My point, if I have one

My Better Half
September 7, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles | Tags:

An Exploration of the Five Stages of Marriage

In a short while, I will have been married exactly half of my life. Both numbers–my age and my marriage–are pretty big: 50 and 25. To make me feel REALLY old, that’s a half-century of life and a quarter-century of marriage.

Does that make me an expert on life and marriage? Yes. Of course it does. Why not? There are people on FOX and CNN every day claiming to be experts who are clearly clueless. Why not me?

It’s important for me to begin with a disclaimer: these thoughts are from my uniquely male perspective. My wife may see things differently. (If you’re paying attention, you have just learned something about my secret to marital bliss. I never attempt to speak for my wife. In fact, it’s good advice to avoid speaking for yourself, too, but I’m going out on a limb here for the sake of helping others. I will undoubtedly regret it.)

That said, I think it’s important to understand marriage as a series of stages, rather than go down the typical “tips and tricks” route you might find in a dog training article. There are five stages of every long-lasting marriage. This was scientifically proven in a scientific marriage laboratory. At least, I think it was marriage they studied. Anyway, it’s important to know which stage you are currently in so you know what to do and what to expect in the future. Kind of like the way Lance Armstrong can keep pushing through his intense physical pain while climbing mountains because he know the mountain stage will end soon and he can move on to the intense physical pain of a different stage.

Stage One: Denial
Technically, this is the pre-marriage stage. I’ve seen commercials on TV in which a young woman announces to her friends that she is engaged, and they all scream, giggle and cry. Men just cry. Guy friends don’t take engagement news as good news. As they see it, they’re losing a buddy. That’s why we generally don’t tell our friends we’ve popped the question, and deny it when accused. Women, beginning minutes after they are born, dream in great detail of their perfect wedding day and the white-picket-fenced bliss to follow. With men, it’s more like just a haunting feeling we’ll end up painting a damned fence someday.

Women do not experience this stage. Contrary to denying, the average woman will announce her engagement to everyone she knows and several people she does not know, sometimes before telling her future husband. This stage has a definitive ending: the wedding day. I have no advice for men in this stage. Just survive it.

Stage Two: Anger
This is an excellent stage, despite the negative sounding name. She gets angry at him for his lack of passion about such important details as choosing linens and silverware. He gets angry at her for expecting him to read her mind. Then they both realize how silly they are being and then the excellent part of this stage happens. I can’t describe that because this is a family magazine. This is definitely the most passionate, exciting stage, and typically takes place in the first few years of the marriage, or in some cases, several decades. My advice: don’t fight it…enjoy it. The most important thing to know, however, is that you must have a short memory. No grudges…making up needs to be truly making up, and marks the absolute end of the anger. Period.

Stage Three: Bargaining
Marriage gets complicated when kids show up and you have to deal with house and car payments and distractions of that nature. Successful couples are successful bargainers. “I’ll wash the car if you’ll do the laundry” is not a good bargain. “I’ll do the laundry and wash the car, you go relax” is a great bargain. You should never strive for balance, because when the bargain is fair, both sides feel shorted. Better that each person feel smugly “ahead” of the other.

Of equal importance is to feel and express appreciation for the other person fulfilling their end of every bargain. A word of caution, though: if you get too good at this and begin to experience something like total bliss, you risk losing the spark from Stage Two, which can be running concurrently with any stage. You never want to get TOO good at getting along.

Stage Four: Depression
I wish I could tell you there will never be a sad day in your marriage. (Fortunately for me, I’ve never had a sad day or any reason to be depressed during my own marriage, but I’ve heard it is quite common to experience low times.) I think the important thing is to commit yourselves to be depressed together. As you face the fact that “6-pack” now describes your diet more than your abs, you realize how lucky you are to have a spouse who loves you despite the fact that you are no longer appealing to anyone, including them. My advice for this stage is to begin a new diet and exercise plan based on an unrealistic expectation of regaining your youthful beauty. That won’t help, but it will keep you busy until you move on to the final stage of marriage.

Stage Five: Acceptance
All couples BELIEVE that they start with this stage. Almost immediately, they accept that they have made the right choice in a life partner and that they will live happily ever after. In fact, this stage comes much later. When you accept that you are not perfect and your life is not perfect, yet things are pretty darned good anyway, you have reached Stage Five. You accept her, she accepts you, and you each accept yourselves. Combining this stage with some of the better elements of the Anger stage is a great recipe for success.

Well, there you have it. Proof that 25 years is not nearly enough to make an expert of me. Chances are, you’ll forget all this (if you’re lucky, anyway) so let me just say one thing you really should remember: Whatever stage of marriage you’re in, keep going. It’s a journey that’s worth every step, including the painful ones. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Fight for it at all costs.

My point, if I have one, is that I’ve lived half a life married and half a life on my own, and while I have no complaints about the unmarried half, there’s no doubt in my mind that the married half has been my better half.