The Culture of Marriage

greece-island-santorini-sea-Favim.com-1899102In spring of this year the Queen and I were blessed with a vacation through Italy and Greece. This was her first experience in Europe and I hadn’t been in well over a decade. One of our many preparations for the trip was learning about the cultures of the places we would be visiting. How is tipping considered at restaurants in Rome? How should we get around in Florence? Are the people friendly in Capri, and is Crete safe for tourists after dark? It was an exercise in expectations, but more than that, it was a lesson on how to adapt to those cultures once we arrived.

We had a library of materials that helped us do this. Books that explained what to anticipate at the Vatican, what we should wear in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and the best way to get to the Trevi Fountain. The energy spent in preparation proved to be invaluable and without it would have made for an unhappy and stressful vacation.

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It’s said that marriage, much like a European vacation, is a journey; an adventure to places unknown and things unseen. Just ask any couple married for half a century if it’s been a journey. If that is so, and I think it is, then wouldn’t we maybe have better marriages if we got ready for them in much the same way we would an upcoming vacation?

When I think back on what went into getting ready for my first marriage, more time and energy were spent preparing for the wedding day than was spent for the marriage itself. Untold hours were wasted looking at venues, tasting different menus, choosing flower and table arrangements. We spent more time interviewing the DJ to make sure he was the right one; than we spent investigating each other to make sure we were the right ones. We went on the assumption that once we got to the wedding day; the rest of the marriage would somehow take care of itself. It would be similar to Queen and I spending a bunch of time and effort researching Greece and Italy, the best time to go there, and finding the most affordable price, then going with whatever happens once we landed. It would be a vacation filled with anxiety and frustration discovering too late there is a three month wait to get into the Uffizi, bathrooms in some parts of Santorini charge a fee, and everything in Capri costs three times as much.

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If we can accept the metaphor of marriage and a vacation, it’s becomes easier to understand why getting ready to marry should be a lot like preparing to visit another country, trying to learn how to adapt to ways different from our own. The Queen and I don’t always share similar life experiences and ways of looking at things. Her traditions and expectations, on put another way, her culture, are different from mine. In several ways she and I are as diverse as Americans are from Greeks or Italians. So shouldn’t we spend time learning about the culture we will marry as we would another culture we would visit?

Yet we generally place more emphasis on the big day instead of the far bigger days that follow. Much like ourselves, we tend to look at our wedding day as the moment we can put our marriage on cruise control, thinking that everything else after our vows will take care of themselves. And much like we did, we discover to late, that we hadn’t done the necessary preparation beforehand; so when those first signs of tension and anxiety surfaced we don’t know enough of each other, our expectations, thoughts, and needs, to work through the problem in a healthy and productive way. Instead, the problems exacerbate  until we catch ourselves telling our spouse, ‘I don’t know you anymore!’, and that’s because we never really did.

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The Queen and I have just over nine months left to prepare for that journey we will be on the rest of our lives. That’s nine months to learn everything we can about each other’s individual cultures; to gain a better understanding of our separate habits, traditions, and expectations. Learning how we will react in these situations. What our thoughts are on those circumstances. Getting a better grasp of what to expect, and what will be expected. Doing this often feels like more work than it ought to be. Sometimes our preparation seems like we’re trying to close a deal, or plan a trip, instead of enter into a marriage. It often feels rehearsed, forced, businesslike and insincere. But when our thoughts take us this way we must be reminded that the more time and effort spent getting ready for that journey now, the less we’ll have to worry about once we’re on the trip.

So far it’s been a learning experience that regularly demands patience, effort, and grace; plus the realization that while we may spend all the time we want preparing for a wedding that will last a day, we’ll have a much more fulfilling marriage if we spend that time getting ready for the journey that will last a lifetime.

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