On Marriage as a Collaborative Art*

Sometimes I really want to be single again.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the man I married.

The Universe brought a man into my life who is almost perfectly designed for me in so many ways. He makes me think: really think. I love talking to him. He challenges me intellectually and emotionally. We both share certain childhood wounds that allow us to have a kind of understanding of the other that is quite exquisite and profound. We “get” each other in a way not many could or would. There is a shared language of our hearts. And there is that physical chemistry as well, that makes for deep passion and sweetness.

But I never planned to marry. To be frank, I always thought I was too f’ed up and so had written it off in my early adulthood.

Then I met the man who was to become my husband. For the first time, I had thoughts that maybe marriage was for me, after all. But I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t in any hurry.

And then, circumstances in my life created some shifts in priority (aka: My own personal Armageddon. My mother and brother died and my whole world exploded.)

And when the smoke cleared, and I was finding my way again through the rubble that was the New World of my life, I found that something in me had shifted.

So when the man-who-would-be-husband made the proposal, I said yes, unequivocally.

But let’s just say that my expectations of what marriage would be were practically non-existent.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. I took to marriage quite well. It astounded me (and still does at times.) It is a mysterious and wondrous thing: creating a home together, a partnership. The closeness. The sharing. The laughter. The tenderness. The challenges. The compromises. The deepening sweetness.

I am also deeply grateful that I have a partner for this part of my life. I have many friends who long for a boyfriend, a husband, a wife. I promise you that I rarely take for granted the incredible gift of this person, this marriage we co-create.

Being an actress, I tend to relate all things back to acting. So for me, marriage is a bit like being in a production of a play you love and care deeply about. You gladly revolve everything around it. You embrace that you are in a collaborative art.

Sacrifices are made willingly for the greater good of the whole. You are willing to live through the hard parts of the process because you know it is all a part of the creation you are making together. You trust in the process. You are diving into the unknown. You expect to feel lost at times because it is in the getting lost that you find something new, together.

You bring your best, he brings his best, and, together, you create something greater than the two of you.

But unlike a production that has a time of completion, a day when you all agree to move on to the next project, marriage is a continuing production. It is an open-ended run.

Those peaks and valleys that are a natural part of it…the moments of feeling lost in the unknown…well, to be honest, there are days when I want to say, “Screw it” and just literally up and leave it all.

Part of the problem is that the Universe was really having a field day when our stars were designed to cross paths. One of the most important qualities that I need and want to have in my life, freedom, just happens to directly rub up against one of the most important qualities that he wants and needs to have in his life. Makes for some critical moments of decision for one or the other of us. And some heated conflicts (aka awful fights.)

I grew up in a household where the father was autocrat. Our world revolved around his needs, opinions and moods. He was a big ‘n tall Texas man with a booming voice. He was intelligent in many ways, but as was true of many of his generation, less so in terms of emotional intelligence.

There was a show on TV in the 70’s, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home,” a cartoon. The opening theme was a song by the same name, and the visual was of a family anxiously awaiting the father’s return home.

That kind of sums up my experience of our house. But on the TV show, Father was a softie.

Not so in my house. I was always waiting to see whether or not my Dad was mad. He had a mean temper, and a cruel tongue. And he used his physical presence to instill fear in those weaker than he. I guess that means he was pretty much a bully.

Which has always made me wonder what in the hell had happened to him to make him capable of that kind of behavior towards his family: the people he most loved in his life. I will never know. All those who could fill in those blanks are gone now.

I don’t believe it was his essence to be that mean. He learned it somewhere. As is true of many perfectionistic personalities, he was hardest on himself. I’m not making excuses for him. He could be a bastard, and it was not a healthy atmosphere to grow up in, being afraid all the time, walking on eggshells. But I know there is more to the story than just my experience of him.

Having grown up in such an oppressive atmosphere, it is a very high priority for me that for the rest of my life on this planet I not live like that: that I not live on pins and needles, carefully holding my breath around my loved ones, afraid to make a mistake for fear of being shamed and made to feel like I am less than nothing.

Which leads me to value freedom of every kind. Freedom of expression. Freedom to do what I want to when I want to. And that is wonderful, and I honor that about myself. I do.

But. I am in a partnership. And that requires restraint and compromise and taking in another person’s needs and wants and values alongside my own. Sometimes, yes, putting theirs ahead of mine. (No, not in the old-fashioned template of the wife putting her husband’s needs first. But in the way that mature love requires.)

It means being a grown-up. Making The Couple an entity that has a value that is greater than the individual parts that comprise it. Being a kind of parent to The Couple.

Some days, this is easy, cause, well, it’s beautiful. (Remember this song? Well before Mariah’s high notes, there was Minnie…)

Other days, if I am especially tired or spiritually drained, or triggered, to consider compromise can feel like I am on the brink of losing everything that really matters to me. Those old wounds have a deep pull. They cry for me to fight for My Life. Run for the hills. Defend my Precious Freedom. (On no, he didn’t!)

I take a deep breath. Give myself a Time Out. (No, I don’t stand myself in the corner. But I do leave the room, sometimes even the apartment, to go get some air, some space, some present-day perspective.) Remove myself from the situation before I go all Beyoncé on his ass and say things I will later regret. (I am from H-town, after all.)

I go off and soothe that part of my heart: that little girl’s longings for a relaxed home and freedom of spirit and unconditional love. I am the only one who can give that to her now.

I parent my self first, attend to the wound. Then I can bring the Whole Mess that I Am back to the production that is Our Marriage. I am ready and able again to consider his needs, the marriage, Our Couple.

Being a flawed human, I am not always successful at this. When I am unsuccessful (aka I act out,) I take responsibility when need be and work to change my behavior, aka Make Amends. That is parenting too. And when he is ready to forgive me, then there we are.

Ready to make art again. Together.



* Full disclosure: I really needed The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt of “partner” today. Things have been very stressed in my relationship lately. Between our impending new home purchase (and all that brings up and entails) and my “summer of deep change,” we are having growing pains.

So though I wrote this post lsat year, I really needed to re-read it and be reminded of it today.

And though I didn’t think I would ever re-post a post, here I am. My own heart needed to.



10 thoughts on “On Marriage as a Collaborative Art*

  1. “We both share certain childhood wounds that allow us to have a kind of understanding of the other that is quite exquisite and profound. We “get” each other in a way not many could or would.” Ditto. And ditto to most of the rest, save the freedom issue. We are both strong individuals who value our freedom, so we give one another what is needed, no strings attached. You and I share father issues, and there would be no way I’d be with a man who curtailed said freedom. But that’s my path.

    I do wonder how long you’ve been together. I notice about every seven years (remember The Seven Year Itch?) we go through a stress point where some air clearing seems needed. We then proceed with another layer of depth than before. I love this about long-term relationships. And I love that Chris has been willing all along to go the distance. If he were to die, I swear I’d be alone. No way would I go through this again with someone else from Square One … yikes.

    Great post, Margaret. Sounds like a process piece, and a good one, at that. Aloha ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We have been together 13 years in Oct. Married, you guessed it, 7! (We officially married in 2009 but didn’t live as a married couple until after our wedding in 2010. 7 year itch? Mire like the hives on my end…I have faith most days we are headed for a new deeper layer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you reposted this. I find marriage to be harder than I imagined. A turning point for me has been to own that this is MY hard. And I can do something about this hard…being hard isn’t the end of the story. I appreciate this idea of marriage as collaborative art. Reminds me that, like art making, marriage is intuitive, messy, a process vs. immediate product. Thanks again for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

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