At last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh –Genesis 2:23
This past June, Beverly and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary. We met in high school and dated for five years before getting married after college. We have known each other for 43 years. A friend of mine said Beverly is a saint.
When you ask people about marriages that have endured time and what the secret ingredient is, you can get a long list of things. One thing that comes up quite often is commitment. I agree, commitment is important, but a marriage built only on commitment is pretty dull.
Therapist Esther Perel says that long-term marriages cultivate desire and responsibility. Desire is all about transcending time and space. Healthy relationships enter into space where intimacy, pleasure, hope and love all flourish. It is not a moment, but a way of being together.
There is nothing more appealing than to be in a relationship where you feel wanted, that your partner desires you, even after 38 years. Also, there is nothing more appealing than when a spouse makes themselves desirable. Psychologist Tara Brach said, “Longing, felt fully, carries us to belonging”.
Desire isn’t turned on and off but is cultivated over time. Desire isn’t flowers and dinner on your anniversary or chocolates for Valentine’s Day. Desire is cultivated in long walks, playful kidding, warm smiles, enjoying one another’s interests and attentive listening to hopes and disappointments. Love grows when desire is kindled and rekindled over and over again.
Responsibility is attentiveness to the things we expect from a relationship – security, commitment and shared responsibilities. Some love looks for all desire and little responsibility.
If a marriage is all about responsibility, it is pretty dull. If it is all about desire, it is pretty shallow. Lasting and enjoyable marriages find a blessed balance between the two.
Healthy marriages manage self well. First desire is all about selfishness — what I desire and what I want. Nobody wants to be in a relationship in which they are not desired. No one wants to be in a relationship in which their partner does not make him or herself desirable. Selfishness is healthy in a marriage. But it must be counterbalanced with selfless responsibility in which each person works to create a secure, safe, prosperous environment where the relationship grows and thrives. It is a delicate balance and during different periods of a marriage one or the other is needed more. That’s the art of marriage that leads to joy and blessing.
Jesus talked about this balance as grace and sacrifice and even demonstrated it in his own life.
Genesis put the relationship this way when Adam described Eve as, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This oneness captures the sense that God invites us into a deep relationship with one another. This intimacy cultivates our desires so that we become one flesh and matures our responsibility so that our bones are knitted together framing and undergirding our relationship.
I once heard a person who had been married for a long time say, “I have only experienced three bad years in my marriage. Thank God they were not all in the same three years.” Beverly and I have a marriage like that.
I thank God for my marriage. I believe Beverly and I are a gift from God for one another. It’s not perfect but we spend enough time being attentive to responsibility and desire.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey