Dating : Wedding Bliss…and What Happens Afterwards

h2>Dating : Wedding Bliss…and What Happens Afterwards

Patricia Marshall

Wedding bliss. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I love watching a couple say their vows and pray for their union. It reminds me of one of the happiest days of my life. My husband and I were married nearly 40 years ago in a beautiful outdoor ceremony with the backdrop of a gorgeous Arizona sunset. Witnessing weddings always takes me back to that day, the vows we spoke, and our many years of happiness. But I have to admit that, during those wedding ceremonies, I also find myself thinking, “You have no idea what awaits you.” Marriage can be the most exhilarating of all relationships, but it can also be the most challenging.

In The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason writes:

Marriage is the down to earth dimension of romance, the translation of a romantic blueprint into costly reality. It is the practical working out of people’s grandest dreams and ideals and promises in the realm of love. It is one of God’s most powerful secret weapons for the revolutionizing of the human heart. It is a heavy, concentrated barrage upon the place of our greatest weakness, which is our relationship with others.

We enter into marriage as fully formed individuals with every intention to love and cherish our spouse forever. We bring with us our temperaments, our personalities, and our romantic attachment styles, along with everything we’ve learned in our families. We know much of our loved one’s nature and the way they were nurtured or, at least, we think we do. But the full impact of our natures and patterns learned in our families doesn’t really hit us until we are married and we begin to live life as a unit, rather than just as individuals.

Just last week, my husband was going through a box from the attic and found some material from our premarital counseling. One aspect of the counseling that I remember was that we took a personality assessment and discussed the results. The notes from that discussion were in the box. They were amazingly accurate in identifying both our strengths and what would become our challenges.

We began our marriage under the best of circumstances. Our families were stable and fairly similar in background. Both sets of parents were still married. We had known each other and been in love for many years. We had faced and overcome difficulties together. We had similar expectations of marriage and life in general.

So, with all of those things going for us and armed with the knowledge of what our challenges were likely to be. How could we get off track? And yet…we sometimes did. Our marriage was great most of the time, but the stresses of life revealed those weak areas that our personality assessment had predicted. Often those weak areas were the flip side of our strengths.

Let me give you just one example of many different relationship dynamics that existed in our marriage. My easy-going and agreeable tendencies also meant that I could be too tolerant and not assertive enough about what I needed or wanted. My husband is hard working and has an exacting, engineering mindset which makes him a great technical problem-solver. These tendencies also sometimes meant that he was overly critical and inflexible. Our tendencies played out in many different ways in our relationship…both for good and for ill. And sometimes, the positive aspects of those tendencies led us blindly down a path to the negative.

We bought our first house after we’d been married for five years. It was a charming, Spanish-style two-bedroom, one bathroom bungalow that had been built in the 1930s. It had the original hardwood flooring, French doors from the dining room to the backyard, an arched entry into the breakfast nook complete with little corner hutches, as well as the original appliances…an O’Keefe and Merritt stove and a tiny little refrigerator. The bathroom was large and airy, with pretty 1930s era tile, an etched mirror, and a bathtub. We loved that house.

Of course, there were a lot of things we wanted to do to the house to make it more livable. One thing that I wanted to do to the house as soon as possible, was to put in a shower. My husband agreed that we should have a shower, but he was opposed to just rigging up a simple shower and wanted to wait until we could redo the entire bathroom, which was not high on his priority list of projects. So, I went along with that and got used to taking a bath every morning with a large cup on hand to rinse my hair after washing it. We lived in that house for seven years and we never got to remodeling the bathroom.

Then there was the furnace. It was the original gas furnace from the 1930s which was under the house and had to be accessed through a crawl space. My husband didn’t want me to use it in the morning because there was no point in heating up the whole house when we were just going to leave for work and school within the hour. He also didn’t like to run it in the evenings, because we could just put on another layer of clothes.

However, our little love nest built in the 1930s had never been insulated and, although we lived in Southern California, it could be pretty cold in there. Truth be told, I was a little afraid of that old furnace, so I went along with his preferences to use it as little as possible. On winter mornings I would get up and, after taking my bath, put on socks, slippers, a heavy bathrobe, and my big, puffy down vest while I got ready for work. On winter evenings, I’d turn the heater on and my husband would walk by and turn it off. Again, insulating the attic and replacing the furnace were low on his priority list because he really didn’t feel cold very often and other things took precedence.

