Recently a group of young parents asked me and my husband, “How do you keep your marriage strong–especially in the second decade?” This followed closely behind the question, “How did you teach your kids financial responsibility?” It’s so cute that they thought we did either of those things very well.
I’m an English major, thus weird about things such as actually liking literature. I even enjoy reading poetry too. Are poets even a thing anymore? They used to be the soul of the culture. Now, I guess we have Lady Gaga, so… For an English major I can sure get off topic quickly.
Anyway, one of my all time favorites is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. You can scroll past if you’re gagging.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…That is the problem. At least when it comes to marriage.
We have had some rocky patches in the past 22 years, to be sure. But when discussing our marriage, the metaphor I used was walking on a path. When our marriage is happy and close we are walking on the same path. We are facing one life together, with the same goals and challenges, hand in hand.
But there are times we have found ourselves walking on two paths. Parallel paths, mind you–both trying to get to the same place (Happy Future), both pointed in the same direction. But there’s enough distance between us that we aren’t quite unified. There’s a hedge or a ditch or maybe even a barbed-wire fence in between.
So it is easier to remain separate. And it’s also very easy to justify staying a bit disjointed because after all, we are both going in the same direction (Happy Future!). Hopefully somewhere down the lane there will be a break in the hedge, a miraculous bridge over the ditch, or a gate in the fence and we can reunite then. Don’t you think your marriage is too important to hope it’ll get fixed on your next anniversary getaway, Valentine’s Day or church marriage conference? Plus it’s too painful, day in and day out to settle for holding hands over a barbed wire fence. Your shoulder starts to cramp up and then there’s the barbs.
But trouble really sets in when we discover that our paths have now begun to diverge in this yellow wood of life. His path has turned toward work, deadlines, finances, volunteering, meetings, stress, and more responsibilities than he has time in the day to fulfill. And “perhaps” my path has curved in the direction of my concerns: the kids, the kids’ schedules, the kids’ futures, the kids’ relationships, the kids’ health, buying the kids’ food, cooking the kids’ meals…
I actually firmly believe that obsessing like that over the kids is not a healthy way to be a mom, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. But maybe that’s what some other moms are doing? What I really obsess over is what happens next in the Harry Potter series I’m finally reading. And when the temperature is going to break 70 degrees.
Nevertheless, my husband is not the parent primarily concerned with the kids’ stuff and he’s certainly not in the leastwise concerned about Hogwarts. And I’m not really “up on” syntax, data mining, legacy codes or system analysis. So I don’t particularly like his path. He doesn’t have the luxury to hop over to mine. Because money.
If we continue down our individual ways for long, it becomes increasingly difficult to merge. You can’t even see each other after a while! You aren’t heading toward Happy Future any longer. Then what?
There are really only two options and neither one is convenient. And both are time consuming. And really difficult. And chances are you got into this mess because when the yellow wood of life got super busy and super stressful it was simply more convenient and faster and easier to stop investing in your marriage and lazily let your paths diverge.
But at this point, this far apart, the only two options for your marriage are:
Option 1. Grab your axe and start hacking your way toward each other through the woods. This involves thorns and scratches and an axe, so I highly discourage this option.
Option 2. Retreat. Go back (maybe way back) to where your paths diverged. Humbly meet back there, find out (through talking!) what made you start going it alone. Probably this will involve a date night. Maybe a series of date nights. Maybe a few evenings up past midnight talking on the couch. But it’s crucial.
Why? In our marriage we are motivated to do this work for a lot of big reasons. But also because we remember how much easier and happier life is together. Think about the challenges that would have been unbearable without each other. Become determined to stay close from now on. We don’t want a mediocre marriage. And neither do you.
And the one thing that helps prevent us from diverging in the future is having something in common. It’s really easy after a while to discover that the only thing you share any more is the kids. And also a bathroom. But what about the things you love in life? Find something you can love together. Every couple is different. Maybe it will involve reading or exercise or hobbies or travel or volunteering or taking a class or binge-watching Netflix. Whatever works for you–don’t let yourselves stop having something to look forward to doing together. And put it on the calendar if you have to.
So take The Road Not Taken by so many hurting couples. Investing in your marriage may seem inconvenient, time consuming and difficult at first. But it beats the axe. When you’ve gotten back on the same path: forgive, hug, hold hands and get a move on. Happy Future is waiting for you.
Look! Here our shared path recently led us to an underground mall in Kiev, Ukraine!