In praise of marriage

By Ben Morphett and Wendy Lewis

I have been married for more than 8 years, to a delightful woman (who for the purposes of this article shall be known as "Wendy"!)

Now, there are a lot of nasty things that can be said about marriage, and rightly so, in many cases. But not all of them, by a long shot.

And when a marriage works well, it is gorgeous to be inside it. Every day that I am with her, I am glad to be. We are good company for each other - affectionate and merry.

We cherish each other. We got married in an Anglican church, and we swore to each other, in front of all of our friends and family, "to love and cherish, as long as we both shall live". That's actually the bit I like best from that church service. It seems to sum it up well.

(For a while, I thought that the bit which goes "With my body I worship you" might be my favourite line from the service. It's probably the sexiest thing I've ever heard, but I've come around to thinking that even hot sex is less important than loving and cherishing.)

At the moment, it looks likely that we will be together for the rest of our lives. I'm glad of that. Of course, you can never tell what will happen, but we are both planning on making it work.

Here are some things which have gone well with our relationship.

  1. We like each other. We are friends with each other. There are a lot of rotten things which can happen to you, which can make you angry with each other, but a good friendship can pull through all of that.
  2. We have goodwill for each other. Over the years, we have built up a long history of being good to each other. We are kind to each other. All of that builds up into a huge store of goodwill, which can tide you over enormous problems. Even if everything looks bleak, I know that she will stick with me, just out of loyalty for me - just from the goodwill we have for each other.
  3. We deal with conflict. The great majority of the time that we are together, we are simply pleased to be with each other. However, sometimes we are angry with each other. We try and sort things out (a) quickly, and (b) in such a way that both of us are happy with the outcome. To do this, you have be able to be angry and still listening. This is a tricky skill if you have never done it before, but it can be mastered. Once you do, it will save your marriage, perhaps once a year, for the rest of your life.
  4. We do things together. We take lots of time to just hang out with each other. We have lots of common interests, so this is very pleasant time indeed.
  5. We do things separately. If we spent all of our spare time with each other, probably we would be crawling up the walls in a few weeks. We find it important to spend time away from each other. For example, I go to the Sydney Men's Festival for a week, once a year. Or she might take the car and a laptop and go down the coast for a few days.
  6. We have other close friends. If I have a problem with Wendy, and I need to talk to someone else about the situation, I am sunk if I don't have a network of other close friends. Both men and women.
  7. She is not the meaning of my life. I am not the meaning of hers. Don't fall for this one. It's a long path down to a big black pit. However, don't let that make you afraid of closeness and intimacy. They are not the same as co-dependency.
  8. We change, and love each other's changes. I think that some people get married hoping that their partner will stay the same for the rest of their life. That doesn't ever happen. What is necessary is not the false hope that your partner will stay the same, but the ability to admire and participate in the changes that you will both go through. We will stop changing when we are dead.
  9. Hot sex. You thought I was going to forget this one, didn't you? We have a lovely time in bed. That's important. Not as much as you might think, though.
Do you think I am making this up? She just read it, and she wanted to add this...

Reading down this little list, it seems so easy. Number 2: the need to build up a store of goodwill towards each other. Sounds good, but how do you do it?! How do you continue being good and kind to someone? Number 8 is true: we change, but how does one cultivate "the ability to admire and participate in the changes..."?!

When you marry, you love someone for the way they are now, and so the thought that they will be different in a few years time and that you will still be required to love them is challenging because you are entering the great unknown. Ben and I have changed considerably over the last eight years in ways that neither of us would have dreamed when we started off together. I look back and sometimes think that sheer luck is involved; that we happen to be very compatible and that is something that won't change. I also think that underlying our relationship is an absolute trust in each other, which I suppose in this commitment-free society, may seem very foolhardy, but how else can you have a relationship of any substance without having faith in the other person? I think the trust we both have for one another is the basis for everything else. From that trust comes an openness in communication; a willingness to be prepared to stick your neck out and be critical or be angry (3), because you know that your partner won't run away screaming (or at least if they do, you know they'll come back). Trust enables you to give your partner freedom to have an independent life (5 and 6); trust means that the differences between you are all right.

People have enormous expectations of "marriage"; as if somehow the state of "being married" will solve all their problems. In a sense, "marriage" offers nothing; a good marriage is one where two people work at it, treasure it, enjoy it, and occasionally just put up with it. In other words, marriage is creating the relationship you want with someone that you love and care for. That takes time and it is not easy, but on the other hand, the idea of being part of a strong happy relationship is very satisfying and it is something that I am proud of. I have had a lot of difficulty fighting off the pressures in society that trivialise good quality relationships; and I have struggled with all the influences in society that implicitly tell you what marriage is; what a husband should be, what a wife should be. I have resented marriage. I have been at times very cynical of marriage; the deadening marriage, the marriage characterised by sameness year after year after year... So! I think the key is: learn from other people, but don't be sucked into roles and ways of behaving that don't suit the two of you. It is your marriage: take initiative, take risks, be alive.

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