My thoughts about the NY Sunday Times essay, “The Wedding Toast I Will Never Give”:
The phrase that caught my attention the most was “and yet.” The writer, Ada Calhoun, writes: “I love this person, and yet she’s such a mess. And yet when I’m sick, he’s not very nurturing. And yet we don’t want the same number of children.” But “and yet” works the other way, too: Even during the darkest moments of my own marriage, I have had these nagging exceptions. And yet, we still make each other laugh. And yet, he is still my person. And yet, I still love him. And so you don’t break up and you outlast some of your marriages.
Interesting. My conjecture is that the reason the “and yets” balance each other out for the author, is because she and her spouse are still able to turn to each other enough of the time and feel a connection, probably because they handle most of their differences pretty well and are able to accept them and stay married. But perhaps not. Maybe, like some couples, Ms. Calhoun and her husband remain married but also remain emotionally absent from each other and have decided to live with it rather than divorce.
There are other married couples at the other end of the spectrum of course, who more or less remain influenced by our consumer culture from which we derive the message: If you don’t like it, and if you can’t return it, go find something(someone) else you think will better suit you. Get a divorce.
I believe there are hard reasons and soft reasons for divorce. The hard reasons include abuse, ongoing infidelities, untreated addictions, and ongoing deceit. The soft reasons include ongoing misattunements which lead to emotional distancing and consequently repetitive attacks and defensiveness. The soft reasons can be repaired if both spouses take responsibility for their part of the repetitive cycle. With the unexpected changes and challenges of life (children, economy, illnesses, etc.), and the irreconcilable differences in all marriages, misattunements are inevitable in marriages. What matters is that couples acknowledge those misattunements in a nonjudgmental manner and then learn to accept their role and repair those misattunements and not allow them to fester.
Underneath most of the distress in marriages, partners are really asking each other: Are you there for me? Do I matter to you? Anger and criticism are really cries to their lovers to draw their mates back emotionally and establish a sense of safe connection. That’s what marriage is for! No marriage is without its disappointments and imperfections. To quote Ms. Calhoun again: Epic failure is part of being human, and it’s definitely part of being married. But a good marriage can help provide the faith and strength we need in the face of life’s challenges. Otherwise, marriage will cease to be a warm shelter to anyone. The shock of disconnection will continue and the negative “and yets” will begin to dominate until sometimes, unfortunately, without help, it may become too late to restore the connection and save the marriage.