MarriageMarriage: for most of us, there is at least some point in our lives when marriageseems like an inevitable event. We will grow up, find the perfect mate, behave likemad people planning for a wedding, go on a perfect honeymoon, and from there onwe will be married. End of story. A sure thing; like death and taxes.Most of us eventually are faced with the far more difficult and complicated truth:Marriages are far from inevitable, and certainly seldom the end of our life stories.We cannot count on finding the perfect mate, and if found we cannot depend onbeing perfect in return. Marriages are complicated, difficult, sometimes fragile –and much of our civilization and our sanity as we understand it is based on theassumption that marriage can and will occur.If the bond between a mother and child is the most durable and concrete in humanculture, the bond between married individuals is the most delicate yet critical.Marriage provides an efficient, effective social and economic base, permitting thedistribution of labor and focus that allows for family to occur while also allowingfor the labor that is culture and civilization itself.“Marriage” has taken many forms through history, including forms which wereneither officially acknowledged nor legitimated by the civilizations that held them.Indeed, in many cases society has chosen to make complex and paradoxicalarrangements to ensure that non-legitimate marriages were still possible, stable,and politely ignored. At the same time, culture has regularly and reliably providedbenefits and rewards for those who participate in the favored forms of marriagewithin a culture. Civilizations themselves have used their preferred marriage formsas cultural markers: Christendom, for example, the “recognized culture” of muchof Europe through the late Classical period through the medieval and earlyRenaissance, identified itself in part by its preferred marriage form of heterosexuallife-long marriages which permitted no legalized forms of concubinage, and onlylimited access to legal divorce, annulment, or even remarriage after the death of aspouse.Cultures have valued the benefits of marriage so highly that even “outlaw”marriages are given a degree of protection in most cultures. It has been historicallycommon (though absolutely not universal) for people to turn a blind eye turned tosuch arrangements as common law marriage, unofficial polygamy, extramaritalconcubines and mistresses, homosexual couples, and more. Cultures, on the
whole, have appeared to value the end result of stable marriages even more highlythan they have valued the specific forms privileged by that culture.What is it about marriage that makes it so valued that even “rogue” and “outlaw”forms often receive some degree of unofficial acceptance/protection in socialstructures, if not in law? What is so valuable about marriage that when possible,most cultures find ways to incorporate legal protections to the preferred forms ofthe institution? What makes the fundamental concept of long-term, committedbonding between two adults so precious that it is presented as an ideal in virtuallyall cultures? And how can we as individuals hope to obtain something so preciousand valued ourselves, when the form can seem so fragile and elusive? Founded on a RockHumans were, are, and have been social beings for as long as we have been able totrace their history. We live in collectives, and we depend on the power of the groupto support us. All but the very rarest of men and women depend on some level andto some degree on the security provided by community, culture, and commerce.The most primal social bond, of course, is the bond of genetic family, with thebond between mother and child at the core. Mother and child relationships haveproven to be the most easily recognized in all circumstances, and the mostpragmatically difficult to dissolve. That relationship is closely followed by themany auxiliary genetic ties between siblings and generations: Brothers and sisters,aunts and uncles, cousins, grandmothers – all the ties along the maternal chain.The mirroring tie of fatherhood and paternal relations is more fragile, not becauseit is less valid, or less precious, but because nature has made it more easilysacrificed under stressful circumstances. An infant has most often been doomedwithout a mother. Without a father, survival chances are reduced, but not to thedegree the loss of a mother implies. Yet the tie between two unrelated orsecondarily related adults has proven to be of great benefit for children beingraised, for both adults, and for the families and communities they live in.A marriage between adults creates a tiny little power-generator within a culture,allocating labor and distributing benefits in ways that have satisfied thousands andmillions, and improved the lives of still more. In a marriage several different kindsof need are met, and met in ways that allow honorable and conscientious people tocreate rewarding, livable social structures; cultural “homes” in which to live theiremotional and productive lives.
