Saturday, 18 December 2010

Marriage and the Three-Legged Race

When I think of marriage and its challenges, I think the curious analogy of a three-legged race is a useful one. The ideal pairing for winning this race is a set of identical partners. However, in real life, there is no perfect match. Instead, you are joined to a runner who has little knowledge of your stride pattern or gait. However, it’s only when you start running that you realise that there's a mismatch and the faster that you try to run, the worse it gets.

You scream at each other to keep to the same pace, and then to stop shouting because (I’ve been told) ‘SHOUTING DOESN’T HELP!’ The combined movement is more akin to a sputtering engine than a well-oiled machine. Of course, ever so often, you're meant to stop to adjust the tie that binds you together carefully and gently.

At some point, one or both partners may say (or think), 'What's the point? I'm faster or at least happier by myself. I'm almost carrying you and that's not fair. If I had known you had shorter/longer legs than mine or your tendency to lose your temper or give up so easily, I would have chosen someone else. I was conned. I don't know why I was paired with a total opposite. Obviously to turn me into a complete laughing stock!'

So, you start to either fix the bond carelessly, or forget the bonding altogether. So, with no need to pause, running seems easier. You don't even have to look at each other or match stride patterns. As freer individuals, you both seem to be passing other more closely attached couples who, by comparison, are only plodding slowly. I should know: I did this for years.

Some time before the end of the race, the bond is lost. However, not before the contempt-laden accusation is levelled: 'You’re not even making an effort!'

You can now see other solitary runners making their way up to the finish line ahead of the paired ones. You might even size up one of those running alone as a potential future partner. This one better matches your stride pattern and appears more suited for the long haul. Of course, if you’re partnered on the finish line, It will look as though you still respect and play by the rules.

At least for a while, with the new partner, you might seem more synchronised. You believe you can reach the finish line way ahead of the competition, and feel like a winner.That is, until one of you gets fatigue and slows down. And anyway, you will only find yourself disqualified at the end for cheating.

In contrast, for those who arrive at the finish line alone, the only acceptable excuse (I’ve been told) is that their partner’s run was ended by severe illness or that the other person ran off along the way. Of course, the race footage is a perfect record of when and how the partner was supposed to have 'run off' and how the bond was lost. It shamefully reveals that you were both already running at cross-purposes beforehand!

The whole purpose of this type of race (and marriage) is to challenge us to find cleverer ways to merge our styles. You won't be partnered with a perfect match. You might start out looking slow and awkward. People will laugh at your plodding efforts to make headway. Perhaps they will encourage you to give up altogether.

If you want to make it to the finish together, you have to slow down and make major adjustments to your own individuality, pace or stride pattern. You must be prepared to accommodate the good and bad peculiarities of the other runner gradually WITH A MUTUALLY AGREED AGENDA FOR CHANGE. This is the crux of the problem: NEITHER PARTNER WANTS TO SLOW DOWN.

So I guess, couples in crisis (‘been there, done that’) have to decide whether they want to explain to God how and why the bond was lost and be disqualified at the end of that long race that we call ‘life’. Or they might both submit to a mutually agreed agenda for slow, deliberate change. One that enables them to accommodate each other without compromising their core individuality and values about life.

Questions for each partner to ask themselves might be: 'Should the world just accept that I have no great desire to change my behaviour for anyone? How much am I prepared to change as an individual in order to match my partner's stride pattern? Do I think that the prize of lifelong marital harmony is worth the sacrifice and discomfort of changing my ingrained behaviour and approach to life? Do we need to seek outside help in order to effect the personal change needed to achieve harmony?’

However you choose to answer those questions, remember the wise words of Ecclesiastes:

‘I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.’ Time and chance will thwart the advancement of those who end their marriages for selfish and mercenary reasons.That’s just how God’s universe works!

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