The Blog

Redefining Marriage

Perhaps, in a perfect world, committed companionship would be as highly sought and admired as romantic love, and valued for a lifetime.
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Al and Tipper separating? Meh. Nothing like the shock we felt when we heard that our friends Callie and Mike were abandoning 30 years of marriage and each other. We'd watched couple after couple topple into divorce over the past 15 years -- Callie and Mike had remained shining examples of commitment and caring as they'd raised their children to successful adulthood. Without a clue as to the reasons for their split, hubby and I yielded to the temptation of speculation -- had Mike's recent inheritance inspired him to spend his green in greener pastures?

I called Callie, preparing to offer a shoulder for her tears. She was on her cell, with poor reception and no Bluetooth. I opened with a gentle "Oh my gosh, this was so unexpected. Are you okay?" Between bursts of static, Callie insisted she was "never better", and that she'd call me back soon. I was stunned when I finally got the dish. Callie was the one who had jumped ship -- and was now happily coupling up with a married lover who was fleeing the wife he'd "outgrown".

Happy endings? Well, amicable, to some extent. We didn't see grass grow under Mike's feet for long either, as he had soon arranged a sabbatical to Europe and new adventures. But, I wouldn't be far off to expect that the ex of Callie's squeeze was devastated. Despite Al and Tipper's timing, it seems that the ends of marriages aren't usually "in sync". Not only do individuals in a pair find their emotions and attachment naturally waxing and waning (often in different cycles) throughout the course of a relationship -- but relationship exits also commonly display asynchrony. Frequently, one partner may be unhappy, and endeavor to communicate this unhappiness and promote change. The other partner may be satisfied or deaf to the expressed concerns. Finally, the unhappy one decides to leave, setting off alarm bells, and, in many cases, a genuine desire to repair the damage or drift in the formerly complacent spouse. But, it's too late. The departing husband or wife is no longer committed to the relationship, and moves on.

Catching the potholes before they disturb a marriage's alignment can result in re-sync-ing a couple's efforts to address critical issues and keep the marriage from "sinking". Counseling, for one or both partners, is a worthwhile investment to try and save a struggling relationship that may still be rewarding to both individuals in the long term, especially a relationship that has survived the loss of infatuation and the stresses of raising a family.

Are the divorcees in a split making the best choice? Certainly, if the relationship was violent or abusive. If not, the reviews are mixed. Some enjoy the independence of single life. Some find the Mr. or Ms. Right they are seeking and report greater happiness in a new relationship. Others experience similar disenchantment with subsequent hookups -- or with being single. Most, even though they chose to leave, go through some very painful and difficult moments, fraught with sadness, loneliness, and regret -- to which few will publicly admit.

And the partner "left behind" might often be desolate. Not having had the instinct, foresight, or, perhaps, skills to prepare for an abrupt return to singledom, emotionally and financially, he or she may erupt in anger, be swallowed up by depression, or end up as a character in an HBO TV series pretending to be a private investigator. Eventually, most recover and rebuild -- as most of us do from the challenges and obstacles that strike us in the course of life. Counseling can help provide the cast and crutches that lead to baby steps back into the social whirl. Sometimes, the future even brings greater happiness -- with time (and, in my own case, a wonderful 2nd husband of 20 years.) But, on a meta level, was the brutal surgery really necessary -- or did it just create pain without really curing problems?

After 40 years together in public and political life, Al and Tipper are probably quite capable of handling the emotional, social, and economic consequences of their reasoned decision. Sorry to hear it, wish you both well. The Callies and the Mikes generally also do fine on their own, though another friend of mine who finally married the man she left her husband for, told me she didn't rule out the option of returning to her ex someday. I smiled sympathetically. But I so feel for the "left behinds", struggling with the pain, and coping with the loss of the most intimate of human relationships -- alone.

Perhaps, in a perfect world, committed companionship would be as highly sought and admired as romantic love, and valued for a lifetime.