Monday, May 28, 2012

Tips for a Happy Marriage

My brother is getting married this summer. So I've spent some time musing over the nature of marriage and drawing upon 22 years of growing ever deeper in love with my husband being perpetually moved that it can always be deeper. I thought I'd try to craft some tips for my brother and his beloved based on my experience. Then we went to see "The Taming of a Shrew."

I had to wrestle with the reality that what Kate says at the end is true, it is how a wife can best love her husband. It is a gorgeous outpouring of love to her husband, an exposition of what it means to love.  And what does it mean to love one's spouse?  It means to obey, to wash the feet, to say yes even when it is hard, to let go of one's self, one's own ego and one's own desire to always have the last word, to always win.

I had to fight with the play and its closing message despite the fact that I'm not exactly what one would call a hard feminist.  Why? Because I like to win. I like to have the last word.  I like to hold on to something that is only mine. Who wants to submit?  And then I realized, those words, that want sounded like Gollum. Ugh.  That's even worse than being submissive, that's being dominated by self.

Here's Kate's last word on the subject.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
Too little payment for so great a debt.
. . .
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

I'm not going to touch the weaker sex stuff if only because it does not hold my interest.  I had to wrestle because the story itself is problematic at best.  I struggled because the story undermined the soliloquy at the end, because we didn't get the story arc of the man becoming less absorbed in being loved, and more so in loving Kate.  I've seen other interpretations where this last long (the longest in the play) speech by Katherine is considered ironic, but that interpretation doesn't fit with how she conducts herself or how the rest of the play holds.  She hasn't been unwilling to speak before, ergo, for her to speak kindly about the role of her husband and her role as his wife, it has to come from her heart.  Up to now, Kate would not do other than she wills, for her to suddenly not do as she wills, would be out of character. It is that she now wills to do as her husband wills. 

 Modern sensibilities tried to massage the play into that place, but like a dress size too small, it didn't quite fit as much as we might wish otherwise. The director and the actors worked to trim the words of language that portrayed the man being superior...the play attempted to present that these were equals in marriage, as they were in courtship. To counter them, the courted Bianca with her new husband were only beginning to spar and find their roles with each other, now that the chase element of their relationship had ended, the same with her former suitor and his widow bride.

I was interested in trying to shake out of the poetry, the truths that let this rusty Shakespearean relic live beyond its Elizabethan sensibilities about roles and gender. Absent a deeper meaning, the play would atrophy to join the ranks of Measure for Measure (another problematic play), and sadder fare like Titus Andronicus, a play so bad even my favorite teacher (30 +years of teaching and loving the Bard) advised not to bother reading let alone seeing.

So I sat there thinking about it.  Perfect love, is what saints do.  They love as God loves.  God wills us to love as God loves.  We are shrews to the last.  It is only God's love that brings us closer to God's love. I wondered if this again was Shakespeare playing with the notion of what it means to sublimate one's will to love, for love, by loving.  Given the recent modern speculation about his faith life, one had to wonder whether or not he was exploring this notion using humans to play out the roles?  The taming of a soul requires exactly this, sublimation, total obedience, total willing alignment of one's will with God's. The Bridegroom is Christ and we, the Church the bride and we are to be...obedient. 

And when I got to that point in my thinking, I couldn't help letting out a bit of a sigh.  Boy that's a tough and I don't really want to.  And if we're to do this with God (in Big love), then aren't we do to this in our lives (little love).  Tougher still.  Even though I could understand saying that yes and that I'd chosen and said I did want to, there were certainly times and moments when I didn't want to, didn't think I should, felt I must carve out my own.  (My precious).  Mulling this all over aloud, at this point, my husband grinned and said, "I loved the play." to which I shrewishly replied, "yes and I did too because you did." which made us both laugh, and we walked hand in hand in the rain to our car six blocks away. 

For all of us, we do have to surrender.  And our whole lives are a process of learning to do just that.

So here are my tips to aid you in the taming of each other's souls, blessings to you both.  40 days to go.

9) Laugh.  It solves almost everything imaginable, even things like taxes, like sickness, like facing a child needing surgery or a traffic ticket when you were cautioned, watch for this road; laughter is the instant band-aid to almost all pain, and it does make it more bearable.

8) Pray together and pray for each other.  This is part of your vocation.  It is also a great honor and gift you can give your spouse.  I recommend a daily prayer together either to start the day and/or end it.  It will grow your hearts towards each other better than anything else.  It always works...and sometimes in grander ways than you intended. (I would say always, because you don't know all the ways prayer works, but that presumes I  know how prayer works.  I only know, it works).

7) Play.  This seems obvious, but reality makes grown ups out of all of us at some point, and grown ups can be terribly terribly boring.  We need date nights and games and sports and plays and music and dancing and all of that, even if there are tons of chores that need to be done.  Yeah. You're married. You don't have to go on a date. TIP WITH BIG RED FLAGS: Go.On.a.Date. Call it that. Schedule it. Make it happen.  It's fun. It's important.  It makes a difference. And sometimes, you get to pick the movie.

6) Listen. Everyone talks about listening.  Listening requires more than not moving one's mouth, it requires we hear all that is said and unsaid.  Dates help with this.  Prayer too.  And Playing...and noticing what needs to be done...see, it all works together, like a casserole but better than any one I've ever tasted.   

5) Be open to being pushed out of your comfort zone. Most of us like to pretend that we have achieved an equilibrium in our habits and sensibilities and that everyone else is unreasonable.  Memo: We are all unreasonable.  Because we love, we will have to be willing to be submissive (which means sometimes, you submit when you would rather not).  This is not pick your battles, this is pick to be more generous than you planned. Plan to be more generous.

4) Pay attention and plan.  Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays matter. I hate that my husband has a Christmas memory of getting socks. So does the every day. I love that he has the memory that I get him his socks every morning. So pay attention to those little gifts of every day, and plan for the bigger gifts that are not every day.  Not noticing the little things that can be done with great love is a quick way to make a marriage dull, (or exciting but not in a not good way).

3) Forgive. It's important because I'm not a planner and so those socks could have rightfully earned me a permanent dog house spot for Christmas, but it didn't.  Love isn't never saying I'm sorry, (I always hated that stupid quote). It's being willing to say, "I forgive you."  And then making a conscious effort to make sure that you never give socks for a present again...

2) Treasure your family, old and new. Your husband/wife didn't sprout out of thin air. They are the sum total of their history, their education, their family life experiences.  The people who first loved the person you love, helped create this person you love.  They deserve your love for raising this amazing soul. 

1) Keep your heart close. Don't badmouth your spouse. Don't engage in taking tally of who has done what and who has given more. This isn't about fairness, it's about love.  Don't allow poisonous thoughts to fester, in the form of entertainment or company.  This is your beloved.  He/She should be honored first, and as such, it is your job to both keep their honor and defend it.

Finally, because this is a sacramental life you are choosing, stay close to the sacraments.  The world has a lot against living a sacramental marriage.  There are temptations, there are trials, there are enemies.  God does not send us out into the world to witness unarmed, but we must return for refreshment, for strengthening, for training on how best to reveal God's love to the world within the confines of our relationships.  We need the reminders of others, of our family, of our Church to sustain ourselves throughout this trial of life. 

Oh...and maybe next time...pick a different play to go see on date night.

1 comment:

Carl Brown said...

Great points. And I LOVE this quote: "We are shrews to the last."

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