Recently, I celebrated my 10-year wedding anniversary. What a busy and amazing journey this has been! There have been several big events along the way from changing jobs, moving states, and creating a family with the addition of now almost four children! To celebrate our decade milestone, my husband whisked me away for a quick getaway out of town, a trip without children, pets, or work! I can’t recall the last time we had such an opportunity to be alone with each other.
I had a few revelations during this trip and most of them were about the struggle and gift of marriage. It did not take long for my husband and I to settle into the relaxed freedom of a schedule free day. We had no children to get ready for school or papers to prepare or dinner to plan. We did not jockey to be free from the responsibility of the next dirty diaper, or plan evening bath time chores and kitchen duty. Free from the sacrifices of daily family life, our relationship was easy and carefree. There was time not just to focus on each other, but on ourselves. In a manner that felt decadent, I read books by the hotel pool for hours without concern about anyone’s schedule but mine! Naptime was about me, and not the daily battle with tired preschoolers!
The contrast of early-married life, free of the many responsibilities of family life that come later in the life-cycle of marriage was brought into focus during this trip. Marriage has it’s own evolution, a growth cycle that requires adjustments, sacrifices, and even new skills. So what is the difference between the families that remain intact, and those that fall to divorce and separation?
Over the years of working with families and couples struggling to stay together, and those that don’t make it, the difference seems to be a sense of an elevated common purpose. So what does that look like, and why is it “elevated?” Many couples come into marriage with a common purpose and unfortunately it is limited to making each other happy. This is an impossible and rather immature goal. Although marriage is often a source of happiness, there will inevitably come a time when the joy is missing or diminished. When happiness is the common purpose the objective is a finicky goal that also grants permission for someone to walk away from the union if they are not happy enough or having enough fun.
Many couples also choose raising children as a common purpose that effectively unifies the spouses until the children reach adulthood and then the couple is left wondering what’s next and who is this person I am married to? Other external goals of wealth accumulation or social status are also transient goals that are at best weak unifiers in a marriage. Furthermore, none of these afore mentioned common purposes have the ability to give us strength and motivation to push through the hard times and shoulder the sacrifices of family and married life with meaning, satisfaction, and ultimately joy. Yes, joy in the sacrifices of family life!
It goes without saying that the messages of modern culture have made us ill prepared to entertain the sacrifices of married life. Pleasure and happiness are sold in car commercial and fast food advertisements alike! If one’s marriage does not meet this standard than individuals wonder what else lies outside of marriage to satiate this need. Infidelities and unhealthy addictions follow.
So what is the common purpose in your marriage? What is the mission statement for your family life? Are you just keeping each other company until something better comes along or is there a unifying elevated purpose that makes the daily work of family life meaningful and joyful? If your marriage is buckling under the stress of life and contradictory priorities have lead to conflict and heartache it is time to find help. A trusted therapist can help bring the focus back into your union and set the proper course for a future of healthy growth for your family. It is never too late to correct course, but don’t wait until the emotional damage is so great that the road back to marital joy is all up hill.