A marriage provides for many things, in one single social contract. Ideally, itestablishes a pair of people committed to mutual support and aid, even when twomarried people dislike each other profoundly, their marriage makes allies of themin many ways. In regards to economy, social standing, security, status, childrearing, and more, a married couple is locked into partnership, with mutualsabotage being little more than a form of indirect self-destruction.More crucially, a marriage having been formed, this commitment to mutualsupport has a reasonably good chance of thriving not just in terms of practicalsurvival, but in terms of emotional reward. Again, humans are a social species; wetend to draw strength and comfort from our associations – even from associationsthat are less than ideal.It is a truism that more murders are committed within families than outsidefamilies. Many take this as a mordant sign that families – and often marriages inparticular – are emotional cesspools, breeding dysfunction, emotional illness,misery and violence. The trouble is that such a conclusion ignores the even greatertruth: The majority of families, including unhappy families, do not indulge inmurder or criminal abuse. This fact can be challenged in highly stressfulcircumstances and in cultures that reward violence and abuse in one way or another– but the most normal truth is that most families are not only survivable, butpreferable to a lack of family. That is true physically, economically, andemotionally. There is a reason all cultures express concern and dismay for the“widow and the orphan,” who are cut off from the many benefits of family ties.When a marriage is even modestly effective, the rewards to both partners are fargreater than the costs. To know that one can rely on another person for support,affection, romance, sexual satisfaction, cooperation raising children, and divisionof labor has proven to be a win-win for marriage partners through the centuries.Even in arranged marriages between strangers the benefits have regularlyoutweighed the costs.Those benefits are awesome – indescribably precious.There is no question that, in modern developed nations, it is possible for mostpeople to survive without a marriage to provide alliance and teamwork. It is evenincreasingly possible to raise children without a marriage to draw on. It remainstrue that even in developed countries single parents and unmarried individualsexperience more stress, insecurity, and have lower overall success rates thanmarried couples.
Why? What do even bad marriages offer that single life cannot? Well, a lot –though not always enough to justify a “marriage at all costs” philosophy. The Gift of a Good MarriageIf a bad marriage offers so much, how much more does mediocre or a really goodmarriage offer? Infinities of reward, and strength that can endure outrageouschallenges and obstacles. A well-made marriage can prove to be the single mostprecious element in the lives of the marriage partners, their children, and much oftheir community.I have always considered my grandmother and grandmother superb examples of agood, mutually rewarding marriage that blessed both husband and wife, theirchildren, their friends and community, and quite possible the world beyond. Mygrandfather was a civil engineer and an officer. For many years he served in theArmy, first in ordinary service, then as a commander of CCC camps during thedepression, and eventually as an officer in the Pentagon during WWII. After hisretirement from the military he went on to work as a hospital administrator. Mygrandmother was among the rare few educated women of her generation. Atrained singer she was a mission school teacher for several years, a voice teacher, achoir director, and for many years a professional public speaker.Grandmother and Grandfather probably looked like a very peculiar match to manyof their generation. Grandmother was both older and taller than her husband, andshe was ferociously independent. A dedicated Christian of deep spiritualconvictions, she ran her home on far more strict terms than my grandfather wouldhave chosen, forbidding tobacco and alcoholic beverages and enforcing a weeklychurch attendance with iron determination. By far the more openly radical, shedrew attention from all sides, where my grandfather, equally ethical but far moreinclined to compromise, slid quietly through much of his life.Yet the two together bonded into an incredibly effective team. They survived thedepression – and maintained contact with the men who had served in the CCCcamps for their whole lives. Indeed, they collected an entire universe of passionate,faithful, admiring correspondents over the years of their lives. On mygrandmother’s death the condolences and memorial letters poured in by thehundreds – a fraction of the total network of friends and associates she and mygrandfather had helped, loved and supported over the decades.
