By Tim Stelma
Time to toss out the marriage vows.
That’s right, crumple them up. Throw ‘em in the dumpster. Set fire to them in a wastebasket. Put ‘em through the shredder. It’s time to replace them with the pyramid.
What? A pyramid? Please explain.
Well, I’m glad you asked.
The marriage vows we recite in church are hopelessly antiquated. Just the instruction to “obey” should be a red flag. Give me a break! Who is supposed to obey who? Is it a structured thing like speaking only in French on Sundays?
“Honey please do the dishes?” “Sorry buttercup but it’s your day to obey. Get busy! Oh, and bonjour!”
Get the idea? Now let’s take a different approach. Sure, you can recite those meaningless words at the ceremony to please your 98-year-old great grandma, but the fact remains your marriage will be subject to less testing and less chance of divorce if you counsel with your pastor (or even someone with a marriage on solid ground) on the seven building blocks that make for a lasting relationship. Three at the base, three more in the middle, and the crown on the pyramid. Let’s look from the bottom up.
The base of the pyramid:
As mentioned, there are three blocks that support the pyramid; the foundation so to speak. They not only intertwine, they support the middle of the structure as well.
One of these is honesty. This is perhaps the most important supporting piece of the pyramid. Are you completely honest with your partner when it counts? I’m not talking about “Do I look fat in this?”. I’m talking about things that really matter, like Sammy at work seems a little too interested or how much credit card debt the other has. A daily open and honest discussion about your lives apart as well as your lives together. Do this daily and unflinchingly and you have the first cornerstone in place.
The second of the three foundation pieces is fidelity. Oh yeah, this is an important one. It was physical attraction that brought you together in the first place, and the out of body experience that goes with your love-making (virgins can skip this part and replace it with watching The Bachelor together) is something you want to preserve and reserve only for each other. Infidelity is a relationship-killer. It can be survivable, but only in certain instances. A drunken one-night stand, immediately and tearfully confessed to may not damage the relationship to the point of extinction, but it certainly will put it to the test. Note how honesty comes into play here. As I said, the blocks are intertwined. The bottom line is to agree not to cheat, and never, ever break that promise.
The third is a complete willingness to work as a team. Always. When you agree to this unswerving relationship, this aspect may have been under-discussed. It is a learning process, but the agreement should be made well in advance of the division of duties. It’s simple. If one person goes through money like poo through a short dog, the other should have control of the finances. If one partner hates yard work, the other should shoulder the burden without complaint. Trust me, when you have children and still don’t have this teamwork approach worked out, you are looking for trouble. Kids are a game-changer and that is not the time to find out you are in a master-servant relationship.
On to the next level. Now what block will fit snugly atop the honesty foundation?
Trust, that’s what. Complete, unfettered honesty leads to trust. If you can’t trust your partners words to be true, how can the relationship ever last? And trust is not only conveyed in words. Actions and body language can tell you much more than words. You may find yourself entangled with a championship bullshit artist, or let jealousy cloud your judgement over innocent actions. It’s a slippery slope, and one that takes time to navigate. Time will tell. Don’t let the haze of sexual bliss or jealousy keep you from making sound relationship decisions. Bottom line: Trust your gut, trust your partner, and give it some time to grow.
Now, how about fidelity? What would naturally spring from prolonged fidelity?
Commitment. You may agree upon a monogamous relationship at some point (and if neither one of you ever brings it up shame on you), but it is only with a proven period of steadfast eye contact in your most intimate moments that commitment has become clear. Your commitment to fidelity should be a regularly discussed point, and honesty is paramount without judgement. We, are after all, human, and young lovers are given to fantasy and flights of fancy. When you keep these thoughts to yourself you may be guilty of entertaining possibilities. Talk openly and without prejudice, knowing that your commitment is strong enough to withstand the twinges of jealousy that frank discussion can bring. Some may even find it a bit arousing and challenging, which can lead to fierce lovemaking. Would you rather argue about it instead? Think about that. The choice is yours.
Five blocks in place and two to go. What gets dredged up from the sand to be cemented into place over working as a team?
Self-sacrifice. Relationships are a constant game of give and take. Are you selfless enough to be up to the task? This aspect of a relationship can be quite tricky, and both can find it easy to take advantage of the other. If you are any kind of a decent person, you will get a sense when things are becoming overwhelming to the other. And many times, the stressors are outside of your relationship. Both of you need to tune into that sixth sense and realize you need to pick up the ball today, this, week, this year, whatever it takes. Self-sacrifice is one of the truest expressions of love, and it can also go unrequited if your partner’s suffering runs deep. Patience is the key. “For better or worse” is one of the only marriage vows that makes sense to me. So, let’s keep that one and make it part of the teamwork pyramid building block.
There is only one word that can adequately top the pyramid: Intimacy. And I am not talking about that in between the sheets type of intimacy. No, if you both live up to the expectations the building blocks beneath create, the natural progression leads to complete harmony; the “two becomes one” masterpiece that is marriage.
With an infinitely complete understanding and commitment to the team, a never broken promise of fidelity, and unfettered honesty without judgement, your marriage will withstand the test of time.
Sure, there will be disagreements, arguments, even a slip in one area or another. Just promise yourself you won’t be the one to chip away at those cornerstones. Because a steady erosion of those building blocks will eventually topple the pyramid, leaving nothing but regret on the part of the one who lived up to the expectations, but slowly came to realize the other had little interest in the pyramid, but simply pretended to play along. You should see the signs well before you recite those vows, so talk it out very thoroughly and honestly before you take that walk down the aisle.