Can This Marriage Be Saved?

Martin and I have been married for 11 years and some months, most of our adult lives. Like any couple, we have moments of severe dissonance, when we look at one another and see strangers, or even enemies. Sometimes it’s a decision one of us makes, sometimes it’s disciplining the kids, sometimes it’s the way money is spent or time allocated. It can affect our relationship with the outside world, or be a purely internal disagreement.

It’s always painful.

The one of us observing, and reacting to, the word or deed in question may feel excluded, overridden, or disenfranchised. The consequences of a wrong choice may seem overwhelming and disastrous. The agent, meanwhile, will feel betrayed and defensive at having a good faith decision questioned.

Resolving these disagreements, finding common ground, and dealing with the risk of error are some of the most difficult tasks in any partnership. It’s hard to listen to the objections of the overridden spouse; it’s even harder to live with what seems to be a wrong choice by your partner. And maintaining the discipline to avoid recriminations or smugness (depending on how the controversial decision comes out) is yet another perennial task. Martin and I rarely achieve perfection in all these areas; we usually reach adequacy.

A small proportion of married people rarely face the challenge, either because they don’t disagree or because they rigidly delegate responsibility. But for the vast majority of married couples, this is the source of such trouble, such strife and such grief, that they lose, for a time, the joy of their union and shared purpose Some can’t overcome the alienation and start to see their partner as an opponent. That, of course, is the road to divorce court.

We who stay married endure these trials because we are richer with one another than alone, even when we are at odds. We work at marriage because we made a commitment, and because we share so much that cannot ever truly be separated. And when the quarrel ends, we savour the sweets of our union all the more because they are earned, not given, and because they are the greater for it.

Does all that make sense?

Right. Now read Republicans and Democrats in there instead of a married couple. The problems that plague my country in the aftermath of the election are the same as any couple in trouble: miscommunication, mistrust, and the sneaking suspicion that the other party isn’t striving for the greater good. But even more than a marriage, a nation is all but indissoluble. We are one land and must learn to live together. The same principles of compromise, communication and determination that make a marriage work are needed to make the nation work.

Now go to it, guys.

9 thoughts on “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

  1. Yes, but isn’t it also the case that the reason your marriage works is you two communicate about your issues?

    Or did I misapprehend the analogy? 😉

  2. Not in the slightest. But communication is a two-way street, isn’t it? If your partner isn’t listening to you, maybe it’s time to listen to them for a bit. “My spouse doesn’t understand me” is the plaint of someone who’s given up.

    Note as well that I’m trying to talk about, and to the ordinary people, not the politicians (see my comment in the previous entry about not defending Bush, but rather the people who voted for him).

    Cutesy “Jesusland” graphics aside, we can’t divorce Kerry voters from Bush voters. We all live cheek and jowl alongside one another, so we had better find a way of getting along.

  3. Very very good analogy, especially your afterthought about Kerryland seceding from the Union and leaving Jesusland to get on with it. You’re right: it can’t happen (shouldn’t? mustn’t? ought not to? …would be a very sad thing).

  4. We’ve been here over 250 years as a nation. We’re attempting something unimaginably difficult: the unification of an entire continent, and of people from every place on the planet, into one nation. No one else except perhaps the Canadians has even tried this, and they’re having a rough go of it.

    Europe is only now trying (again) to unify a continent. (Previous successes were always under dictatorships of one kind or another.) It’s a very difficult process, as Europeans know very well.

    Abi understands this, but Europeans here may not. No one who has not been here can understand how big this place is, as no American who has not been to Europe really comprehends how small and how homogeneous the various nations there are. The place is huge beyond belief.

    We’ve had rough times before – rougher far than this – and survived. In the end we love each other, and love our country, built on the dreams of so many people who came here with nothing.

    Too much is being made of this supposed division. In fact in a lot of ways it was kind of hard to distinguish Kerry from Bush – neither really opposed this lunatic war in Iraq, for example.

    We’re fine. In perspective, this is a minor disagreement, not a real fight at all. When Americans fight, someone dies. In our case, lots of folks. Don’t worry about us.

  5. Hello,

    When two people decide to get married they (should hopefully) do so because they’ve evaluated their options, “played the field” (so to speak) and feel they’ve made the best choice in a person to form a partnership with. Of course differences can be worked out, obstacles can be overcome etc, for in the end, in a Marriage, the goals of the two parties involved should be the same.

    Now, there lies the base problem here in the States. The divisions of red and blue are not simple obstacles to overcome. They represent quite opposite goals in the direction of our country. While some want to move foward, some seem to take a step backwards. Once the election was decided roughly half the population here had to come to grips with the fact that the other half is practically their opposite.

    Kerry and Bush were both fuzzy candidates and that’s the most likely reason Bush won, but it’s not so much about the candidates as individuals, but more what the represent as a whole.

    Personally, I though we put the Reagan (RIH) years behind us and now I feel like I was unwillingly pulled right back into them.

    Just a note to the above poster: In the end Americans _tolerate_ one another, not love one another. America is built through tolerance, the day a group as large as America can love one another pigs will fly. Which would be quite inconvienent as I rather like bacon and flying pigs would probably difficult to catch. 🙂

  6. Dave-id,

    Hi, and welcome to the blog.