They laughed more than they cried, and when they cried they cried together. Thefought for human rights and dignity, shocking their generational peers bysupporting the civil rights movement, by rejoicing in adopted multi-racialgrandchildren, by “adopting” children through charitable services that provided aidand support throughout the world. They served as consciences to their church, totheir community, and to their nation. They raised two outstanding children, andprovided love and safe-haven to grandchildren, and in time to great-grandchildren.Because of them and their partnership the hungry were fed, the heartbroken werecomforted, the lowly were raised up. The uneducated gained an education. Justicewas promoted.As they accomplished all this, they did so in love and respect and affection. Toenter their home was to walk into an enchanted circle of laughter, story-telling,memories, kindness, and courage. Several years after my grandmother died, Ivisited my grandfather with his first great-grandchild. During the visit mygrandfather said to me, quietly, “She’s still with me, you know. Yourgrandmother’s still with me. Sometimes I can feel her there, waiting. She’ll bethere for me when I go. She was my one great love.”There is no other social bond that provides that kind of payback. Nothing thatoffers the kind of personal joy coupled with public benefit. That one marriage notonly ensured a stable financial unit that would contribute to the community ratherthan damage the social fabric. It did not just present reasonably civilized childrento promote the next generation. That marriage served as a roaring engine, sendingpower to heal and grow to all corners of the world. In the process, it made twopeople very happy.There is nothing in our culture that offers such a great benefice. It is no surprisethat “outlaw” and “rogue” partnerships want the recognition – and the support andcelebration – more commonly recognized pairings receive. To be allowed to takepart in that great and empowering heritage of love, generosity, dedication and joyis an honor and a privilege no one should turn away from. All those who areallowed into the culture’s privileged class as “married” should take that role onwith awe and humility. Those who have gone before have set the standards high. Entering Into Matrimony
If marriage is so wonderful, though, how do you develop a good one? How do youfind the magic “perfect partner” – your own personal Mr. or Mrs. Right? Andhaving found that one special soul, how to you build a marriage that will become alandmark in the lives of your family and your friends?Good question. I wish there was an easy answer. Unfortunately, history wouldsuggest that the challenge is complex, and very uncertain.Certain truths, though, can be pointed out, and a few general directions can bediscerned. Such an important institution has obviously attracted a lot of attentionover the centuries, and advice as common as dandelions in a spring meadow.The first challenge, of course, is to find and court someone who has got thepotential for life-long partnership. The good news is that the majority of people inthe world can, theoretically, live in and contribute to that form of relationship. Thebad news is that few do so superbly, and a limited, but exciting minority is suchvery bad marital partners as to justify nearly any effort to avoid them. Worse, thereally bad choices are often extremely good at disguising themselves. Worse still,many are not inherently awful – they are just going to become awful when lockedin a marriage with you.That is not to suggest that you are a dreadful spouse. Not at all! Indeed, your verystrengths and virtues may contribute to a hidden vein of weakness in yourintended. Often, it seems that people marry those in whom they feel a certainneediness they feel they can resolve or cure. Similarly, many of us marry peoplewho seem like the answer to all our worst sorrows and insecurities.A shy person will marry a social butterfly, feeling as though, in their lovers’company, they are “part of the party.” Or a butterfly will marry a shy person,thinking that they get the best of both worlds – solitude and quiet without having toactually be alone! Neither sees that the marriage will, in the end, only force themover and over into exactly the sorts of situations that make them uncomfortable,resolving nothing.People who have felt neglected their whole lives marry people who are addictedcaretakers, thinking that at last they will be satiated. Instead, they find themselvesin life-long traps, each pushing the partnership deeper into codependency andobsession with neediness and nurture; instead of healing and moving on, bothbecome more and more firmly crippled.
Generous people marry people who hunger to spend. Frugal people marry peoplewho think themselves unworthy of receiving even basic necessities. Angry peoplemarry people who accept anger as inevitable or even healthy – and then learn thereis no natural check to their rage built into the marriage. The array of pairings inwhich people choose partners who reinforce their greatest weaknesses rather thanencouraging their strengths sometimes seems endless, and the temptation to makesuch a choice overwhelming.There is an entire classification of amateur fiction known as hurt-comfort. Thecentral conceit involves one character in some form of pain and need – physical,emotional, or both – and another character who sweeps in and provides love andcomfort and kindness. Romance, of course, then blooms. The trouble is that this isa terrible formula for most marriages, for a very obvious reason: For the marriageto continue to succeed on the original, the original conditions must endure. Thatmeans that at least one of the two spouses must always be in severe neediness andthe other partner must always be willing and able to provide the desired nurture. Inshort, the couple must commit to a lifetime of acting out a melodramatic angstritual to preserve their romance.Worse, couples caught in this trap can come to confuse angst and melodrama withlove itself. In many ways, my friend – the one with the terrible husband – gotcaught in that endless loop. She confused her frantic, passionate attempts to saveher husband from himself, and his own passionate struggle to avoid being saved,for romantic passion. It was intense, intimate, and fixated on their interaction, afterall: Was that not “true love?”No. It was true hell, with each preserving the torments, because neither knew howto relate to the other without them.When choosing a partner, the first rule, then, might best be the same ruleConfucius offered in regards to friends and associates:Have no friends not equal to yourself.Even more, do not choose someone you do not respect, admire, and feel challengedby. Do not marry someone because they need you. Do not marry someone youthink you need.
