life spans of probably forty years or less. So the emotive pattern of mating bred in by natural selection was to seek a new spouse every five to seven years, since the previous one might well have died. Now, with a doubled life span of eighty, societies in general have diverse marital practices. For one thing, most people wait till they’re over thirty to marry, as Aristotle recommended for men. Some couples, after their first married years, have ‘open’ marriage–affairs for both partners being tolerated, while they still enjoy each other’s company and don’t want to change their basic living arrangements. Others divorce and remarry several times, but this brings severe financial and identity losses, even though divorce in most countries is legally unhindered.

As Chapter 2 explains, in the Sacramental churches people tend to think that divorce, while permissible, is often a poor answer to problems since the same ones area apt to recur in another marriage. They well see the challenges of marriage for a species not suited to monogamy. But they think that a lifelong friendship and kindly love between two people who live as partners in faith and lovers is a strong symbol of the love of God for humankind. Each of the spouses is an embodiment of Christ for the other, the two interweaving the threads of their lives through days and nights, through support in good or hard times, sexual pleasure as best they can find it over long years, joint commitments and love of shared friends, making things together that never were before, and joy in their children and grandchildren, or other ways of creating together in the life-world of earth.

Corazon and Andres have been taking care of her sister’s baby for two nights, as their assignment from the last session. They yawn and hold hands while the three of them talk.

Chapter 3, “What the Elders Know,” covers the part of marriage preparation where couples learn what retired people see, looking back over their span of life. How it has consisted of different times, in terms of sex and vitality: maybe a youthful time of idealism when physical sex seemed of  little importance (or a youthful time just the opposite); maybe a time of great love for one person; a time when engaged work relationships made for intense attractions, consummated or not; a time of dryness when one was so busy with petty activity that one almost forgot about sex; and so on. Engaged couples try to anticipate how the challenges of marriage will be complicated by these phases. They don’t usually resist thinking about this, as young couples used to, since most have waited to marry until they had a sense of their own job-calling and values, and had seen various relationships unfold and play out.

The Appendix is discussion questions for the video with the book. Professional actors do role-played scenes about the usual spoilers of love: intimidation through barking fits of anger (even without physical attack, which the actors do stage in one scene); passive aggressive controlling behavior through silences, pouting, or self-righteous nagging; failure to agree on childbirth hopes; clashing money habits never negotiated; debunking each other’s enthusiasms, the wall of inner defense that can spoil intimacy, even if on the surface relations are o.k., etc. They talk over common men’s and women’s forms of these actions and feelings.

Andres is upset after the scene where the husband hits the wife. “I wish Corazon didn’t have to even see it,” he says. He can’t imagine ever doing that. Corazon is petite, several inches shorter than Andres. Suddenly she looks vulnerable, unnerved. The actors did a good job.

Carlos says probably no one thinks he would do that, until it happens. Carlos tells them he’s often mused about how the gentlest, kindest love can turn to rage. People in love, he says, have trusted each other down to their deepest layers, so they’re very exposed emotionally. When things go wrong they feel betrayed, and it’s like tender protected feet suddenly have to walk on burning, thorny ground.

And so much ordinary stuff in a life together can go wrong, and make them feel betrayed, as if their very mind may come apart at the seams. Then rage is a natural defense.

He asks if either of them knows a couple where this stuff seems to be happening. They look at each other knowingly but are silent a few seconds. Corazon says she thinks with her aunt and uncle. It’s obvious they’ve talked about it. Carlos takes that for a good sign. He asks them to think how they might recognize if things are going really bad, before the trouble got that far. They talk over some things they already disagree on, and how they might make a habit of each just handling some of those matters separately—like cooking. They always annoy each other if they cook together. They decide they’ll each just do cleanup when the other cooks.

The book also asks how they might respond if their spouse seemed to be having an affair, a likely time being a life transition such as career change, or children leaving home, or menopause. Would they want to be told at the time? One response could be for the left-out spouse to try a take-charge generosity and extra kindness at such a time, though it would be very hard–like “giving away one’s cloak too, when robbed of one’s coat.” Could they accept a return of the spouse to intimacy if it had been interrupted? (This was portrayed years ago by a Catholic writer, Nancy Mairs, in Ordinary Time.) In their parish, people recognize that tacit helps are needed for spouses left out at such times, according to the person’s temperament–like travel with friends, or household space for a new satisfying hobby, or prayer/support groups with others in special need of various kinds. Older people sometimes celebrate renewals of marriage vows. These may be for something like a twenty-fifth anniversary, or a new sense of spirituality the couple has found together. Or sometimes they celebrate spouses coming together again intimately. In any case, people call it their ‘rejuvenation vows.’ The decorate the church with bluebells and ‘baby’s breath,’ and take a wine called Cana Vintage for communion.

As Carlos finishes with Andres and Corazon, he gives them each a big hug. Their footfalls move quietly away from his door. One more meeting to go before their wedding.