Marriage has been around for thousands of years. It has bent and shook and shifted to meet the necessities of place and time. The problem is the world has changed so rapidly of late that marriage hasn’t had time to catch up. Our society no longer changes in the slow, plodding manner of the past. We now engage in the universal exchange of information and ideas at lightning speed. Legal, social and moral absolutes have shifted, been lifted and some have simply disappeared. Women, legally liberated and economically able, have choices they never had before. There are now have an endless array of options.
Compared to the way we used to work and live just a hundred years ago, we have copious amounts of free time and unparalleled access to things that give us immediate gratification. We now have the time and social permission to ponder what we want, ruminate on how we feel and ask ourselves, “Am I happy?”
Despite these sweeping changes, we haven’t rethought marriage in any significant way. Once an institution of obligation, it is now one of choice. No longer arraigned, mandated or simply the only game in town, today marriage is something we do simply because we have fallen in love. Formerly a legal fortress difficult to escape, these days it’s something we can walk away from any time we please. Having changed the reasons we get into it and obliterated most of the obstacles to out, the institution may look and sound the same but it’s completely new. But we haven’t changed how we approach it. We keep reaching back for old school solutions to modern day problems because we liked the old school divorce rate. That’s like trying to fix a Prius with parts from a Model T Ford.
As contradictory as this might seem, I believe we can get closer to living the marriage fantasy of “Happily Ever After” by accepting the fact that the fairytale does not exist. We are not rudderless ships in the rising tide of a failing institution. In order to make this old institution work in this new day and age we need to take the best of what was, acknowledge the challenges that are, and create a something new. Once we removed all the stuff that used to cement marriages together, it ceased to be a state of being and became a process that we engaged in. We need to accept that and decide to accommodate the changes in social circumstances, absorb the aftershocks of unparalleled technological advances, and create a marriage scenario that functions well — not for everyone, but for the two of you.
We can replace the glue that used to keep marriages together with a greater understanding of how we work. We can revel in the joy of romantic love, but still be practical in its application. In modern-day marriage, love is king. But, as in all of life, practicality is queen. And I believe it is time to show Her Highness some respect.
Rule Number 1: Decide to be consciously married.
Think of marriage as a 2-year-old who we want to let go outside. Fifty years ago we had legal, social and moral fences that kept that kid in the back yard. Over time we took the fences down, one by one. Yet we still have the nerve to be shocked when we look up and find the child has left the grounds. Of course he’s gone. All the things we relied on to rein him in have been removed and we haven’t made any deliberate effort to replace them with anything else.
Now that containment is no longer the answer, we need to engage in active parenting. You have to keep that 2-year-old engaged and appropriately directed. You cannot take your eyes off of him and let him wander too far away from you. That means you have to start working on your marriage the very second after you say I do.
With those fences down you have to put procedures into place to feed what we know about the biological realities of love and the social realities of how we currently live. We have to actively pursue a passion that keeps our attention while we are out back. We need to spend more time being hand in hand so we don’t drift apart.
In other words, you have to be consciously married. It is no longer a state of being, something you can just enter into and let it rest where it is. It is that toddler who needs constant attention designed to keep him happy and occupied.
from Making Marriage Work