Never marry a person who tempts you into the vanity of wondering what willbecome of them if you die or divorce them. Whoever you marry you should respectenough and trust enough to believe they will mourn, and then move on.I often remember the family story of my grandfather’s first encounter with mygrandmother. Back in his home town from a year at college, he was talked intoattending a local church social. When there he saw a tall, strong woman, who wentto the front of the room and in a beautiful, trained voice sang, “Drink To Me OnlyWith Thine Eyes” – a hymn well loved by temperance supporters. All their liveslater he would comment that she was like a queen. All his life later, what he lovedmost about her, was her power, intelligence, and ability.Marry a man or woman you consider awesome. Marry a hero, or a heroine, andnothing less. Accept no substitutes.When you have found someone you can admire for their strength, integrity, andability, court them on that basis. Again, do not fall into the hurt-comfort trap ofmutual dependency. You do not want to find yourself married to a person whosevery nature turns you both into helpless cripples, leaning against each other; not ifyou have the potential to walk without using your partner as a permanent crutch, orbeing used as a crutch in return. It is one thing to be determined and willing to helpeach other in times of need. It is another to become entrenched in eternalneediness. Planning a MarriageYou have found the perfect person. You have courted each other in honor andrespect. You have decided to get married. What next?You have to put some thought into planning the marriage. No, not the wedding;the marriage.I do not really mean that you should sit down with a stack of printed out calendars,plotting out your lives for years to come. No one can do that – or if they can theyshould use the talent for something like predicting the stock market or betting onraces. What I really mean is that you should take the time to talk together aboutwhat marriage is, what it can be, what it will demand of you, and how you shouldapproach the challenge. Like business partners, defining the exact nature of theirbusiness contract, you and your partner should take a calm, realistic look at thenitty-gritty of real married life.
Some people find that easiest to do with some form of premarital counseling. Inmany cases, that is a great idea: A well-grounded counselor, or in some cases areligious leader with counseling training and experience, can help inexperiencedcouples consider aspects of marriage they might never have thought to discuss.Marriage is such a complete immersion in a new life. The lines of privacy,personal integrity, independence, and intimacy are breached on all levels.Preparing for that is an imposing problem.Consider the simple question: One bed or two? A shared “marriage bed,” or thestandard television ideal of the 50s and 60s: Twin beds with a bedside table in themiddle, just like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo had in “I Love Lucy,” or Rob and Laurahad in “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” For romantics, it seems a no-brainer: Sharedbed, of course! For light sleepers, it seems equally obvious: Twins, thank you verymuch! Cuddlers want the single bed. Those who get claustrophobic can come todream of a separate bed of their own, as they find themselves chased to the veryedge of the mattress by a clinging spouse.The trick is to take the time to work out a sensible set of expectations, and a set ofjust principles for dealing with the challenges that will face you, and to do so in away that allows for changes over the years to come. What seems ideal when youare in your twenties may seem intolerable by the time you are 50. The arrangementthat seemed “fair” when you were both young, healthy, and employed, may notseem so fair when one of you is sick, or laid off, or faced with the challenge ofserving as a stay-at-home spouse for some reason. Alterations in conditions withinthe marriage and outside the marriage can change expectations. Those changes canbe hard to weather if your assumptions are too rigid, or your commitment to fairplay is too feeble.Fairness is central; not in the sense many people mean, though. It is not always amatter of “I’ll do dishes on Monday, but then you have to do them on Tuesday.”Or “We each have to put in $500.00 per week into the budget, and the remainder’sour own to spend as we wish.” Fair means arranging your marriage so that each ofyou has room to grow, security to explore, and certainty of respect if you give yourbest effort.That is outrageously hard to ensure. Few marriages will, over decades, presentperfect, balanced arrangements. Over time, one partner or another will succeedwildly, while the other may struggle in relative obscurity. One may become ill, orsuffer a crippling loss.
