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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a long ride down a curvy road

a friend was in my office one day and he presented me with a poser:

when you buy a car, you need to take it in every six months or your warranty is void. some employers require employees to get a yearly physical as part of their contract agreement. so why doesn't the church require people to come in for a check up on their marriage once or twice a year?

it was a good question, for which i did not have a good answer.


in his classic book zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, robert pirsig discusses what he believes are the fundamental differences between classicism and romanticism.

The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive. Feelings rather than facts predominate. 'Art' when it is opposed to 'Science' is often romantic. It does not proceed by reason or by laws. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and aesthetic conscience...

The classic mode, by contrast, proceeds by reason and by laws- which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behaviour...

Although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.

There is a classic aesthetic which romantics often miss because of its subtlety. The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known. It is not an aesthetically free and natural style. It is aesthetically restrained. Everything is under control. Its value is measured in terms of the skill with which this control is maintained...

Persons tend to think and feel exclusively in one mode or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is all about... (Pirsig, p67)

i was intrigued by the common thread that seemed to be pulling some personal reading, a personal conversation and a pile of relational circumstance together, synthesizing them into an idea that i could grasp. as i thought about marriage relationships and the need for ongoing and intentional connection within them, as well as regular diagnostic exercise, the thought crystalized:

in order to enjoy a longer ride (romantic), we need to tend to the necessary maintenance (classic). classicism is the key to a more satisfying and prolonged romance.

not wanting to oversimplify relational dynamics, i would contend that, in some way, every action and interaction taking place between a man and woman contributes to either a bond between them or its opposite: a rift.

looking closely at the biblical story of david and michal (2 samuel 6.14-23) i recognized a single, rather straightforward problem that results in a fight so final that a rift is formed between them where a bond once existed- a rift which endures the rest of their days and leaves them childless together. the problem is this:

somewhere along their way, they stop relating to each other.

they lose track of the fact that they are one flesh, meant to share intimately together on all levels. they stop connecting. they stop feeding the living thing that is the relationship which has been established between them over years of knowing and growing.

having not attended to the basic classical maintenance needs within the relationship, the romance has ended, leaving a man and woman shouting at each other in the same street that, just hours earlier, has been the location for a great celebration of God's favour and restorative power.

it's a sad story and the sadness is increased by two things:
1) its preventability- things didn't need to go this way
2) its familiarity- we see the same things happen daily within our relational circles. just as i sat in my office listening to my friend share of his own marital journey, we all find ourselves sitting together, either sharing our own tales of marital disappointment, confusion and pain, or listening to those of another. the story of david and michal is neither the first, nor last story of distance that has opened up between a man and a woman.

No one can escape ‘bad’ moments in marriage, but no one is meant to drown in the difficulty. (Dan B Allender)

in his book The 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married, dr. guy grenier opens with a list of 15 rules of good communication (which are really strategies for meaningful discourse) and they are fairly predictable:
7 productive communication strategies to embrace
4 destructive communication tendencies to avoid
2 anger control strategies to apply, and
2 long-term maintenance strategies to lock in...

long-term maintenance strategies?
yep, with a rather familiar analogy that brings us full circle:

You've probably heard that changing the oil in your car is the single most useful thing you can do to maintain your vehicle. Every five thousand miles or ten thousand kilometres, you're supposed to do this basic, standard maintenance. Depending on how much you drive, this typically means an oil change every three or four months. Metaphorically, this type of regular maintenance is what you want to be doing with your relationship as well. To extend the metaphor a bit, in the same way that a regular oil change is perhaps the best thing you can do for your car, checking in with your partner as to the ongoing status of the relationship may also be the best possible approach to long-term relationship maintenance you can take...

"How we doin'?" conversations prevent lingering resentments from coming to full flower by ensuring that there are regular opportunities to deal with upsetting issues. They demand a culture of problem solving in the relationship and dramatically reduce the possibility of issue avoidance and the use of passive-aggressive strategies. Essentially, "How we doin'?" conversations make being frank and candid with each other a regular and expected event rather than one that's exceptional. (Grenier pp63-64)

so what if everyone who is married made a 'diagnostic' appointment once a year to spend an hour just talking together with someone who was there to help them explore the existing relationship between husband and wife and attend to some possible maintenance needs that exist within the marriage and which may be keeping that thing from really flying down that curving road that stretches from now 'til death do us part?'

*note: to celebrate their 30th anniversary, my mother and father rode a motorcycle diagonally across the continent, from british columbia to the tip of the florida keys. it took them thirty days to make the round trip. that was twenty years ago and they still ride the bike together. that's what i'm talking about.


At 11/18/2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a good idea - a tune up for one's marriage - makes sense. I think we need to keep good communication lines open with our spouses and seek change - not being static all the time.

I like the idea of marriage tune-up's - but who would do them and how would they be done?

At 11/21/2009, Blogger jollybeggar said...

i like SVS' comment:
"I think we need to keep good communication lines open with our spouses and seek change - not being static all the time."

not sure, however, that static is ever really accomplished.

ruts, perhaps-
stagnance most definitely.

thing about stagnance is that it is also a form of ongoing change: it happens when something that is created for movement and growth slows down to the point where it is no longer moving with change, but is remaining in one spot as change flows over it. whether we are looking at change in terms of basic time elapsing or phases shifting, change is the natural and resistance to it results in two things: erosion or rot.

well, the great thing is that by running some 'diagnostics', my role becomes that of facilitator rather than sage or answerman- hoping to help couples move through change, using it to fuel their ride together rather than break them down.

my associate and i are drawing together some materials that we can take a couple through, exploring some questions together and hopefully offering some direction that is valuable to these open and seeking couples.

pretty excited about this!

At 11/23/2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"my associate and i are drawing together some materials that we can take a couple through, exploring some questions together and hopefully offering some direction that is valuable to these open and seeking couples" (JB)

Marriage, in the West anyways, is a 50-50 proposition frayed with relational conflicts. Are you sure u are up to the task?

Either way, I think it's something a church should be doing - knowing marriage is something not to be taken lightly - and this emphasis is usually not approached with any substance by the church in general. I like the idea myself!

At 11/23/2009, Blogger jollybeggar said...

yep... the challenge is to, as you say, approach this with some substance rather than a calculated series of 'how do you feel when...' quiries.

as for being up to a task, i'm pretty sure attending to it will be a huge part of rising to meet it.


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