My daughter-in-law won a postgraduate placement in an internship, and everyone was thrilled for her. But we wondered how she and my son would manage the care of their newborn son if she quit working and went back to school.
So we all rallied around them. Her mother and I agreed to take turns living with them, to help take care of our grandson during the year it would take her to complete the internship. It was like being dropped into a 1960s sitcom, where three generations share one bathroom and privacy is only a curtain drawn over a doorway. Personal needs were set aside, and everyone in both families did his or her part to make it work. The result was a true demonstration of family and a fabulously rich time!
Marriage and family should be a group event. Couples need the energy, wisdom and blessings of people who not only support them but also care enough to challenge them. They shouldn't be left alone to figure it out by themselves. There's a better chance for success when everyone involved is married to each other.
I'm a big fan of Dan Buettner, who studies the world's longest-lived populations. He's discovered that people who are living the longest, healthiest lives are keeping the tribal system alive by creating large social circles that support healthy behaviors. He says that the happiest, healthiest people are experiencing at least four hours of face-time every day -- not on a device, but face-to-face, person-to-person.
We all have a need to bond with other people and to know that whatever is good for us will automatically be good for everyone around us. We need the emotional, physical and moral support of a group of people who act like family, even if they're not related to us.
But if we focus on our differences -- if we're afraid of people that we don't even know because they think and act differently from us -- we'll isolate ourselves, which is the opposite of community. And our fear-based beliefs and perspectives will prove us right.
Once a month when I was in elementary school, my class had to practice nuclear bomb safety. Our teacher made us crouch under our desks, to be prepared in case we were attacked. What did we learn? To be afraid of "the Russians."
In our modern Western culture, we encourage independence, sometimes to a fault. Yes, it's important to be responsible for ourselves, especially our thoughts, words and actions -- because no one else is. But responsibility for self includes responsibility for others.
We don't have to sacrifice our individual needs to meet the needs of others. We have to sacrifice selfishness, which is different from self-interest. Self-interest includes taking care of ourselves first -- which is in the best interest of a community -- because only then can we give our "best self" to the group.
Modern society is suffering because we've lost our tribes. Under the tribal system, marriage is as important to the supporters as it is to the couple. The community comes together to confirm that the two people belong together. Then all the people involved are married to each other.
When marriage is a community experience, everyone is committed to the relationship of the couple and experiences it as a personal responsibility to be there for them. And this love-bond within a group of people is what makes union sacred.
What does this mean on a personal level? We can identify our strongest supporters by asking ourselves: "Who among my friends holds me accountable for my sake? Who refuses to wallow in my problems or join me in blaming? Who encourages me to focus on what is working well and to take forward steps? Who never gives up on me?"
Then we can ask these people to be advocates of our partner relationship. We can say to them, "When you see me out of alignment with my best self, you have my permission to point it out. Please stand with me always and help me be my best."
This post was originally featured on The Good Men Project.
The photo is a tiled wall outside Taos, NM, by William G. Thomas.