Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Taming of the Shrews

Blanche Bickerson: You used to be so considerate. Since you married me, you haven't got any sympathy at all.
John Bickerson: I have, too. I've got everybody's sympathy.

Marriage, despite the old adage, is not made in Heaven. Neither is it made in Hell; it falls somewhere in between, because men and women are human. Couples run into trouble when they realize sometime shortly after the honeymoon that their marriage wasn’t made in Heaven, and so they make it into an unnecessary Hell.

Someone has trotted out the theory, as old as the classic radio comedy series, The Bickersons, that arguing and bickering is good for couples. Some psychologist (a liberal one, no doubt, who’s getting worried that the nuclear family might be making a come-back), insists that bellicose couples stay together longer. Perhaps they stay together because no one else would want to marry a shrew or a louse.

I’m an old bachelorette.  A spinster.   I’ve lived alone for a long time and have become accustomed to it. I’m quite accustomed to having my own way, doing what I want to do when I want to do it. I don’t have to share the remote with anyone. I don’t have to eat something I don’t like. I don’t have to worry (too much) about the way my house looks, except when my mother comes to visit.

Bachelorettehood has made me into a very lazy person. I’m too apt to sit around reading a book when I know I need to weed my garden. Where is that special someone to nag me into doing what I know perfectly well is the right thing to do?

Marriage keeps people on their toes. You have to love someone an awful lot to spend every night for the rest of your life listening to them snore. Or seeing them without makeup the first thing in the morning.

Money and kids are the chief trouble spots in marriages. Couples forget that the money and the kids are not exclusively their own, and a sort of checks and balances system develops, one most couples don’t appreciate in the least. “I’m right and you’re wrong and that’s that.”

That’s when the yelling and the screaming starts. That’s when people stop being nice to one another. They could get over the money issues and agree to do something about the kid who’s eight years old and still eating with his hands. But not if they can’t be nice to each other.

It’s true that some bantering, like the Bickersons above helps the partners maintain some of their individuality, or they’d go out of their minds. The trouble is, they get carried away with it. One young man and his wife spent 15 minutes literally screaming at each other over a bottle of water right in front of their mortified friends, and his parents. Being the only single person present, I decided to take pity on the onlookers and told the couple to knock it off.

They didn’t like it, but I didn’t care. When they told me to mind my own business, I reminded them they were the ones broadcasting their problems to the whole world, on a public street, no less. There was nothing funny about it. There was no laugh track. They shut up.

Luckily, there is forgiveness. And therapy, if a couple is too far gone for forgiveness, as in the case of Mel Gibson and his girlfriend. The first time you find yourself pressing, repeating a point for the third time, you know you’re on the brink and it’s time to stop and breathe.

Somewhere along the road to Hell, love gets left along the curb. How much more important is that bottle of water than the person you’re arguing about it with? The dirty socks? The leftover dinner? Some issues are critical, of course, like a maxed-out credit card or a drinking problem.

Those are the times when the shouting begins in earnest, encouraged by all the petty bickering that came beforehand. Exactly when people need to keep their heads is precisely when they lose them, when they’re about to lose their house or one of the kids is in serious trouble.

Anger is a natural human emotion. There are times when we all lose it and need to ask for and receive forgiveness. We should just try to not make it a habit, using our marriage partners as target practice for our own over-inflated egos.


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