Reader Writes - July 2019
Marriage has been in the news as I write; see #marriageweek. In hindsight, at least, it was an encouraging piece of advice given on the subject by a bishop; Oh don’t worry, he said, the first 30 years are the worst! For us what started as an adventure continued as an adventure, and much time later we are still strong advocates of marriage. In God’s kindness I have been very blessed! But if you suggest a marriage course to make good marriages even better (or indeed to rescue limping marriages) you get open-mouthed scepticism. Why would any couple want to embark on an intrusion into a private affair? Suffice to say, The Marriage Course developed by Holy Trinity Brompton is brilliant, sensitive, private and not counselling.
Very happily we have recently run The Marriage Course over a series of evenings, and I think it’s safe to say that the 2 couples who joined us are also now strong advocates of the course. The strapline could be “negotiating life together”. I like the principle that marriage is never static; we change and grow together, perhaps like a pair of embracing trees with intertwined roots. It’s not the seeds that determine the outcome but the process of growth and adaptation to the world you vowed to share. I think that’s why I also like the idea of marriage as joint adventure.
One writer wrote “happy is the person who marries their best friend”; just so. That idea sums up the idea of marriage as friendship with the yeast of intimacy kept healthily alive. Whether physical bonds, the stimulus of long and happy conversation, or emotional tank-filling, we all thrive where we enjoy intimacy with someone we love. The course, honed over the years, covers all the core issues. How do our different experiences growing up affect us in that relationship that we hope will last for the rest of our lives? Divorce, relationships with parents, past hurt, all make us different and needing to understand each other. Our love languages differ. One values quality time together above all else while the other may yearn focused conversation; one knows that small gifts (a posy?) say I love you, while another wants physical touch.
Actively listening to each other must be high up the list of useful skills! On the course there is an exercise (all done privately in different corners) where the person with the issue holds a hanky and can’t be interrupted until they hand it over! In busy lives it is a valuable investment to take time out to listen. Forgiveness is a big subject; as a Christian one has to acknowledge that in a fallen world we inevitably hurt each other. More about that in a moment. I liked the metaphor of the binding rim of a cart wheel for commitment that holds everything together. Or to put it another way, it’s commitment that enables all the other skills and attributes of marriage to flourish.
When we got married we received a verse from a friend; Sister Barbara’s choice seemed surprising to 2 young people for whom disagreement was still unknown. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph 4:32. How right she was; living in community as a nun she knew a lot about that! Let love and gratitude flow together.