April 16th, 2015
A few days ago, the writers here at OYOL and a few other friends had a spirited discussion about love and marriage. Our youngest member asked a benign question about marriage and as per our usual mode of operation, the conversation spiraled into a deep philosophical discussion. Our beliefs about love and marriage differed and the romantics and the pragmatists soon found their separate corners. I am a pragmatist, and as such, drew the pity of the romantic in the crowd. He felt sorry for me because of my beliefs. I could have made the “choice” to be upset by the comment, but instead I “chose” to sit back and solidify my ideas.
I believe one of the best philosophies a person can bring into a marriage is the knowledge that leaving is an option and loving is a choice. While on the surface that idea might appear counter-intuitive, the reality is, at least for me, choice is more powerful than reaction or obligation. I make a choice every day to stay with my husband, to work through rough patches, and to actively love him. Once infatuation and lust whither, and they do, love becomes a verb as much as it is an emotion. Do I sit up in bed each morning and think, today I choose to stay with my husband? Of course not, but I do roll over to hug him and kiss his shoulder and snuggle into his warmth. I could choose to stay on my side of the bed, but I don’t. I reach out and make the choice to affirm my love for him.
As I go through my day, I make choices to honor my marriage and my husband. Some are conscious, others have become automatic, but all of them are made because I want to be here. Knowing I can leave but choosing to stay has more value to me than staying because of an obligatory promise I made on my wedding day. I don’t want to maintain a marriage because of that promise, I want to invest in a marriage with a partner I choose to spend the rest of my life with and I want him to WANT to make that same choice. I choose to love him even in our darkest hours and I WANT him to choose to love me in mine.
I have a couple of friends who stay in their marriage because leaving isn’t an option and they stay because of an obligation. They made a promise to God and their spouse to love until death, yet each and every day I hear grumbles and complaints about their dissatisfaction. I used to respect their choice to stay and work through the rough patches, but the more I listen to their complaints, the more I wonder what would happen if they changed their philosophy and believed that leaving could be an option. Would their marriage be happier?
To use a seemingly trivial matter, leaving dirty socks and underwear on the floor has the potential to trigger deep emotional responses. If one leaves them, the implication is the other will pick them up. That smacks of disrespect. “Here, let me drop my dirty clothes on the floor so you can pick them up because I’m too important to clean up after myself. That’s why you’re here.” I doubt many people consciously put that into words. However, to the person left to pick up, that’s what it feels like, especially if one has asked multiple times for the offending garments to be placed in the hamper. Now add into that equation leaving is not an option. The person dropping the dirty garments has no reason to put them where they belong, and the person left to pick them up starts to feel defeated, resentful, and angry. Before long, they feel trapped and marriage becomes an obligation. Dirty laundry starts out as a trivial matter, but it grows and takes on a life of its own.
Now let’s assume both partners understand that leaving is an option and loving is a choice. There’s a reason to pick up the dirty laundry if the person wants to maintain the marriage and wants to show love and respect for his/her spouse. There’s also a reason to pick it up if the other forgets. There’s a reason to express one’s feelings and a reason to hear what’s being said. Now, I can hear the outrage of some of my constituents who believe leaving isn’t an option. Of course they pick up their laundry, and love and respect their spouse. Just because they don’t believe in divorce doesn’t mean they don’t respect their spouse. Of course not. My point is, it’s a choice. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, whichever behavior is enacted, a choice has been made. And in my opinion, being aware of the choice and making it means more than doing things because one should or because it’s an obligation. The thought of my husband staying with me or doing things because he feels obligated is enough to make me cry. I am so much more than that.
There is nothing more romantic than knowing my husband makes choices every day to honor and love me. Because of the choices he makes and the things he does, I fall in love with him over and over again. He could choose to do many other things, but he doesn’t. He chooses me. He chooses to work with me to make our life together as full as possible and most importantly, he is AWARE it’s a choice and he WANTS to make it. What could be more romantic than that? I know some may pity me for my belief, but alas, that is their choice.
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