Marriage: a dance of fragile hearts


Michael was sitting at the counter when I arrived home, shutting the January chill outside. The news of my friend who was separated from her husband left him downtrodden. Familiarity with divorce statistics doesn’t ever take away the sting of shock when someone close heads down that road.

Michael sat at the counter and expressed how sick and sad he was. As I listened, I remembered what a wise woman told us last week over hot tea in her beautiful Ugandan accent:

“We forget how fragile the human heart is.”

I hugged Michael tight and just let him talk. He expressed how he used to think of marriage as a granite slab-something solid, unmovable and durable. But with more people around us throwing in the towel, “marriage really is more like a delicate flower,” he said. It is even more beautiful and soul-nurturing than we ever imagined, but also a lot more fragile.

I don’t understand how good, church-going people go from “til death do us part” to packing up and moving out. However, I do know that it’s never just one moment, one decision, one stray word, or one fight.

Marriages go bad because of thousands of choices to treat it like a granite slab instead of a delicate dance between two fragile hearts.

It’s foolish for any married couple to think we are somehow exempt from the statistics. So, how do you and I ensure that we don’t end up with tears and packed suitcases?

By taking inventory.

“A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke.”

A mentor told me to apply this powerful statement in the “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous) to marriage.

There is a lie that permeates the dialogue about soul mates and marriage. The lie is being married to your soul mate is like having a constant slumber party with your best friend. If you’re married to the right person, then you have perfect Saturday mornings together and dance parties in your underwear and sex all the time. The lie is that marriage to the right person is like staying skinny when you have “the skinny gene”. Effortless.

In reality, as anyone married will tell you, there are disagreements, stomach bugs, hurt feelings, emergency room visits, piles of laundry, resentment, and eventually that moment where you look at the other and think, “Please explain how you have lived X years without me doing things this (very wrong) way?” (<-Ask Michael about finding my social security card in a pile of receipts that was going in the trash).  In these intimate relationships, there’s a lot more joy than you ever dreamed of as a single person, but also many more challenges. Good marriages don’t happen by chance. Good marriages happen because two people are committed to checking in, taking inventory, and making the relationship a priority.

In this dance of fragile hearts, will you join me and take inventory?

Here are some questions to answer honestly with your spouse:

  1. When we’re together are we spending more time talking or staring at a screen?
  2. Are we asking for and giving forgiveness?
  3. Am I holding grudges towards my spouse?
  4. Are we playing together?
  5. Is joy present in our marriage?
  6. Are we having sex regularly?
  7. Are we driving each other crazy?
  8. Are there any hot button issues we need to address?
  9. Are you happier at work/church or with you spouse?

It’s actually quite lovely when you start thinking of marriage as something that needs a lot of hard work and attention (regular inventory), because then you can convince your spouse that it’s time to jet off to a warm island for the marriage. I mean every husband, especially across the South suffering from “snowpocalypse” PTSD, has to be tired of seeing his wife crawling into bed with sweatpants and layers upon layers, right?

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3 Responses to “Marriage: a dance of fragile hearts”
  1. sue says:

    To be married long and forever, it takes two people who are as happy as an individual and as a couple. The problem with modern society is that one should always follow one’s dream and this idea pushes everyone to always want more and more and better and happier and in that sense it unfortunately makes harder to really settle down. The temptations to “get out” are overwhelming. What could be the soluation then ? I think some of those dreams should not be pursued and with creativity happiness is still within a reasonable reach. Relatiionship needs some prioritization but one should question if it’s really what you dreamt about ? or you must limit your other dream to make a room for it ?

  2. mark says:

    This is an excellent post. Good questions for discussion. My wife and I have been married for 31 years and we frequently discuss questions like the ones you offer here. It never gets old. There’s always more to learn and enjoy about your spouse and your life together.

  3. Toun says:

    Hey Ruthie, excellent post! My husband and I will be married 3 years in May and recently I have been reflecting on married life. I’ve called it appraisals (my job in HR is clearly having an effect on me) but I think the phrase ‘taking inventory’ is more appropriate. The questions are also very relevant.

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