Marriage is War
Tug-of-war that is. Truth is, this isn’t my parable, Devette, our marketing director, suggested it, and it pretty much sums up the concept. One caveat though: As the game progresses, the rope gets shorter.
Select Your Team
Anyone who has played tug-of-war knows how it goes. First, try to stock your team with the big hefty guys who look like they ate a small car for breakfast. At the same time, try to convince the other side to take all the accountants.
The whistle blows, and the first thing that happens is the natural equilibrium has to be found. After some back and forth, taking ground and losing some, you find the spot where you are equally matched.
Stage One: Compromise
This is Stage One marriage. And, just like tug-of-war, it’s also the easiest, even though in many ways it’s also the most dramatic. It goes like this: In setting up your new home, there are many compromises. You and your spouse are pulling in all kinds of directions, but a lot has to go: furnishings, schedules, lifestyle, etc. You each make a lot of changes, whether it’s the brand of toothpaste or soda or even the type of vacation you take.
But somehow, these things seem unimportant and life moves on.
Stage Two: Taking Ground
Then you hit Stage Two, which is very similar to Stage One. The rope is taut and now any gain on your side is hard earned; any land you give up is with a similar struggle. This is Stage Two marriage. Here, there are only a few things in play; the real difference is, this time, whoever gives in keeps score. They keep track of who gave up more closet space (answer: me), who sees his friends less often (answer: me) and who goes fishing less often (answer: I think you get the idea).
The problem with this stage is you usually don’t keep track of what your spouse is sacrificing. As a result you develop MS: “Martyr Syndrome.” I think it’s one of those universal laws of marriage that just about every spouse thinks that they alone are sacrificing to keep the marriage alive. This mistake is not deadly, it just makes you both miserable. You would be so much happier if you realized how much your spouse has given.
Anyway, even if you choose to live with Martyr Syndrome, you can still survive. Maybe resentments will build and a sense of it all not being fair will fester, but your marriage will plod along. You will put on a brave face and live with it.
Stage Three: The Standoff
But then you hit Stage Three and, well, not many things in life get this weird.
Stage Three is similar to the previous stages: You hit an issue that needs to be resolved – it could be anything – and, on the surface, it seems as insignificant as anything previous.
But, this time something different happens. This time, neither one of you is willing to back down. That’s what you see in tug-of-war, no one is moving and only the people holding the rope know the tension involved. And so, in the marriage version of the game, for some reason that maybe neither of you can figure out, this one issue becomes World War III. The tension explodes.
Not only that, but your spouse, who normally uses complete sentences, starts speaking in what appear to be coded messages. For the life of you, you can’t figure out what they are talking about.
Now, if you do what most couples do and retreat to your corners and consult family and/or friends (who all agree that your spouse is crazy), you will end up, eventually, with a spouse you can barely live with.
Wherever you are in this third stage, whether you have been holding on for dear life, or just started pulling, you should know everyone hits Stage Three. It’s another one of those universal laws, just like gravity and stepping on gum when you aren’t looking.
Think about it. If you are married to someone long enough, you are bound to find those things you just can’t stand.
Now, you may be thinking, “why?” “I have many friends and we don’t run into anything like that. Why can’t I find a spouse who doesn’t drive me crazy?” In other words, he doesn’t have to be perfect, but why can’t he have faults that don’t make me want to scream the roof off.
Marriage Is Meaningful And The World Is Getting Better
The reason our spouses have the very faults that we cannot tolerate, is because they grew up in a home that emphasized those very points. Their parents raised them with the very qualities we need to be better people. The beauty of marriage is that, somehow, we marry the people we need.
Let me explain further, as parents we try to give our children everything they need, not just financially, but emotionally and spiritually. We try to train them to think and behave in ways that help them deal well in life. However, at best, we can only give them and teach them what we know. Obviously, we can’t give them what we ourselves are missing in life.
For that they need a spouse. Because the very things we leave out of their education (not because we don’t care, but because we don’t realize) are the things their spouse will get from their parents.
Let me give you an example. I grew up in England. Water in England was cheap. It rains so much there that the umbrella is a national symbol. When I was growing up you could leave all the faucets running in the house and the monthly water bill would be the same. However, electricity was expensive. My wife, she grew up in Los Angeles, where electricity was relatively cheap but water was expensive.
When I brush my teeth, it bothers my wife when I leave the water running; when my wife brushes her teeth, I get irked when the lights are left on. So, we try not to brush our teeth at the same time.
For us, this was our Stage Three tug-of-war.We inherit styles of living from the way we were raised, and these can create the Stage Three tensions. Even though it might seem easier to marry someone who has the same sensitivity to water conservation as me, what we end up with is far better: We don’t waste water or electricity.
The tension is there because we have to learn values from our spouses that we do not appreciate. It’s not easy, it’s just meaningful. The end result is so much better than what we were when we came in. In other words, when it comes to both marriage and tug-of-war, Stages One and Two, you are pulling the opposing team to your side. But in Stage Three, when it comes to marriage, neither of you is going to the other side. Instead, the game concludes with the rope getting shorter.
It’s this process that not only makes us better, but the combined effect on each and every marriage makes for a better world as well. All mankind gets closer to the other side.