There’s a song that goes “Everything must change; nothing stays the same… The young become the old, And mysteries do unfold, For that’s the way of time; No one, and nothing goes unchanged” (Benard Ighner). Truer words were never spoken.
Pete and Suzie (names disguised) were high school sweethearts who married as university students still living with their families of origin. When their youngest child left home for college they were still in their 40s.
One morning they looked at each other across the breakfast table and Suzie said, “Now what?” Pete asked her what she meant, to which she responded, “To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know who I am without the kids, let alone who we are.” We met them when they came on retreat asking us to help them figure it out.
On a perfect August day in 2004 we, Laura and John, married by the ocean in Laguna Niguel, California. Ours was a small wedding – our children, daughters-in-law, three small grandboys, the dear friend who officiated and his wife.
Without assessing blame (there’s always plenty of that to go around) or rehearsing our respective past adventures in marriage, we both knew we got it right this time but still, boy-oh-boy, did we ever do our premarital homework, knowing that any pair who thinks they don’t need to do that are (to be blunt) fools. Since we launched Landgraf Retreats in 2009, a lot of couples have come to us to do their premarital homework, including some who divorced each other precipitously (so they said) and were now preparing to marry each other again.
Nothing we know anything about is static; everything is dynamic. When change is for the good, it is as welcome as it is inevitable. But when change is for the bad, it’s about as welcome as COVID-19. Surely the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has taught us that much.
One more couple comes to mind. Gary and Jo came to us with their marriage ailing badly; insofar as relationships can be sick, theirs was sick unto death. There was betrayal, bullying, promises broken, and no surprise, terrible parenting – abusive and at once possessive and permissive. As a retreat ends, we always provide “soft” (suggestive) and “hard” (prescriptive) recommendations for him, for her, and for the couple as a spousal pair. In this case, our hard recommendation was that they end their toxic marriage for the sake of their children as well as themselves and all concerned. Months later the now-ex-husband called to thank us “…for saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.” YCMTSU (you can’t make this stuff up). And while the denouement of a couple’s retreat is entirely up to them, we long since learned that not all marriages ought to be salvaged, especially those kept alive at the expense of either partner’s growth as a human being.
So … let us ask you a few questions. Food for thought.
How’s your courtship going? Regardless of how long you’ve been a couple, you dare not quit romancing each other. Never. Ever. To do so is to risk relational malaise.
Would you marry him or her again? Why? Or why not? Whatever your answer, do yourself the favor of honoring Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true” (Polonius, in Hamlet) as you contemplate this question.
Meanwhile, always remember, everything must change. Even the best of lovers who are also the best of friends aren’t always of one accord on everything over time. Maintaining one’s uniqueness and autonomy in a high-stakes relationship requires negotiating and renegotiating again, and again and again. The question is, how are you doing with ongoing negotiation of mutual need satisfaction? We’re talking about the “big picture” including childrearing, sex, money, spirituality, recreation, facing the empty nest, planning for retirement, and so on. Can you agree on who-all you want to grow old with, where you want to live, and how you’ll go about making those decades “golden?”
As 2021 looms, the coronavirus pandemic has many marriages on the ropes, or on the rocks – choose your metaphor. We know this because we’re hearing it from good folks like you – kindly disposed, longing for true intimacy and closeness, yet hurting, angry, or even feeling trapped with no way out.
If to any of this you’re saying, “That’s me,” we’re here for you. Our first contact by telephone or zoom or however we meet you, is ‘no cost, no obligation.’ What have you got to lose? Or better yet, what have you got to gain?
Keep safe, stay sane, and be well.