Amy told me that today, our marriage is old enough to drink in the US. Not sure how significant that fact is, however the past 21 years have certainly been significant, wonderful, challenging, loved filled and an amazing adventure. I’m so grateful that I have gotten to share them with the love of my life, as we have supported each other through life’s ups and downs and have both grown and changed as people.
Of course in today’s climate where the definition of marriage is being questioned, I can’t help but feel the current debates are missing the point. Whether between people of the opposite or same sex, marriage is so much more than a state or church sanctioned right, symbolised by the signing of documents. Rather it is the union of two people in what each intentions to be a life long commitment. A commitment to grow together, to hold the other in the highest regard, to learn together, make mistakes together, laugh and cry, raise kids, explore, have adventures… simply shape and travel the journey together in the bonds of care and love. From a Christian perspective it is also and I dislike the cliché a union under God. Words fail me here as the sacrament of marriage (undeserved favour of God revealed) is conveyed from each partner to the other in a reflection of the way Jesus loves.
In the hustle and bustle of life, I’m not always as conscious as I’d like to be about what marriage means to me, but for the last 21 years I’ve been privileged enough to live in this bond. However, not everyone can believe that we have been married that long and shared so much. Twice in the last couple of weeks people have commented on how young we look, how fresh our relationship appears and have shared their amazement that we have a 16 year old son. So I guess there are some advantages to marrying young! Well many advantages from where I sit, however not everyone saw it that way. I remember talking with my Dad and receiving his view that 20 was too young to get married. In fact Amy was only 19 (we married 11 days before her 20th) and I love being able to say she was my teenage bride. However it appears those commenting on the age we got married were right, at least statistically speaking. In 1990 the average age of first marriage for a male was 26.5 and female 24.3. This has increased, with the 2010 averages being 29.6 and 27.9 respectively (http://goo.gl/LXssN1).
Other friends at the time also expressed their concern, encouraging us to wait until after we had finished study and had jobs. Even back then we had the sense that our path would be different and if we waited for the steady income, we could be waiting a long time. In fact truth be told we’d still be waiting. Reflecting back, to our detractors, it seemed that marriage was just another thing that you did in the long line of expected cultural norms, which included going to university, getting a well paid job, buying a reliable, preferably new car and a house. Joe Hockey would be pleased!
For me in 1994 marriage signalled the beginning of an adventure, a joint journey where together we would try and figure out what life was about and how to live our faith authentically in the changing world around us. Of course we are still trying to answer those questions in the face of having a teenage son, having experienced paradigm shifting burnout and both exploring new avenues that will hopefully better allow our true selves to be expressed and through that our faith. The journey continues and we continue to cling to each other.
Sadly for many married people in Australia this has not been the case. For a whole plethora of reasons from financial stress, domestic violence, falling out of love to communication difficulties, differing life goals and infidelity, couples end up separating and eventually divorcing. At the outset of a relationship, through to the decision to get married people generally don’t picture themselves in the family court working out custody issues or who gets the vinyl copy The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan. Yet this becomes the reality and acting out of pain and hurt, reasonable people go to extraordinary lengths to inflict more pain and suffering on each other.
It seems that even in relatively healthy marriages we have strayed from the original intent and believed the lie of our culture that it really is all about me. Perhaps its stems back to the reason why we enter relationships in the first place. If we start a relationship with someone in order to meet our need for company, fulfilment, sexual release, a sense of belonging or any other need we have, then we will bond with the other person as long as they continue to meet that need. If they stop, or if we perceive someone else will better meet our needs then we begin to stray. The alternative is to enter into a relationship desiring the best for the other. Putting the meeting of their needs above the meeting of ours. As we do this it opens the opportunity for the other to respond to us in similar ways.
I realise this is hopelessly simplistic and recognise there are times when it is not emotionally safe to offer ourselves in this way and that some relationships need to end. However the principle stands, that ultimately in one way or another marriage or any relationship for that matter will fail if we focus on the meeting of our own needs. In marriage if we can truly trust ourselves to the other and look for their best interest we might not only make a successful marriage, but thrive as two individuals.
So AmyNoel I give myself to you again, to love, to cherish, to esteem, to honour, to hold, to protect, to put your needs above mine… I love you!