SAN ANTONIO - Its amazing, catching up with old friends at a party. Folks I went to high school with, friends that I only see every couple years, some that I haven't spent time with since 1984. Much life has been lived, and what I noticed more than anything this last trip home was friends going through separations and divorces.
Cheating husband. Great parents to great kids, but they've slowly grown apart over time, unbearably stressful circumstances of finances or professions. Kids caught in the middle, or not. I looked around, and realized my circle of friends is spot-on for national stats of 50%+ marriage failure, and I'm smack in the middle of the stats.
Who the hell am I to look someone in the eye and give them my two cents about what they can do to prevent a divorce? Nobody really, but I look at the stats and at my friends and I wish for better.
When my marriage's car crashed through the guardrail in late '03, I was comforted by family and friends. "Divorce is like the death of a dream", one of my favorites from a former co-worker. "In death, you have the finality of loss, and the grieving process, and usually some form of closure. But in divorce, you have unending questions of what could have been done, who's fault it is, what mistakes were made, & what could have prevented it from happening", that one from my parents, learning from the very few friends of theirs whose marriages ended.
I'm starting to get to the point where I think I might have something helpful to say about it, perhaps motivated by seeing my one & only niece, and children of good friends, quickly approaching the age when they'll be getting engaged & married. So...
1) Pre-marrital counseling
If you & your significant other happen to be tight with a strong church, you might have an opportunity to get some formal counseling, and I encourage it. Maybe you do, and you've actively avoided it because you either think your bond is above & beyond the need, or you're fearful of the results. I encourage you to embrace the challenge & consider it your first big test. I know virtually nothing of the process, nor of the specific content. You'll likely be asked some very serious questions, and be put through some specifically designed scenarios that force you to confront situations & make decisions that I never bothered to think about back then. Not the least of which might be how you both deal with conflict, money, communication, kids, family dynamics... the list goes on.
If you think your 'bond of love' or 'connection' will help you weather any storm that marriage will bring, you're going to get smacked. Reality has a way of chip, chip, chipping away at your 'bond' until your relationship of concrete and rebar becomes twigs and quicksand. If you don't have access to good pre-marrital counseling, seek some out.
2) Family interractions
When my older sister was engaged, her fiance's Mom & step-father came over to the house for a visit. I have never, and probably never will, been through such a classic moment of 'uncomfortable silence' as we sat in the living room in each other's presence without one single commonality or thing to say to each other after a few minutes of small talk, parents included. It was downright creepy.
But depending upon how close-by your families are located, a meeting like that can be an indicator on how well in-laws are likely to get along. That’s a lot more critical if kids & child care with grandma & grandpa are likely to be major players in your marriage, less so if in-laws are farther away. But at least its a chance to see the kind of families you both come from, and the dynamics that existed for both of you.
A young couple in this spot will probably learn what their parents expect of them in their impending union, and that could be useful, if not incredibly stressful. Parents never really stop projecting expectations onto their children, so getting a window into what kind of pressure you’ll feel to have kids, provide a certain level of income & lifestyle, or what religious choices are going to be made will give you a chance to be perfectly honest about what you think of those expectations.
It’s easy to simply say, “don't do anything stupid with money”. Our friends in the credit card and banking industries have made it much easier for people to understand and relate to nightmare scenarios when it comes to personal finances, and its easier now to think smart about money given the country's financial meltdown.
What's harder is knowing you are on the same page about money and finances with your partner. You both have dreams, we all 'want things', and early on in a relationship its easy to blow over that stuff believing that 'as long as we have each other, we'll be fine.' Well, I'm here to tell you it takes 2 very special people sharing a rare, rare bond to actually make that romantic BS come true.
The truth is, we're a nation who's economic psyche is intertwined with material acquisition, and the gift-registration tradition for brides & grooms is all the proof you need of how deeply ingrained money is within the context of a new, young relationship. Its way easier to get into financial trouble than it is to make a marriage work, and if you do find yourselves drowning in debt, the stats say your marriage will be drowning, too. And worse, if you're not on the same page about money, you will find yourself inside epic fights that have no good resolution, and will contribute to the destruction of your bond of love.
4) Marriage & the church
Wow, this one is the tough one. Ask yourself right now, 'What is marriage?' Do you know? Is your answer one that the law agrees with, or is it an abstract concept that fits what you believe marriage should be? Does your answer have anything to do with your belief in God, or lack thereof?
