Saturday, July 2, 2011


One of my young, senior managers came into my office on Thursday and told me that he wanted to let me know before I heard from another source that he and his wife were getting divorced after quite a number of years of marriage -- well, at least a dozen since they have two children in the upper grades of elementary school. I immediately felt guilty because I have sent him out of town at least twice a month for the past two years: he oversees ten of our non-local branches. At one point, I had asked him how this was affecting his family, and he said that they understood and there was no problem. Now, I wonder if his traveling schedule had been a problem.

I asked him again on Thursday, but he said again that it was other matters, not the travel, that were a problem. I know his wife and children well. They are a very nice family and seemed supportive of each other. I suppose the inside of a house looks different from the inside of a home. He says he wants to drop by my house some day this month and talk to me at length about the situation. Of course, I will listen and try to be supportive. I am not sure I will understand, but I will try.

When these things happen, they cause me to reflect on my own situation. Donnie and I just celebrated our 41st anniversary, but it has not been easy. If either of us were focused exclusively on our own happiness (the orientation that some psychologists today seem to encouraging), I don't think we would have made it this far, especially since we are so very different one from another.

Many people were surprised when we married and made the assumption that the marriage would not last -- all except for a professor of sociology of a course that a friend of ours was taking when we were into our third year of marriage. The friend interviewed us for his course as a study of a married couple, and he came to the conclusion that although we clearly loved each other, we were too different one from another for the marriage to last. He showed us the comment his professor wrote on his report: "It will last if they want it to." Clearly, we have wanted it to last and still want it to last for all kinds of reasons.

Since my employee has thrown me into a reflective mood, let me do what I do when I am reflecting: make some lists. The first list would be the ways in which we differ; the second why we want it to last; the third why it has lasted. So, here goes:

List #1: How we differ
1. Donnie is a scientist and artist (graphic arts, photography); I am a humanist and linguist.
2. Donnie is big (rotund and significantly taller than I), and I am small (could lose a few pounds, but not a lot, and could add a few inches since I would like to be able to sit in a chair and have my feet touch the floor at the same time).
3. Donnie comes from the upper middle class, and I come from a farm where the poverty line was something all the families in our farming community ogled in anticipation of some day making enough money to at least be sitting on the poverty line, not swinging from it.
4. Donnie went to an in-school university; I went to an out-of-state university (but it was the same uni, at least); similarly, the only time Donnie has been out of the USA was the two years we lived in Jordan, whereas I have lived and worked in 24 countries (while Donnie kept the home fires stoked).
5. Donnie loves outdoor leisure activities, like backpacking, kayaking, and fishing; I love indoor leisure activities like reading, writing, and taming little wild animals (i.e. feral cats).
6. Donnie was a doctors-and-teachers-know-best parent; I was a discuss-it-with-me-and-consider-my-input-or-I-won't-listen parent.
7. Personality-wise, Donnie is an ISTP (introvert, senser -- grounded in reality and actuality, thinker, perceiver -- keep all options open until the last minute and schedules flexible); I am an ENTJ (extrovert, intuiter -- floating in the realm of possibility and dreams, thinker, judger -- devoted to the production and following of schedules, planning, and deadlines).
8. If an expert tells Donnie that something is too dangerous, highly risky, and should not be attempted, and he stands back (i.e. he is risk-averse); tell me the same thing and I rush to try it to see if I can overcome the odds (i.e. I am a risk-taker par excellence; hence, the willingness to travel the world alone).
9. Donnie speaks only English and while he tolerates my friends who do not speak English, he has been unable to learn another language except for a few necessary phrases in Arabic while living in Jordan; I have studied 18 languages and easily communicate in a good many of them.
10. He likes adventure movies and reality shows related to logging and whaling; I like chick flix and spiritual movies.

List #2: Why we want it to last
1. We took an oath of "until death do us part"; that meant something -- and we are not yet dead.
2. We have children; they are now becoming spouses and parents; they need to see that marriage can last; they need an example.
3. We have children; they need a sense of stability; parents who stay married (at least, amicably married) provide that sense of stability.
4. We have grandchildren; they need the same sense of stability, and grandparents are part of the equation.
5. And we have not yet lost the love that brought us together although it has taken a different shape over time; we want to be with each other.

List #3: Why it has lasted
1. We have wanted it to last; while sometimes it seemed easier to each go our own way, neither has put our own happiness and desires above family needs;
2. By going through a lot of travail together and not taking divorce as the easy way out, we have become intertwined, imprinted on each other; we are perhaps now more like family than lovers, but whatever the nature of the love, it keeps us bonded.
3. We learned to accept each others' interests; I learned to fish, kayak, and backpack. Donnie, of course, was always able to read and write, but there was a time early one when we worked together on photojournalism activities, he as a photographer and I as a writer, publishing some things in local and national publications; more recently, he has turned to graphic arts and we run a publishing house together (he does the graphics, cover design, and typesetting, and I do the copyediting in my, hah!, "free", time).
4. We valued each others' differences and allowed each other to explore his/her interests, develop his/her talents, follow his/her own career path -- and provided support (not always perfectly, but the desire to support was always there) to each other along the way.
4. We raised children who clinically died from time to time, and that created a tremendous family bond. I thank God for trusting us with these children. I also thank God for giving us these experiences because these experiences taught us, shaped us, and bonded us.

Maybe there is something to be learned from these lists. I don't know if there is anything helpful for others, including my employee (will have to see what he has to say when he drops by), but it has been revealing for me to stand aside an look at our situation from the outside (as much as I can do that). I think the bottom line is clear: we have wanted it to last, so we have worked through the difficult times and the differences from the point of view that we are family first and last.

Now, what would be interesting would be to have Lizzie, our little professor of psychology and oldest daughter, write a post on why she thinks the marriage has lasted.

What about you? Comments?


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