Our house didn’t have a dryer either, but it did have a clothesline, much to my husband’s delight, because laundry should be hung out to dry. I didn’t object to this too much because he did most of the laundry. There was also a right way to do the dishes, but again, he did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen every night so that was no problem.

Maybe you can see where this is going. These were not big issues to me and my natural tendencies to be agreeable and accommodate meant that I didn’t complain much or press for what I would have preferred with regard to the shower and the furnace and…why would I complain about the laundry and the dishes when he was willing to do the work? The problem is that our natural tendencies, which were things we loved about each other…were leading us off track by setting up a pattern in which I did not learn to share my feelings, wants, and needs in a way that would be heard and my husband did not learn to listen to me in order to understand those feelings, discern those wants/needs and be more flexible, because I so easily gave in.

So, when the bigger issues arose…and they always do…especially when children enter the picture, we were not well-prepared to deal with them. We had not heeded the warnings that were clearly there in our personality assessment results. We had blithely gone down the path of least resistance because we didn’t know how to do otherwise. We didn’t know how to effectively communicate about sensitive issues or issues about which we disagreed. We didn’t know how to share negative emotions. We didn’t know how to resolve conflict. Neither did my parents. Nor did his parents, from what I understand. This is also what I see in so many couples I work with in marriage enrichment. It plays out differently in each marriage, but the end result is almost always emotional distance.

And emotional distance leads to loneliness and isolation, the opposite of what we hoped for when we married.

I found another piece of paper in that box from the attic. We had typed our vows to each other on that piece of paper. We had written them ourselves and, while they were not the traditional vows, in essence, we both promised to hold each other above all others and love each other for the rest of our lives.

We made those promises solemnly before God, our families, and friends. So, we worked on our marriage. We learned what those words meant…to hold each other above all others…including ourselves and to love each other…more than ourselves. We learned how to ask better questions in order to stay connected day to day. We learned to share the negative emotions as well as the positive. We learned to communicate effectively and resolve conflict. We got help when we needed it. We continued to learn about each other; our personalities, attachment styles, and family backgrounds. We grew in our understanding of each other even after so many years and saw each other through eyes of compassion and love. It is a lifelong process that continues even now because that is what it is intended to be: a lifelong transformative process that teaches us how to love and how to become one, while still being two.

We live in a different house now. We’ve remodeled the bathrooms the way we both wanted them to be. If I say that I’m cold, my husband responds with, “Turn up the heat!” But generally, I don’t because I have my own internal limit that I’ve decided on regarding how high I will set the thermostat. I just put on another layer or throw a blanket over myself. We have a dryer. He still does most of the laundry and prefers to hang it up to dry, but I use the dryer when I want to and he doesn’t object. We also have a dishwasher in this house. I use it as storage for the rinsed dishes. When there are enough dishes in it to warrant washing, my husband pulls them all out and washes them by hand. I dry them and keep him company. Sometimes I run the dishwasher just to save him the trouble of washing the dishes and he doesn’t object.

While these are small issues, they represent the way we deal with the larger issues that come up as well. The point is, we’ve found ways to work out our differences while honoring and respecting each others’ preferences. I have learned to use my voice more assertively and he has learned to listen and be more flexible.

The marriage relationship can be the most challenging of all relationships, but it can also be the most rewarding relationship in our lives. It is ever-changing and it can be ever-deepening if we are up to accepting the challenges and can do so with faith, hope, and love.

Once again, Mike Mason writes in The Mystery of Marriage:

Marriage, even under the very best of circumstances, is a crisis — one of the major crises of life — and it is a dangerous thing not to be aware of this. Whether it turns out to be a healthy, challenging, and constructive crisis, or a disastrous nightmare, depends largely upon how willing the partners are to be changed, how malleable they are. Yet ironically, it is some of the most hardened and crusty and unlikely people in the world who plunge themselves into the arms of marriage and thereby submit in almost total naïveté to the two most transforming powers known to the human heart: the love of another person and the gracious love of God. So be prepared for change! Be prepared for the most sweeping and revolutionary reforms of a lifetime.

After the wedding bliss, the work of love begins and the reward can be a lasting love that transforms us into love itself.

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