I dislike absolutes in life, especially casually tossed out, hyperbolic blanket statements. They dig under my scalp and into my brain like psychic chiggers.
I know, I know…given past experience, you probably figure this is a post that’s going to be about racial stuff. And then you go back to the headline and get confused and wonder, “Is it about lynching somehow, whether literal or metaphorical?”
The blanket statements and knots I’m talking about relate to marriage (or any other similar relationship between two people—any theoretically committed, long-term gig to be by each other’s side, in each other’s bodies and juggling each other’s hearts).
I’m a veteran of marriage, having been in one for more than 14 years now, and having dated my amazing (and lovely, and talented and smart and yes every so often frustrating and infuriating) partner for a couple years before she became my wife. I don’t think that makes me an expert, but I have enough hours logged now that I can say a few things with authority.
First, no marriage fails in a vacuum and second, no marriage is doomed.
Save your retorts for the end; give me a chance to explain. This isn’t one of those religious “You can’t ever let your marriage go to pieces” posts.
You see, one of the people I follow on Twitter (and who follows me) is going through a separation (her second with this man, I guess) and probably to divorce. We’ve traded a few tweets and I’m sure many other people on Twitter have communicated with her too, with support, commiseration, questions and maybe even criticism.
She seems to have a pretty healthy outlook overall about the situation, even though it’s stressful, obviously. But she made a tweet today that took me aback, about how she wasn’t innocent in the breakup, and that it is entirely her fault.
No, it isn’t.
I can say this with assurance, and it goes to the first of my earlier assertions: No marriage fails in a vacuum.
Just as it takes two people to make the relationship (well, usually two; it can be more, of course), it takes both of them to tear it asunder. In the heat of emotional things like this, it’s easy for both parties to point the finger of blame, or even for their friends and family to assign the role of villain to one person.
But I’ve come close to the abyss in my marriage. There have been some rough times in recent memory and moments I thought it was all over. My wife and I have come back from the brink, and I have a very good feeling that we either won’t get to the brink again, or we’ll figure out again how to avoid going over the edge if we do.
Something interesting has happened for me in the travails I’ve faced in my own marriage: Realizing where I’ve gone wrong (mostly because I was willing to look inside myself and my actions in the context of the marriage; many people aren’t willing to do that). Now, I’m not going to say who was mostly to blame for the near ending of the marriage. But while one of us was noticeably more responsible for the dilemmas we faced, neither of us was anywhere near guiltless.
Fact is that in any relationship like this, no one is blameless. One person might be 99% to blame and the other 1% to blame, but there are always contributions and failures on both sides, and rarely is it so lopsided as to even be 80% or 90% in one person’s corner.
And that is part of the reason why no marriage is inherently doomed to failure (my second assertion). Because there is blame to go around, there are opportunities for both parties to fix things. If both parties are willing to truly look at themselves as honestly as possible and at the other person, those people will be able to get to the heart of what’s causing the rift.
Once the causes (and rarely is it just one thing) are identified, they can be fixed.
I don’t care how dire it is. They can be fixed.
However, the question is often: Should they be fixed?
And another question, perhaps more central to the issue, is: Are both people willing to do what needs doing?
Both people can make the commitment to change whatever needs changing in their behaviors, attitudes, perceptions or whatever else. They can save the marriage.
The question is never “can a marriage be saved” but rather “is it worth the effort/pain/time to save it?”
In our case, it has been worth it. Some major changes have been made. Changes that many would not be willing to make and that some might even say neither person should have been willing to make.
As to the former, not everyone can make the necessary changes. That doesn’t make them bad people or failures. We can only go as far as we feel we have the strength to go.
As for the latter point, whether the changes should have been made, well…that’s no one else’s fucking business. It only matters that we felt the marriage was worth keeping and that whatever discomforts might come with making changes were worth the payoff. No one looking from the outside toward the inside can truly judge whether there’s something worth saving; only those on the inside can really decide.
That’s not to say people on the outside can’t help with insights, observations and advice. But they don’t get to make the decision, and they sure as hell shouldn’t be coming out with “I told you so” comments if an attempt to save things fails. Because, bottom line, it isn’t their marriage; it isn’t their call.