Maybe it’s just us, but it often feels like the world around us is getting more hysterical about things we once would have taken in our stride.
A misspoken word, a misplaced or even misinterpreted word in jest, or even a look the wrong way, can set off a storm of outrage – triggered, apparently.
Even congratulating or wishing someone well can seem to be problematic should it be perceived as potentially excluding someone else. So ‘Merry Christmas’ becomes the beige ‘Happy Holidays’ and participation awards are now the norm.
Talking about this the other morning we reflected that there is a great parallel between what happens in a marriage and in a community.
No marriage is perfect; you only have to look at ours to know that. It is perhaps a great irony, but should not be surprising, that the deeper and more committed a relationship, the greater the capacity to hurt and disappoint each other.
It’s entirely natural that we expect and want more from those who we love than from people we have never met. Sometimes those expectations are fair and reasonable, and sometimes they are not; but either way they are always greater for those with whom we are in real relationships.
Of course, the greater our expectations, the more likely they are not to be met.
Like many things in life, it is how we deal with our failures, pain and tragedy that helps us grow and build resilience. At these moments we always have choices. Do we choose to respond constructively or destructively? Do we take responsibility or shift blame? Do we sink into a blue funk of self-pity or do we take positive action? Do we assume ill-intention rather allow for a more likely possibility of unawareness or distraction?
Our feelings of disappointment and pain are real, so there is no point in pretending otherwise, but do we let emotion overwhelm our ability to be generous, reflective and intentional?
All too often our human nature takes us in the wrong direction at these moments. We feel wronged, we become righteous and we demand amends. Right or wrong, set in this mindset we will be much less loving and, frankly, less likeable.
The great lesson from marriage is that we can, and indeed do, see through and learn from these situations. We can choose to be loving in our response to the other, change our behaviours where we understand them to be unhelpful or harmful, and gently help each other see those behaviours in ourselves.
Resilient marriages are not a result of perfect people, but rather imperfect people who together seek to be better for each other.
The Catholic Church in the USA ran TV ads for some years that posed the question: “what have you done for your marriage today?”. The candid responses which were a hilarious and delightful insight into married life, were a great reminder that a good marriage, like any relationship, requires intentional proactive investment from both parties.
Every day we have the capacity to let each other down at some level. Indeed, inevitably we often do. However, at that very moment we always have that choice. Do I break out the “problems I have with you book” and add yet another failure to the list, and fall into victimhood? Or do I look through the situation and find a more positive and constructive response?
The advice we would give to our children in how to handle similar situations is always the latter.
Marriages are always stronger when a couple are looking forward to building a better future together by learning from their mistakes, rather than backward looking and focused on past failings of the other.
Failures are a norm in every marriage and are not to be ignored, but the aim is to learn from them not wallow in them.
Intentional marriages are ones where the ‘will’ governs equally with the emotions; where we use our rationality and self-discipline to tame and direct our desires towards the good of our spouse and our marriage.
Wedding anniversaries are one opportune occasion to remind us of this. A bit like a New Year, they are best used to focus on who we want to become together rather than just a nostalgic walk down memory lane, yet alone a day to reflect on our litany of failures.
And what has all this to do with Australia Day, celebrated this weekend?
We would like to suggest that like our wedding anniversary, Australia Day could perhaps be best used as a day where we focus more who we want to become as a people under God, rather than one of feigned nostalgia yet alone self-flagellation over the failings of our past.
We live in a land of tremendous natural resources, we have delightful diversity in our community, and we have the freedom to choose who we want to become. In a land of extreme climate with droughts, floods and raging fires a regular feature, there will be many occasions of crisis and stress. Sounds a lot like aspects of our marriage!
And yes, we have our historic failures and, just as in a marriage, we are in need of real and meaningful reconciliation.
But at the end of the day, the choice is ours: we can choose to stay in a permanent place of discontent, or we can focus on who we want to become and put our energy into that.
Sounds like good advice for any married couple, and perhaps too for our nation.