    Although we don’t feel like we have anything in common right now, you have to look at the “marriage” that makes up the United States in the longer term. Our “wedding” was in 1776, or perhaps 1787, depending on whether you count from the first impulse to marry or from the terms of the final committment.

    We went through a really rough patch in our relationship in the mid-1800’s. We’re going through another rough patch now, though we’re having screaming matches and sulking rather than physical violence and visits to the divorce court.

    Sometimes, like now, we look at one another and think, “Do we really have ANYTHING in common?” That’s OK – Martin and I do so too. And, living in the US, you may not see how much you do have in common with the Republicans. Trust me – living among foreigners, I see how much we Americans share.

    For instance: we all believe that the fundamental condition of an individual is liberty, and that we give up specified liberties to the greater good, but retain those rights and liberties that we have not explicitly given up. “If it isn’t forbidden, it’s allowed.” Most European models of society enumerate the liberties of their peoples, because those liberties are contrasted with the base state of membership in a social order replete with obligations and protections. (Most of that social order is now dead, but the underlying philisophical difference remains.) It’s true that the current US government’s erosion of those unstated rights makes me see the value of the enumerative model. See this story, for instance: . But I am still an American, and still don’t see human rights in that fashion.

    It’s true that we don’t feel like we love another all the time, in the sense that we don’t love all of the other individuals in the nation. But we love “America”, a community of which those people are as much a part as we are. The very fury with which we react to other people wanting to control it in a way we don’t agree with shows how much we love it.

    The main point of the blog entry, and the admittedly imperfect analogy, is that we’re stuck with one another, even more than we were when our divisions were along clean geographical lines. We owe it to our children and the time we’ve already invested to make this marriage work.

    To make it work, we have to accept that our goals are not the only goals, and that we have to compromise. (Not give in to all of the other side’s demands, but understand that we won’t get everything we want. Compromise hurts.) So, by the way, does the other side, but if we stalk around the house calling them names, we’re hardly opening the door to dialogue, are we?

    I can’t “make” Republicans listen to Democrats, or Democrats listen to Republicans. All I can do is control me – I can listen to people who disagree with me. And I can urge others to do the same, which is what I’m trying to do with this blog entry.

  7. Hello Abi,

    I guess the best analogy I can use to explain my own view is such, utelizing your own analogy. If our marriage began in 1776 (thereabouts) than we today are the children of that marriage. Our parents have died and it’s a fight over who gets what 🙂

    I don’t believe Republicans beleive that the Fundamental right of the individual is Liberty, or at least not what I would define as Liberty. I point you to the Patriot Act, their view on Homosexuals, their (almost) ubiquitous support for the Moral, Fundamental and Religious right. Republicans will die to support your liberty, so long as you agree completely with them.

    I am not blind and I am not going to say that democrats are super supporters of personal, or rather, civil liberty either, but at least they try to consistently.

    I doubt my view can be swayed, though I’ll argue the point constantly, as least for as long as I’m legally able.:)

    Of course, I’ll point out that I live in Texas and saw how Bush won the gubernatorial election here first hand, so I’ve despied him for a long time.

    Sorry for the brevity, but I have to catch a plane in an hour! Have a happy holidays 🙂

  8. Dave,

    Sorry to take so long to reply to your post. The holidays came and ate my time.

    The analogy is not perfect. But marriage is one of the longest endeavors that many people engage in in their lives. And, unlike child-rearing, it’s a relationship of equals. Since the American experiment hinges on the idea that the citizen is the equal of, or the master of, the State, marriage is the mental model that springs to mind.

    The thing is, the relationship between the nation and its citizens is an even longer-term one than a marriage. It lasts, not a lifetime, but many lifetimes. We participate in it, but it outlasts us. And that’s my major point, really: we need to take a long-term view, to take actions and attitudes that support the long-term view. This bitterness is a temporary state, even if it lasts an entire generation.

    As to your other point, about Republicans and liberty, I see what you mean. But, although they fall short in practice (because of fear, and fearmongering), the ideals are the same. Try to take an NRA member’s gun away and see whether the right wing doesn’t believe in freedom. (Yes, yes, I know, Mom, Democrats are members of the NRA too, but there is a significant overlap.)

    What I said was that “we all believe that the fundamental condition of an individual is liberty, and that we give up specified liberties to the greater good, but retain those rights and liberties that we have not explicitly given up.”

    Your reply, basically, is that Republicans seem willing to give up more liberties than you, for a greater good that they perceive but you do not agree with. I accept that, but it doesn’t change the fact that they, too, believe this thing. That’s why the politicians can push their buttons and get their votes by talking about freedom so much.

    And yes, the religious right is happy to give up others’ freedoms, but they’re pursuing a greater good that you don’t see. They see gay marriage and atheism as erosion of the family. And a family (which I define more widely than they do, but I was raised by hippies) is the best place for a child to grow up. I agree with the intent, but disagree very strongly with everything else.

    But the way to persuade the persuadable, and keep the union together, is – I repeat – not to go around calling the other side names or refusing to see their side.

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