“Marriage doesn’t happen in public,” Joanna Trollope has one of her characters say in her novel “Daughters-in-Law.” “It is not a sort of performance where you ask the audience for help when you feel things aren’t going your way. You have to work it out… Deal with it.”
I love Trollope: She always resonates with me. And this time, she resounds!
In all my years observing marriages, my own included, I have come to believe that the successful ones are the very private ones—those that don’t proclaim themselves at all. I imagine that if the couple is working it out together, dealing with it together, the marriage is in flux, mending or sustaining itself, at any rate, moving along. In other words, it is active, so much so that any report on its state is rendered outdated even before it is issued.
Indeed, marriages can only be saved or ended with any sense of dignity in the most private way. And that itself is not guaranteed: Engagement not seldom explodes into a confrontation, a raking up of history, thus only deepening the hurts and exacerbating the problem.
That’s why I have myself become convinced one should deal with one’s personal demons on one’s own; these demons seem to me never more agitated, provoked and challenged than in the confines of a marriage, with the constant proximity of a spouse who shares your bed, your bathroom, your money, your plans, indeed your life.
Moreover, most of our baggage is accumulated from childhood or from a first relationship, way before the other’s time, and, although the handiest, a spouse or a parent must never be made the fall guy. As tempting as it may be, to do so is to bark up the wrong tree.
On the other hand, friends, however well-meaning, can fuel your sense of self-righteousness, while other interlopers may have their own agenda. In the end, anyway, you won’t need anybody else’s approval. If any mediation becomes required at all it has been proved best handled by a professional (a psychiatrist or psychologist) or an otherwise suitable counselor (a priest or nun or some such philosopher of life with a track record), and all the same, the mediation should be handled privately and confidentially.
Get a handle
A dear friend who at 18 had married her first, much older boyfriend, and had to live with her in-laws, took the right step when, at the first sign of conflict, she went to Fr. Francis Parisi, the Jesuit psychologist well-loved as a family counselor and a legend at it. One session with him was all it took for her to get a handle on her problems, which she never raised with anybody else, for, in truth, no one would have really understood.
We close friends eventually began to notice how well she was coping, coming to terms with the consequences of her choice, for sure helped by her great sense of humor and, no question about it, her intuitive attraction to her man and her faith in the institution, reinforced by parents who had themselves stayed together surmounting great odds.
We’re supposed to have all grown to be mature adults, rid of all baggage before marrying. Alas, it’s not always the case. But marriage does provide yet another chance for you to deal with your demons decisively so long as you remember they’re yours, not your partner’s. And the sooner you seize the chance, the better for your marriage.
The luckier ones, like my friend, only have to cope with the demon of immaturity. Others, like me, face so many of them, deciding which to take on first would seem a problem overwhelming enough. I needed time alone and out of my first marriage to sort myself out. I went to the best psychiatrists and psychologists who had helped me every step of the way.
And finally, I met a meditation teacher who turned my world around by telling me to simply drop the baggage and disown the demons. While I claimed them as my own, they didn’t really belong to me; they were all in my mind where I had put them, and could therefore remove them. It was, to be sure, no short and easy process—for one thing, regular meditation felt decidedly empowering.
In any case, there’s no postponing, let alone escaping, the responsibility of making a marriage work—especially when there are children involved.
Those still on their first marriage tell me they’re glad to have kept at it. In time, they assure themselves, everything works out, everybody mellows, and children and grandchildren reap the rewards of a lasting first marriage.
I count myself fortunate to have gotten a second chance, especially since I have never stopped believing in marriage, which has become for me a daily event, one in which at any moment I can insist to be either wonderful or dreadful. Somehow, through the years that choice is becoming clearer and easier. I don’t know how and why.
But trust my husband, Vergel, to have a simple, incontrovertible answer to how it all works in our case: “It’s magic!”