This is where the rubber meets the road: It is where your own integrity and that ofyour partner comes into play. You need to commit bone deep to dealing with theinequities and injustices life will impose on your family and your partnership,determined to ensure each of you remains respected and admired within themarriage to the very end.It is a standard element of Greek Orthodox marriage ceremonies to conclude withthe newlywed husband and wife presented to the congregation crowned, as kingand queen of their own new household. When the crowns are presented, they areswapped back and forth between the two partners three times, indicating theequivalence and equality of their roles in the marriage; their crowns are equal.That is a hard goal to reach. It demands that both partners on the one hand worketernally to be worthy of their own regality, while at the same time fighting torecognize and encourage the regality of their partner even when circumstances maythreaten or obscure such dignity and power. It also demands both partners work tomaintain the strength to live with another as powerful and respected as themselves.This is not easy at all. Most of us are, by nature or by nurture, inclined to fight forthe upper hand. We do not easily consort with full equals if we can hold ourposition as slight superiors. To maintain the odd blend of humility and pride thatallows both partners to live a lifetime, through all the “richer or poorer, sicknessand health, better or worse” and never let go of the ideal of those two crownsdemands enormous honesty and self-discipline.By allowing a counselor to walk you through the basics of your marriage to come,you may save yourself from future booby-traps. For many people the process hasworked well to shed light on differing assumptions, or divergent ideals. Even ifyou do not use a counselor, it is wise to take the time to discuss the basics together.Most important, though, is to commit together to the ideal of respect and justice. Itis a hard ideal to pursue – but it may be the best of all ideals where two peoplemust share lives on all levels. ForgivenessNo marriage will endure long without suffering failures, disappointments, andbetrayals – intentional and otherwise. No marriage will ever exist in whichforgiveness is not a central feature. If you are hoping for a life-long happymarriage, you are committing to a life of forgiveness offered freely and graciously,
day after day, and year after year. In some times of your marriage, it may evenseem like you are offering each other forgiveness minute after minute, or evensecond after second. But just as you must forgive, you must also maintain limitsbeyond which forgiveness is not a simple or freely gained option.Our culture places great value on forgiveness, but the script is not clear, and thestructure that allows forgiveness to be navigated is seldom laid out with anyprecision. There are few of us in America who have not been taught on the onehand that it is virtuous for us to offer forgiveness easily and graciously. However,similarly, we are often taught to accept that to receive forgiveness we must dopenance and change.Depending on what elements of the “forgiveness formula” we have most absorbed,that can lead to some very unfair power relationships in marriages, and can trick usinto assuming we have no right to demand our partners live up to certain standardsor face real consequences. This, then, is where a mutual commitment to justice andfair play becomes vital.It is obvious that no one should have to suffer repeated betrayals and be expectedto forgive without any assurance that the betrayals will end. It is unfair; no matterhow high a virtue “turning the other cheek” may be, a partner who abuses thatgrace and generosity has by definition broken faith with the underlying justice of amarriage contract.For some people, the best way to maintain a balance between forgiveness andjustice is to divide the two functions. A spouse can be forgiven from the heart fora betrayal or a hurt – but forgiveness is not the same thing as escape from justice.Justice demands that forgiveness not substitute for correction and reparation.Reprieve from consequences can only occur when the reprieve is earned.By dividing the issue this way, some people are able to cope with the mixed issueof anger and discipline. A husband whose wife has strayed can set aside his angerin forgiveness and mercy, while at the same time standing firm that trust and easewill only return when his wife has reformed her behavior and structured her life sothat she can again be trusted. It is still difficult, but it separates the anger from theconsequences, allowing a certain frothing rage to depart from otherwise bitterdisputes. Similarly, a wife who discovers her husband has been hiding andspending income on personal luxuries while letting his wife do without can in goodfaith forgive her husband for a very human weakness, while at the same time
feeling entirely justified in demanding a new financial system be put in place thatlimits her spouse’s access to funds.My grandmother regularly said, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This is not alwayseasily accomplished, but it is part of the same challenge in marriage. The truth isno marriage partner will manage to live through a long marriage without crossingboundaries the other finds hard to forgive. Somehow both partners, though, mustfind a way to continue to love and admire each other.That conflict between forgiveness and standards, love and judgment, can tear acouple to pieces, if they do not find a way through the hedge of thorns.For some, the temptation is to demand too much: We are all quite capable of theconviction that we are getting the dirty end of the deal in a marriage, and that canlead many spouses to an embittered sense of grievance. For others, the reverse istrue: Many of the most dedicated and committed partners are far too inclined tothink themselves unworthy and to forgive their spouses too much on theassumption that they already have to endure far too much! A marriage between twopartners of opposite camps can turn into the kind of hell my friend faced, with onepartner eternally convinced of his entitlement, and the other eternally convinced ofher lack of worth and her obligation to go one more mile on the forgiveness trail.Forgiveness surpasses perfect justice, but it should never be the enemy of justice.Forgiveness should offer hope and comfort without removing obligation orlowering standards. Forgiveness should never demand a partner regularly give upthe hope that his or her spouse will, on some level, be fair. LimitsOnce you have come to terms with forgiveness, it is time to consider limits, andtheir necessity.The simple truth is that many people marry without accepting that there are somelines they must not ever cross within marriage. That applies as surely to women asto men. Within a marriage each partner must be dedicated to a relationship inwhich standards of dignity and decency are upheld.Does that sound unreasonably priggish and prim? It is not. I am not talking abouthappy consensual sex, or intimacy, or the freedom of informality, or the ability to
