the silent anniversary: celebrating marriage in a culture of relationship breakdown

Last month, us Desert People celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Most of the time I feel our life just plods on, so the slightly startling fact that we’d been plodding on longer than Facebook, Netflix and (most people’s access to) digital photography seemed worth celebrating.

We had a lovely couple of days of dates, nice food and presents – but few others knew of our celebrations. I nearly posted our happy day on Facebook – but something held me back. This year one of my friends is finalising her divorce whilst another has become a single mum. Other friends have divorced years ago, but any mention of marriage still stings. Then there are those who always dreamed of marriage – but are still waiting. How could I post a shiny picture of the two of us against that backdrop?

The problem is that a happy, long-lasting marriage can so easily end up being miscommunicated as an ‘achievement’, a ‘notch on the scale’, something to wear as a badge of honour. Entirely by accident, the Happily-Marrieds can end up suggesting that they possess a greater level of emotional intelligence, a more kind and forgiving character, or simply ‘work harder’ at their marriages. But I can tell you that many of my now-divorced friends worked harder at their marriages than I’ve ever done. So there was no way I was going to risk getting the tone wrong on Facebook.

In a month’s worth of reflection over whether I was right to hold back, or whether I was being stupidly over-cautious, a few things have come to mind.

One is that, regardless of our own marital status, all of us can celebrate marriage in some way, shape or form. Almost all of us have benefited from a strong, healthy marriage – if not our own, then our parents’, grandparents’, close friends or other family members. We may have received security from our own parents’ marriage – or support and hospitality from the marriage of friends. Marriage can be celebrated as a wonderful institution, even if we ourselves are not married.

Secondly – contrary to the polarised ‘marriage=lifelong joy’ and ‘singleness=lifelong discontent’ philosophy of our culture, the reality is tinged with much more grey. Marriages can be hard, tiring, frustrating – and singleness can be enriching, freeing, empowering. Celebrating marriage should not be about pretending that life is brilliant all the time. When we celebrate our marriages publicly, we need to acknowledge the grey – sensitively, but not silently. Similarly, even the worst separations, divorces and bereavements can bring about many new positives. Recently, my friend wrote about how the painful time around her divorce gave her an insight into suffering and mental health that she would never have had otherwise.

Thirdly – and this is especially true if our marriage has been easy so far – a great way to celebrate our marriages, in addition to shouting about them, is to invest in them. I suspect that most divorces are not based on one event, an affair, a life change, or whatever, but on a gradual drifting apart over a few years. If we assume that a strong marriage will be built without any input from us, we assume wrong. When we celebrated our anniversary last month, I realised we hadn’t read any marriage books for a while, so did some research and grabbed a handful of titles which looked interesting and challenging for where we’re at right now. (And yes, you’ll be seeing mentions of these books on the blog over the next few months as we devour them!) But investing in your marriage could also mean attending some marriage counselling – and remember that you don’t need to be having marital problems in order to book an appointment. You can see it much more like an MOT, as explained in this amazing article by Marina Fogle. In short, put some deposits in your marriage bank – you never know when there’ll be a hefty outgoing.

Finally, whilst investment in our marriages is vital, we also need to recognise that a healthy marriage is not solely a result of our own hard work, stamina or ability to meet 100% of our partner’s needs 100% of the time. We must acknowledge that a greater ‘force’ is present in them. Christians might call this force ‘grace’, which forgives us and picks us up and gives us what we don’t deserve. If you’re not a Christian, you may call it ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, that you’ve found a spouse who loves you despite your faults. The point is that the success of our marriage is not all down to us, and therefore any proclamation on social media or other public forums needs to recognise this.

I don’t regret, on this occasion, holding back from social media. I’m not sure I would have had the sensitivity, wisdom, or turn of phrase to announce our anniversary as carefully and respectfully as I’d have wanted. But I’ve enjoyed seeing the many other anniversary announcements that this season brings, my favourite being this:

“Our anniversary is a good opportunity to say thanks to everyone who celebrated with us this time 9 years ago, and to those who continue to support and journey with us. Marriage is a mini expression of community, which both serves and is fed by the wider community. Thanks to all those who are part of this”.

Marriage is something for us all to get involved with (and – dare I say – excited about?). We can all play a part in supporting those we love as they seek to keep their marriage vows.

And, more than this, it fills us with hope that one day we will enjoy the closest, most intimate relationship with God Himself. Celebrating the highs and lows of marital union – whether ours or our friends’ – reminds us that earthly marriage is not the end result, but a very faint picture of the 100% loving, 100% forgiving, 100% perfect Bridegroom – Jesus Christ, who one day will fulfil the strongest marriage vow ever made.

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what i’m into – july

2017 seems to be whizzing by in such a whirlwind that I’m becoming very pleased for this chance to stop and reflect at the end of each month. When I can’t remember what I’ve done from one day to the next, it is encouraging to put it all down in a blog and realise that there have been lots of fun moments and memories along the way! If you write a blog, why don’t you join Leigh’s link up and share what you’ve been up to?

