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Friday, July 24

Marriage: Harmonious Union or Sacramental Sentence?

You’ve been dreaming about and planning for it since you were eight: your happily ever after. After rounds of revisions in your head, you finally settled on dark purple and gold as your colors to fit your royal-themed reception. Your ceremony would take place at a church with a single aisle and plenty of pews to accommodate all the guests you plan to invite. On your wedding day, you imagine being draped in the most beautiful white dress accompanied with the most fabulous up-do and make up as well as something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Just before the ceremony starts, your bridesmaids will surround you and offer comfort as your nerves begin to unravel and your eyes threaten to tear.

Then the time comes. Your father will walk you slowly down the aisle showered with gold rose petals and lined with onlookers focused only on you and your beauty. And as you find your place at the altar, clearly marked by your wedding planner the night before, you’ll gaze into your beau’s eyes and begin imagining the rest of your life with him.

But what kind of life will that be?

Without a doubt, you hope your marriage lasts until death do you part and your lives together will be characterized by mutual respect, marked by joint effort, filled with more joy than pain and led by God. However, recent statistics about marriage and articles written on the subject leave a grim picture about whether happily ever after can realistically be achieved in our day. The Americans for Divorce Reform project that 40%-50% of marriages will end in divorce if the current trend continues.

In one of the best love stories written, Love in the Time of Cholera, marriage is described as, “against all scientific reason for two people who hardly knew each other, with different characters, different upbringings, and even different genders, to suddenly find themselves committed to living together, to sleeping in the same bed, to sharing two destinies that perhaps were fated to go in opposite directions. The problem with marriage is that it ends every night after making love, and it must be rebuilt every morning before breakfast.”

Quite an interesting perspective. The same elements required for a harmonious union are the very ones missing from a sacramental sentence. So, I’ll start with the latter using a real example that support the book’s perspective.

I have a friend who’s been married for less than one year, and while she should still be enjoying the honeymoon phase of her marriage, she instead spends many days and nights arguing, crying and being completely emotionally drained. So, what’s going wrong? My friend feels like her voice doesn’t count in the union. When she expresses her feelings to her husband, he gets defensive and becomes angered resulting in periods of silence that could last for week. To give you an example, she wanted her husband to decrease the amount of times that he and his female friend (that he’s been cool with since college) communicated. They talked through email, text message and phone several times per week. My friend felt disrespected and brought her feelings to the table. Unfortunately, they weren’t well received or considered, and he continued communicating with his female friend weekly. He viewed this request as giving up a friendship that started long before he and my friend started dating, and that was something that he wasn’t willing to do. This is one small example in the haystack of issues that my friend has come to me with, and after she explain each issue thoroughly, my mind draws the same conclusion: her husband has not yet made the transition from individual to married man.

And according to Andrew J. Cherlin, author of Marriage-Go-Round, this is a pretty common cause for divorce because Americans simultaneously hold two values at once: a culture of marriage and a culture of individualism. He calls it individualized marriage, where couples evaluate their satisfaction with marriage in terms of the development of their own sense of self and the expression of their feelings, as opposed to the satisfaction they gain through building a family and playing the roles of spouse and parent. In the article, The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage, Cherlin states that in an individualized marriage, each person aims to develop a fulfilling, independent self instead of sacrificing oneself to one’s partner.

Now, every story has two sides. But from what I’ve gathered from my friend, she is most interested in creating a companionate marriage while her husband is content with an individualized one. If the different views of the union continue, it seems as if my friend will simply be doing time in a sacramental sentence.

So, one ingredient necessary to cook up a harmonious union is undoubtedly similar views between two people on what a marriage should be. According to article What’s Love Got To Do With It, there are also other variables that can increase the odds of a harmonious union. The article includes results from a study that followed 2,500 couples for six years and reveals that husbands who marry after age 25 are twice as likely to stay married. Also, spouses both in their first marriage are 90 more likely to stay together than partners who are in their second or third marriage. The article mentioned financials, children, and marital state of spouses’ parents as other variables.

So what can couples do to prevent their marriage from becoming a sacramental sentence? The article 5 Things Super Happy Couples Do Every Day has some suggestions.
1. Make time to connect. Sit down and talk.
2. Remind each other that you’re sexy. Compliment each other. Talk sexy. Share fantasies.
3. Share a guilty pleasure. Do something silly. Watch a reality show together.
4. Enrich yourselves as individuals. Do some things separately to give yourselves time to miss each other.
5. Get spiritual together. Pray.

The minster will pronounce you man and wife. You’ll turn to make your way back down the aisle as a married woman and hope and pray to live happily ever after.


Execumama said...

I saw this on Mahogany Butterfly. Great article. I like the tips, and I'd add one of my own: "Nurture the friendship, and protect it like a sacred ode to each other". Being friends in a marriage is so important, b/c you respect each others' freedom, compliment each other's differences, and accept each other as people first, and partners second, without compromising your morals for the sake of the marriage. Great article!!

Candace Avont said...

thanks Execumama for reading!