relax and behave childishly on occasion, or to simply be a human animal in its den.I am talking about fundamental respect and honor.I once knew a couple I pitied with all my heart. The husband and wife were each,in their own way, committed to honor and righteous life. Unfortunately, eachmeant that differently, and each felt entirely justified crossing over certain ethicalboundaries to achieve their ideals. The wife, for example, had felt from before hermarriage that she must marry her first lover. But to get her first love to become herhusband, she first had to take him to bed – only to find that sex itself did not strikehim as grounds for marriage.Fortunately for her, and unfortunately for him, her moral system allowed her toescalate the situation: As he was already to be her husband in her mind, and as shebelieved absolutely in their obligation to create children, she felt no qualm goingoff the pill without telling him – or claiming to. He married her in the belief thathe had an obligation to his future child, only to learn that there was no child – onlyan assumed obligation to marry what existed in his wife’s mind, not his. Over theyears, the two waged a steady war of opposing abuses. He insisted on usingcondoms, as he could no longer trust her to be honest about her birth control. She,in return, felt free to slip pins into the condoms to ensure the family she felt heowed her. He felt free to cheat on her during business trips. She felt free to informtheir children of the fact that he cheated.Remember the image of the Eastern Orthodox couple, husband and wife bothcrowned and regal, king and queen, in their own marriage? That ideal can only beachieved if both parties are willing and determined to treat each other like royalty:With admiration, respect, honor, dignity, and integrity. Further, the ideal cannot beachieved if either party fails to insist on that level of respect.A true marriage cannot exist when it is defined by violence, betrayal, disrespect,deceit, or lack of discipline. Wives and husbands should be able to trust that theirpartners will protect their shared roles as king and queen of each other’s home andheart. That can take many forms, some strange. I have heard of a man who, withhis wife’s knowledge, took many lovers. But when he crossed the threshold henever failed to treat his wife as the sole authority in his home, and he refused tosuggest even to lovers that there was any other queen in his life and heart.It was a peculiar balance, but one each partner could live with, and one that wasbased on a true form of respect. On such commitment to respect and to maintaininglimits are strong marriages made.
LaughterOnce the many tough-love issues of marriage have been faced, there is still the onegreat sanctum of the marriage yet to explore and enjoy. Not sex, necessarily,though sex may be part of it. The soul of a great marriage, though, lies in shareddelight, and often in shared laughter. In the jokes and stories, the moments ofmutual amusement, the times of companionable peace and pleasure, a marriage isrenewed and made fresh.Maintaining that joy is difficult, and the truth is that joy an delight phase in and outof marriage, sometimes seeming entirely gone only to return with all the stunningforce of first love. Couples, however, have to work to allow the return of laughterand joy when they seem gone.In our culture it has become too common to assume that “gone for now” means“gone forever.” The drab, gloomy, grim periods of marriage are taken as a sign offinal endings, rather than being recognized as a necessary winter fallow time, thatcan melt away in a new and blooming emotional spring time. Once the chill sets in,spouses increase it, rather than stoking the fires and waiting for the thaw.A wife, hearing a husband tell a joke for the hundredth time, will refuse to laugh,forgetting that over years this old joke may become a cherished, well-worn artifactof a shared life together. A husband, annoyed by his wife’s love for petty puns,may scowl and remind her that puns are considered the lowest form of humor,closing the door to her effort to provoke a smile.There are few gifts more tender or precious than to give your spouse yourwillingness to be pleased. We are all capable of refusing to be pleased. It is nothard to be a finicky, demanding, sulky fool, resisting all but the most refinedpleasures – and refusing even those when not offered “in the right time, or the rightway, for the right reasons.”We joke about people who are “easily amused.” But to be easily amused is a gift –a gift we can give each other freely and with ease and good will. To accept thesimple gifts of laughter, smiles, jokes, and stories, to share glances, to touch hands,to enjoy meals together? This is the bread of life itself. Yes, it can take effort toopen our hearts and minds to joy. Sometimes it seems easier and more appropriateto resist and refuse. But when we make that choice, we trim away the beauty of ourown marriages, wearing away the fabric a thread at a time.
Happy marriages are woven of shared joy and laughter, and that sharing can onlyhappen if you make an effort to be happy and to share that with your spouse. Beeasily amused. Be quickly charmed. Let your spouse please you. In doing so, youbring yourself to your own happily ever after.