What makes a strong marriage?

This morning I noticed this well-meaning quote in an image shared by a friend on Facebook. It is a quote from Ashley Willis (whatcha talkin’ ’bout?) who is apparently a person who should know about marriage. I am assuming, since I do not know who she is, but the quote is this:

A strong marriage rarely has two strong people at the same time. It is a husband and wife who take turns being strong for each other in the moments when the other feels weak.

There is, of course, a lot of truth in this statement. E and I have marveled at the fact that since Mack’s death there has been some instinctual response in us that is able to hold back the tears and the panic when we know the other needs time to release their feelings of grief. But it think it is misleading to suggest that a strong marriage does not have two strong people all the time.

The first error is in thinking that we are only strong when we show it and the second is in thinking that weakness is in showing the need for support from your partner.

Love and Peace in UtrechtConsider an olympic weight lifter. They are strong whether or not they are currently lifting hundreds of kilos. They may not be exhibiting their strength when at rest, but it is there nonetheless. So it is with a person’s emotional strength. When life is good, when things are going well then there is no need to flex those muscles. (Although it amazes my how many people bring grief to otherwise healthy relationships by creating emotional problems just so they can demonstrate their “strength.”) But a person with real strength core strength will be ready for the challenges when they come.

Which is not to say that one will constantly be flexing their muscles at all times. When emotionally taxing and trying times come, we do indeed need to be able to relax and release. That is not weakness, but recovery.

And this is where the above quote does get it right. We are partners in our marriage and sometimes we do need to take a respite and at those times a strong marriage partner will make sure we have that time and space. Balancing that out, making sure that each allows the other the time they need, is what keeps a marriage a true partnership, strong and sound.

For E and me, we also cannot omit our faith. Sharing our common belief in Christ and, at this time in particular, the resurrection is central to our ability, as meager as it is, to come through this time. Please don’t think that I am putting us forward as an exemplar; we are just trying to make our way as best as anyone else. It is not easy, but that is the nature of life. Frederick Beuchner put it succinctly: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

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