Fact is, there is no one answer to that question anymore. It depends upon what you believe, and the 'legal definition' of marriage depends upon where you are. You'd sooner pin a buzzing fly to a wall throwing a dart than answer correctly.
What I learned is that if you marry outside of a religious belief, you're probably missing one key ingredient in keeping a marriage together: the threat of religious, institutional judgement. That's some messed up BS when it comes to a bond of love, but if you think about it, you know it's true. "Holy matrimony" is not spoken aloud because it sounds beautiful echoing off the walls of a cathedral, it's recognizing that for much of the history of 'marriage', it was widely recognized as a union before God above all else. And God can be a potent weapon when it comes to preventing someone from trashing their vows.
That was certainly true for my parents' generation. The evolution of the concept of marriage in America has moved shockingly fast in the past half-century alone. We're not that far removed from a time when if you got a divorce, there was a good chance you could get run out of your church, blackballed out of your town, your job, and maybe your family.
5) Total honesty?
This seems like an insipid no-brainer, but its not. Talk to any married friend, and you’re likely to find out that there’s a known limit to how much info one gives up to their partner in a wide variety of circumstances. In their mind, they’re ‘protecting’ their spouse from stress. In reality of course, they’re lying.
As the immortal San Kinison said “Lies keep you together! Lies enhance your relationship, enhance your love…. Wake up every morning & say ‘STILL LOVE YA HONEY!!!!’”. Of couse, Sam had about as good a time in marriage as I did, and a big part of that for both of us was conflict brought on by sharing true feelings.
This might be the toughest part of keeping a marriage together… what happens when you tell your partner the truth? About anything, really… friends, family, who should’ve fed the dog. The truth can be a magnet for conflict, and once you realize that, you start to understand how tough keeping a marriage together can be, how hard it can be to actually tell the truth, and just how special a relationship must be to survive.
6) Your inner voice
Ever been around a bride or groom close to the big date & they get 'cold feet'? Someone that starts firing deadly serious questions about whether or not they're doing the right thing, or if they're cut out for the comittment they're about to make? Or maybe they don't have a specific reason, they're just scared s***less at the prospect. Personally I haven't been witness to that. Nor did I have those feelings before my own marriage. But in an odd way, I did have a moment of clarity just a few months before a series of events that put me on the path to my marriage.
I was at home, alone, grilling. Not a particulary inspiring moment, just an everyday (night in this case) moment of pause that I will never forget as long as I live, as banal as it might seem. I stared into the glowing coals underneath a few sizzling burgers on the Weber, Shiner Bock in hand, on what must have been a moderately pleasant SA night since I do not recall dripping sweat in sweltering humidty... and realized out loud "I'm happy." No friends around at the moment, nothing in particular happening in my life that day, just... happy. It was a moment that came and went very quickly, but stuck with me over the years as events unfolded, and ultimately what it taught me was that I did not feel unhappy without the presence of the person I ended up marrying, someone that I'd known for many years by that point. In that moment, I knew I would be fine whether I ever found someone, or not.
That was an unsolicited, simple, easy-to-understand statement made by my own inner voice. And I ignored it believing that my life might get better if I married this person, even though we'd already been through a relationship in multiple stages.
So... if you feel like your life is or would be miserable without the presence of the person you want to marry, you're on the right track. If you believe in your heart that you're probably OK either way, that life will most likely be just fine if you proceed unmarried... Do Not Get Married. To me, it's that simple.
Because that total misery without the other person just might be the one and only thing that would end up saving your marriage. And to quote another great comedian, Louis C.K., “Remember, no good marriage ever ended in divorce.” So Good Luck!
To wrap this up, this will be the last blog for BoneRack's Place. It's been a good experiment, but it would appear that BoneRack's simply isn't a viable forum. The hit counts on the last few (and far between) postings have looked more like golf scores than any semblance of a readership. And what I've always had in mind for ‘writing’ has apparently gone out of style. Basically, I like to write stuff that very few people have the time to read. In the modern universe of Twitter, texting & rapid-pace life, even loved ones just don't have the time to sit through more than a paragraph of stuff. Too Bad.
But then again, if I was a better or more prolific writer, maybe that wouldn't be so much of a problem. Thanks for reading everyone, keep an eye out for something else in the future. What that might be, I have no idea.