Books

I finally got round to reading JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You, which had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. OK, so Moyes’ stuff is basically chick-lit, and therefore not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s on the intelligent side of the genre, and this book is a perfect example, dealing with the grey area of assisted suicide. I was hooked. Moyes does her research, writes complex relationships very well, and includes wry observations about people and places. The three novels I’ve read so far by Moyes often involve characters from different classes/backgrounds who collide in unexpected circumstances – a theme which fascinates me.

Next I read A New Day, the latest by Emma Scrivener. I enjoyed – although that’s really not the right word – her first book, A New Name, which told of her battle with anorexia. A New Day moves onwards and outwards, broadening the discussion to include six ‘battle’ areas of mental health: hunger, anxiety, control, shame, anger and despair. Emma has first-hand experience of most of these, and the factual parts of the book are thorough and helpful. The spiritual guidance is excellent – neither brushing mental illness under the carpet, nor despairing of any hope whatsoever. The real test of the book is whether those suffering from a mental illness find it helpful – but certainly, as a friend of those who do, I found it a helpful and insightful guide. If someone else would like to give it a read and let me know I’d be very interested to hear your views!

Articles

I always love reading my friend Jo’s blog on MS, widowhood and single parenthood, and was over-the-moon to read her words on the Multiple Sclerosis website this month. She writes with such honesty and humour, and opens my eyes to the challenges of MS, bereavement and single parenthood.

Music

We celebrated 15 years of marriage by going to a Kate Rusby gig – our first. She was brilliant! Now we can’t stop singing Big Brave Bill, and are teaching it to our kids. If you can’t educate your Yorkshire-born kids by teaching them folk songs about superheroes who come from Barnsley, then what on earth can you do anymore? Have a listen, you’ll be hooked:

Stage and screen

Well of course, having read the book, I had to watch the film of Me Before You! It was good, with little changed from the book other than subplots which would have made the film impossibly long. The setting seemed just right. The casting – maybe not quite so great. But an enjoyable evening with a friend, and even a few tears shed at the end 🙂

I also got to watch Lion with my cousin and her daughter. What an incredible film! A young boy gets separated from his family in 1980s India, never finds them, and ends up being adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, he vows to return to India and find his birth family. It’s a true story, one which blows your mind with how resilient, intuitive, empathetic and determined the human race can be. I managed to hold off the water works till the end but not quite sure how – as an adopter, I found the film particularly moving. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays through this Sun July 30 at the Paramount.

And I was hugely thrilled to be able to catch the stage play of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, having read the book earlier this year! What an amazing stage show, put together with a lot of careful thought and design. The set, the props, the lights – I can’t give too much away, but it is very much worth seeing. It didn’t come to our town so I travelled a couple of hours to where it was showing (for a lovely evening out with my aunt-in-law) – and it was well worth the effort.

In other news…

* It was Sports Day. By some kind of bizarre star alignment, I won the parents’ obstacle race – and even made it into my daughter’s learning journal!

* I dragged the kids to THREE Summer Fairs this month so I could do ‘research’ and they could – well, get high on sugar. This makes our total up to five for this year and now I can steal everyone else’s ideas for our fair next year – mwahahahaha!

* My wonderful cousin-in-law came to stay, and we had a visit from some old friends, our surrogate parents from the time we were newly married. Always a joy to reconnect 🙂

* I went to London, Belfast and Liverpool this month – no wonder I’m a teensy tiny bit tired!

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* A note on Belfast: it was child-free. It was awesome. Pretty much the most Grown-Up Thing I’ve ever done, as it involved taking a flight ON MY OWN, then hiring a car ON MY OWN. I stayed with my fab cousin and her family, drank far too much hot chocolate, and spent my days observing a Suzuki Early Childhood Education training course. I have been meaning to blog about this incredible method of music education for months and months now – wish me luck, and it may yet happen in the Autumn…

* The older kids and I went to Madame Tussaud’s which was so much fun!

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* We attended the christening for my newest goddaughter. Look at her cute little face. Isn’t she just wonderful?

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* The younger kids and I tried out a new-ish ceramic-painting cafe, Bish Bash Pot, with some friends. For a pair of boys who give me a total body workout every day with their running, ducking, climbing, crawling and jumping, they do have a good attention span for anything arty. They sat and painted for ages, then got to enjoy the soft play when they got bored. Their bowls turned out a treat, don’t you think? I reckon they could easily be in a modern ceramics exhibit!

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* I was part of a parent panel to interview for our new Headteacher. Whilst sad to see the old one go, we’re all buzzing about the new appointment and can’t wait for her to get started!

* In other school news, I helped with the school disco, held the FIRST EVER PTA committee meeting, and spent an afternoon barbecuing at Sports Day, gradually turning into a tomato, thanks to the lethal combination of BBQ flames and 26 degree weather. The attractive face of parent volunteering. But it’s all worth it: there was no PTA at our school until a few months ago, and setting one up remains the thing I am most proud of so far in 2017!