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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Love and Marriage*

Cheryl and Ralph Couey

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
January 14, 2011
as "Voyage for two"

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
Sunday June 12, 2011
as "Couples should enter marriage with their eyes wide open"

June 17, 1978, a brutally hot and humid Missouri day, a couple of hundred people gathered for a wedding. Inside the church, which we belatedly discovered lacked air conditioning, the decorations had begun to wilt.  Behind the scenes, things were frantic.  The best man’s tuxedo coat had to be flown in from Omaha; there was a mighty struggle to locate enough large fans to cool the sluggishly oppressive atmosphere. Oh yes, and the last minute scramble to locate the marriage license.

Despite the ado, the ceremony went off without a hitch and after my Dad pronounced us husband and wife, Cheryl and I gleefully strode down the aisle and into our new life together. I was on top of the world. I was now a husband, convinced I had arrived as a man, and there was nothing else the world could teach me.

Now, 31 years later, I realize how foolishly naïve I was! I thought I knew it all.

In fact, I knew nothing.

When done correctly, the decision of two people to wed comes after a long, patient, and introspective journey. Through courtship, the couple should learn about each other; strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, what brings joy, what triggers anger. They make decisions and commitments about where to live, expectations about household chores, and most importantly, children. These are the things that shape the path of a family and I’m amazed at the number of troubled couples who show up in counseling never having decided, or even discussed these issues.

While life, at times, can make a complete hash of even the most carefully laid plans, the failure of any couple to face these decisions squarely prior to saying “I do” is like taking off in a car with a gas pedal and no steering wheel.

Young people consumed with love are often afraid to ask the tough questions, fearing that the resulting truth will risk popping their bubble of romantic fantasy. But the most important qualification of adulthood is the courage to seek that reality.

Being married changes both people. There is an old adage which states: “Men marry women for what they are. Women marry men for what they can make out of them.” There is enough truth there to sting a little. But in the example of my own marriage, I can see the changes that took place.

She’s a driven type “A” with a penchant for drama. I’m far more laid-back, possessing a more relaxed view of life. Over time, we grew to value these differences. I’ve been able to teach her patience, convincing her that there are times she needs to step back and take a breath. And that it’s okay to be wrong. On the other hand, she’s taught me to be more proactive, jumping on opportunities and situations immediately instead of laying back and waiting for Karma to work its magic.

She is the scientist, the mathematician, the linguist and a logician of the first order. I’m humanities; history, writing, and political science; a perfect left-brain/right-brain pairing. Once we learned to harness those different talents, our kids benefitted enormously.

We were, and still are, vastly different people, but we turned those differences into strengths and in the process, our marriage blossomed.

“All You Need Is Love,” the Beatles once sang. That works in the realm of fantasy, but not in reality. Marriage can be a source of joy and strength; a structure where love flourishes. It is also, at times, painfully hard, sweaty work. For marriage to succeed, both people must go forward with their minds and eyes wide open, with all the hard questions answered.  And an unbreakable commitment to each other.

In a larger sense, marriage and family are necessary bedrocks to the survival of any culture. It is our connection to the present and the past, and a path to the future.

On a personal level, it is two people on a shared voyage to the same port of call.

With no maps to guide us, we steered our own course
We rode out the storms when the winds were gale force
We sat out the doldrums in patience and hope
Working together, we learned how to cope

Together we're in this relationship
We built it with care to last the whole trip
Our destination's not marked on any chart
We're navigating for the shores of the heart
--Phil Coulter and Mike Chapman
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