David Brooks begins his chapter on marriage with a poem written by a man who has just lost his wife. I share it with you here :
I came back from the funeral and crawled
around my apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months I got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner; under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped.
A year later, repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt
David uses this poem as a poignant and heartfelt reminder, that marriage is not about the big things in life. It is in fact, a bonding narrative, founded on mutual love and respect, which embraces small acts of love and kindness every day, that retains connection and joy in sharing life together. When you lose your partner, it is not the big things you miss, whether they were fat or thin, or intelligent or not, but at the end of the day what you miss are things like physical touch, acts of kindness, things that your partner does or says to make you feel valued; that is what marriage or relationship does for us, it makes us whole. David ends this section with the following :
“At the end of the day there is the brutal grinding effort of surrendering the ego to the altar of marriage, giving up part of yourself, the desires you have, for the larger union” .
This is the sacrificial love that I talk to my couples about, the love that says not ‘what can you do for me, but what can I do for you?’. Reciprocal, sacrificial love is the sacred secret of a true and lasting connection between two people in relationship. Many who come to see me have never seen this perspective, marriage was always about romantic love and what it will do to make me ‘me’ happy. This kind of love is exciting and wonderful in the beginning but it is unsustainable. Brooks describes love as a ‘quality of attention’. Brooks argues, somewhat radically although I believe truthfully, that the secret to a great marriage is when each individual sees their own selfishness as the main problem, and acts to change this. He says that the nature of the relationship, whether conflictual or harmonious depends on each partner’s willingness to change.
David tells us that marriage is a revolution, that the process of becoming two after being one, is often experienced as an invasion. He follows this by talking of the great ‘prize’ that a long, deep relationship brings. To illustrate this profoundly he quotes George Eliot :
What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of last parting.”
David quotes Judith Wallerstine and Sandra Blakeslee in quoting a list of difficult tasks that marriage throws at us. Tasks, that I believe, many a couple on the verge of marriage or co-habitation never even think off. Possibly this is why the power struggle comes as such a shock when it appears.
Here they are:
· To separate emotionally from the family of childhood
· To build intimacy combined with some autonomy
· To embrace the role of parents and absorb the impact of “Her Majesty, the Baby’s” arrival
· To confront the inevitable crises of life
· To establish a rich sexual life
· To create a safe haven for the expression of difference
· To keep alive the early idealized images of each other
/,,,,,,,, continued in Part 2..
Brooks, D. 2019. The Second mountain : The quest for a moral life.