Today was truly an eye opening day. So often, I feel like the lot of us – that is, people in general – just go about our lives, heads down in our cell phones or just down to avoid eye contact. We shy away from really seeing the world and making an effort to understand our neighbors, both in our communities and in the world. Until something directly impacts us, we are oblivious to others and their needs. Now, I know this seems like a blanket criticism, and in some ways I guess it is. But how much of an effort do we really make in getting to know those who are not in our families?
But let’s also realize that while we may not choose to get involved in the lives of others intimately, we are also closed off to others learning about ourselves. In a world of password protection and privacy fences, we are hardly inviting anyone into our lives. We offer to the world only what we choose to, in the form of Facebook postings, Snapchat, Instagram or Tweets, and the occasional conversation at church or the grocery store when we run into someone we know. Let’s face it, what we tell people or advertise on social media is rarely the messiness of life, it’s more like a movie trailer highlighting only the best parts.
So today I really got to understand how very little we truly understand about our friends and neighbors – Specifically in the area of marriage. In my area of work, I can easily fall into the trap of assuming a couple’s marriage is picture perfect, when in actuality, it is anything but. I succumbed to the “foot in mouth” disease with one couple where I make a comment such as, “You’ve been together for so long, you must really have had a wonderful life together.” In actuality, said couple couldn’t stand each other and the wife later told me out of earshot of her dying husband, “I can’t wait until he’s gone. My life has been hell for the past 40 years.” She went on to share that her husband never appreciated her for anything, including spending 10 years taking care of him when his health got bad. He never once said Thank You. So much for the assumption that 50 years of marriage were full of love and wedded bliss.
We can never know exactly what goes on inside a marriage, unless it is our own. We can think we know couples very well and there is nothing wrong in the relationship, when all of a sudden they are separated or getting a divorce. Gossip and speculation begins, but unless both parties are willing to share the details, we can only assume what happened. The messiness of marriage is usually well hidden. The gambling, shopping, or porn watching problem isn’t something advertised on the home mailbox for all to see. The affair with the nanny, secretary or coworker isn’t generally on display for the neighbors. Even worse, the physical abuse of spouse or children is usually so well hidden, something drastic like a death needs to occur before anyone realizes there was a problem.
Even if such drastic events have not occurred in a marriage, every day life is far from a bowl of cherries for the general population. Just think about your own. Do you really share with your coworkers or church friends that your spouse likes to yell a lot, or your mother-in-law despises your cooking? Do you reveal just how little monetary savings you have or that you are struggling to make ends meet and live paycheck to paycheck? Do you tell your friends that your daughter or son got caught cheating on a test in school, or that you found pot in a bag under your child’s mattress? Of course not! Those are the intimate details we cannot share, because they make us seem less than perfect. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet a perfect person.
We are all messy in our own way. We all have things we hide from each other because we don’t want people to think less of us. Marriage is tough. Marriage is work. The love part is often the easiest. The day to day grind of living and caring for someone can test us in ways we never imagined, yet we all want everyone to believe it is so easy. My mess is not worse than yours. You don’t want my mess, and I don’t want yours. The thing is though, if we both knew about each other’s messiness, wouldn’t it be easier for us to help each other? Wouldn’t that foster a sense of empathy and compassion, which in turn would allow us to share strategies for supporting and healing? I think it would.
Today I learned that this loving couple I met, who had been married for well over half a century, really did mutually love each other at some point, but somehow over the years the relationship soured. No longer were both on the same page. Now, one person berates and verbally abuses the other, and has for longer than we could ever comprehend. Now there is only one person who still has compassion and caring for the other and is saddened to know that the death of the other is near. Both still put on a good show for the outside, making it seem as if everything is ideal.
I look at my own marriage and wonder what it will be like in the years to come. We have had our ups and downs, for sure. But I’m in it for the long haul, whatever happens. I just need to remind myself that it is work. I want to use every resource I can to make sure that what I am working for is going to last. My faith helps me in that regard, because just like my marriage, my relationship with God takes my efforts as well. Whether in marriage or with God, the love is there for the taking, I just have to want to take it. God’s peace be to all of you.