Nurturing Fragile Vows (On Marriage)

When you’re 22, what is marriage? What is a set of vows, a union, a sacrament? What is the cloud of souls witnessing your specific affirmation of monogamous love?

For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

What is the honeymoon, the union, the sex? When you’re 22, what is any of it but an awkward entry into a commitment you’ll never understand, one that is wholly un-understandable? At 22, who can say what it means to be one? Who understands the fusion of souls?

No one.

This week, almost 18 years into my marriage, I caught wind of a divorce, and another, and another. Two were brought on by infidelity. (Who can blame a spouse for leaving a lover who’s taken another lover?) The other couple went Splitsville over Lord-only-knows-what, though it is said that one lover fell out of love with the other lover. (And yes, love dies on occasion, no matter what the Marriage Gurus tell you. (But know this: Every death is an occasion for resurrection.))

This is an excerpt from last week’s newsletter (sign up HERE to read the entire newsletter), and it was spurred by another round of divorce news. This is how the news of divorce comes–in rounds.

Every time the news of another spate of divorces reaches me, a dark cloud sets in, or maybe my brain feels as if it’s melting into existential goo, or perhaps the world seems to spin backward. I’m not really sure how to put it, exactly, but the point is this: news of divorce makes everything feel so broken; it makes me ask too many questions.

What makes my marriage any different?

Is my love impervious?

Do I think I’m any better than Mr. X or Mrs. Y who couldn’t seem to muster up enough stick-with-it?

What is marriage stick-with-it, anyway?

Existential marriage questions are worse than existential death questions, which is saying quite a lot coming from an Enneagram 5 with a 4 wing who lives his life squarely in life’s existential gap. (This is a thing worse than melancholy, I assure you.)

Who knows all the ways the thread of a marriage can be pulled, the ways it can be unwound? I’m not sure anyone does. What’s more, I refuse to explore the multiplicity of ways, because my tolerance for angst and paranoia only stretches so far on a beautiful Ozarkan summer day. But somehow, the simple awareness that marriages are akin to loose-threaded scarves (vows subject to being pulled apart) keeps me attuned to my own pulling penchants, the ways I could unwind everything with a few bad decisions. That attunement–it reminds me that marriages are things to be nurtured, to be repaired when necessary.

I’m inviting you to tune into the fragility of your own vows today, and in that attunement, to consider the ways you might nurture or repair your own union. And for those who lack creativity, perhaps I could offer a few suggestions:

-Confess that thing that’s been eating you up and ask for forgiveness;

-Schedule a date;

-Buy your spouse a bouquet of flowers;

-Schedule an appointment with a marriage therapist;

-Write some new vows (consider these by Tim Willard);

-Have a good bedroom romp. (Yes, I wrote that.)

Nurture, repair, nurture, repair–this is the way to cultivate a healthy marriage, I think (though I’m no Marriage Guru). Isn’t this the thing you want more than anything? Isn’t it worth the effort?

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  • yes to all of this. I’ve been in a serious season of reflecting on this lately, as we know so many marriages of recent, that have crumbled into rubble. The ground is littered with broken hearts, shattered relationships and trampled, disregarded vows. It has rattled me and wakened me to the gravity of my own marriage, the necessary tending and the intentional commitment required daily, hourly even, to not forsake this treasure of my own matrimony. Anyway, thanks for speaking to this.