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Marriage Killers: The Pitter Patter of Little Annoyances

I performed a marriage ceremony yesterday for a wonderful couple out on the beach near “First Landing” memorial and historic Cape Henry lighthouse on Fort Story, or what is now part of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.  It was a wonderful time despite having my pristine bald head sunburned and looking like a tomato by the end of the ceremony and pictures. I should have worn my Giants cap up to the beginning of the actual ceremony or slapped on some sunscreen before I went out but no I couldn’t do any such thing.  But anyway I digress.

In my years as a Priest and a Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy I have done a lot of pre-marriage, marriage and post marriage counseling.  In that time I have come to realize that of the 50% or so of marriages that end up in divorce that most are not due to the “big things” like adultery or abuse. Instead it is the pitter patter of little annoyances and an inability to communicate or be emotionally intimate with one another that are the leading causes of why so many marriages fail.  Now admittedly in the context of things the “big things” like adultery and abuse are nearly impossible for a marriage to recover from because they are betrayals of trust and safety with the people that we have chosen to be vulnerable with and commit ourselves to, hopefully for life.

Now I really don’t think that most people enter into marriage be it a religious or civil marriage go into it with the expectation or hope that it will fail.  Instead I am want to believe that the vast majority of people that enter into marriage want it to work but really have no clue of what they are getting into.  The marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer is quite rightly marriage is “not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately…” in other words with due prudence, preparation and discernment.

One thing that I always tell the young male sailors and Marines that I have counseled when they are hot to trot and madly in lust is to remind them of the seal on the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The flag shows a woman, “Virtus” or Virtue dressed as an Amazon standing over a man with her foot on him and a spear thrust down beside him.  I tell them that it is symbolic of the divorce laws here in the Old Dominion.  But anyway I digress.

Virginia Divorce Laws as portrayed of the State Flag

The big things are most difficult to survive in the short term; however it is the constant beating of the little things, those annoyances that married couples experience from each other that kill marriages just as dead as the big things even though it usually takes longer for this to happen.  A friend of my mother’s dropped her divorce papers on her unwitting and clueless husband on their 50th wedding anniversary which I must confess earns her a high score for both technical merit and artistic achievement.  Of course most people don’t wait that long to do this and the papers are filled with stories about couples that file for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.”  What are these differences?  Well I’m glad that you asked that question but if you are married or were married I am surprised that you have to ask. It is the little things, annoying habits, nervous ticks, crumbs left on the counter, underwear draped on the banister, clothing strewn around the house, spending habits on hobbies deemed unnecessary by one spouse or another, personality differences maybe one is an introvert and one an extrovert or similarities that are so close that one or the other realize that what they find annoying in their spouse is just like what they do leading to a rather unique form of self loathing.   Likewise there are the spouse’s friends and friendships that date back well before the couple met that one or the other spouse finds bothersome or feels threatened by and then there of course are the things that couples don’t communicate about, the things that are allowed to build up until they explode like a volcano or even a massive pimple.  For some reason and I don’t know why it seems that a nearly universal occurrence in marriage is that couples cannot communicate their needs and desires and are woefully unable to bear any criticism from their spouse.  For some reason, I don’t know maybe fear of rejection by their spouse if they own up to their needs or put voice to their criticism will instead let things build up until the discontent reaches such a level that it can no longer be held in and they erupt.  Of course the damage done by the eruption of pure and unabated negative energy the explosion causes such damage that it is about as repairable as the battle cruiser HMS Hood or perhaps the battleship USS Arizona.   The only difference is that the damaged and explosive build up takes a lot more time in these types of situations.

You see since the Abbess of the Abbey Normal and I have been married for almost 27 years we now understand this.  Not that is it always fun as certainly the two of us have done enough annoying things to each other over the course of the years to throw each other under the bus on innumerable occasions and sometimes our love has been tested but somehow we choose to remain committed to one another sometimes in spite of our better sensibilities.  However we do love each other and somehow in spite of the many often idiot things that I have done to include my sometimes brazen insensitivity we stay together.  It is like the Bible says; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.  I think that the endurance thing doesn’t get enough play but still as for the Abbess anyone who can endure me for almost 27 years has a lot to brag about as I am not always the most sensitive person in the world, after all I am a Meyers-Briggs INTJ which basically means that my baseline is pretty much on the anti-social side of life. I guess that love does endure all things.  Our marriage is one where love somehow finds a way to triumph especially in spite of me. As I said to the Abbess once when watching an early episode of the TV show House …”House is like me without Jesus” and she said “Honey, House is you with Jesus.”

So the sometimes good and sometimes not so good padre is for couples that might be looking for love in all the wrong places and looking for love in too many faces to take some time before they tie the know and as the Book of Common Prayer Marriage Rite says to not to enter it marriage is not to be enter into it unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and even might a say deliberately with all due discernment, preparation, counsel and even dare I say….say it say it, okay I must I must with trepidation fear and trembling and not give way to a surge of testosterone or hormones.  After all, this isn’t a movie it is real life and the failure to take simple stuff like this into account will certainly make things a lot more complicated and possibly painful later on and by the way for my more spiritual or religious readers, just because you guys think that the lust that you have for each other is God’s will because it makes you feel good, you can take those feelings and your checkbook to the divorce attorney who will certainly try his best to make all the bad feelings go away as fast as your bank account will let him.


Padre Steve+

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