Home > Life, Maybe there IS a God..., Politics, Spirituality/Religion > America Needs a Marriage Counselor

America Needs a Marriage Counselor

From my bedroom window I would watch them come and go. They were the parents of my friends, prominent townspeople, and anyone who had come to the conclusion that they could no longer handle their problems on their own.

They’d come to visit my father, their minister, and he would lead them to the back yard under the big maple tree high on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River valley. Their words didn’t carry far and I could see little more than the backs of their heads, but I knew the question that would start their conversation: “What does marriage mean to you?”

Recently, I found my dad’s log of the marriages he’d performed between 1975 and 1991 in our little New Hampshire town. I looked through it and fondly remembered the people I’d known growing up, some of whom I’d seen in the back yard with him. A few names showed up in the book more than once. I guess Dad wasn’t a miracle worker after all.

But many more that I’d seen traipse across the lawn with their heads wearily hung down remain married to this day. Their children now have children who proudly revere the work their families put into staying together. They struggled through the hard times and sought help when the bitter sniping threatened to tear their worlds apart.

As I look at our country today, I recognize in the faces of our citizens that same look of defeat I saw on those who had reached a point of desperation in their marriages. Unlike those people, rather than seeking a way to resolve the differences, they are retreating to their corners, wounded and angry. They seek out those who agree with their rage and throw gasoline on its flames.

America is in a failing marriage right now. The feminine energy that stood up to the abuses of the masculine is being beaten back down and though that feminine strength and endurance is considerable, it is no match when the masculine becomes irrational. She could walk away and give up on him or she could insist that they take this shadow part of their relationship to someone who can help them remember the light.

But who is the bearer of the light? The man pounds his chest and insists that it is God. As spiritual head of the marriage, his word is absolute and she must submit to him. She knows that God is in all things and will reveal himself as needed. Yet, her quiet faith cannot compete with his bluster. She thinks that the only way to survive is to give in to his will or gather her things and secede from this cruel union.

Though they do not realize it, the man is terrified that she will leave him. Only when she takes back her power does he recognize how truly dynamic and capable she is. He panics. He threatens and yells, trying to use his physical power to make her stay even though he is unwilling to change his ways. It is only when she summons the courage to stand firm that he is forced to look at himself.

All relationships fall out of balance sometimes. We don’t falter on purpose, but it seems that something in each of us becomes weaker at times so that the other may find its strength. Only in finding our way through these difficult places do both sides become stronger.

But Americans give up too easily. We begin to see only the differences in each other. Our masculine demands meat and potatoes at a certain time every night while our feminine longs to try new recipes. It’s not that he wouldn’t enjoy something new but he has so long relied on what he knows that, in his mind, to simply change the dinner menu would mean he’d have to change everything in his life.

So she sneaks it in, a little at a time. Maybe a new vegetable to complete the 3-item plate. Maybe a twice-baked potato instead of only once. Lamb instead of beef.

It’s not that Americans don’t thrive on a change in the relationship or even a bit of strife once in a while. It’s just that the thought of making the change is so daunting that we cling almost desperately to what is familiar no matter how dysfunctional. Strife becomes a way of life.

We need a marriage counselor, a true statesman, to step up and mediate. Both sides need to feel heard over the shouting and rhetoric in order to realize that they both have the same goals for their union: prosperity, happiness, and the gratification that who they are in the relationship is just as important as the other, with the understanding that neither is more powerful – they simply approach the world differently in order to maintain a balance.

As my father once said in the midst of a wedding ceremony, “Marriage is learning to see the world through each other’s eyes….”

God, bless America and it’s struggling union. Help us each to put aside our own needs for a time and try to see the world the way others do.

And that’s what marriage means to me

  1. Tom
    July 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    THIS is remarkable … good writing, of course, and what a gracious way to put it … and thanks for reminding us again of your Dad …

  2. Ted
    July 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    This is so true. Christi is a Justice of the Peace for the State of NH. She has performed over 25 marriages in the few years she has been involved with this. That’s not a big number, for she is busy with her own life, and this is just sort of a side occupation for her, which does not earn much of an increase in income. The staggering part of all of this is the number of couples she has joined together,to that of those who have already ended their relationships in divorce. She is also a notary and has actually been a part of the divorce process as well. So very sad is the fact that the last divorce papers she oversaw was our own daughter’s. The ending of the relationship was for all of the right reasons, as the two were really just not ready for it, and both had misconceptions of what a marriage was supposed to be. I will remember the wedding day always, at the Trinity Church in Cornish NH, and all the happy faces 3 years ago on a partly cloudy July 5th. It was a perfect day for both of their loving families. I remember my pride as I walked her down the aisle to her waiting groom, and to her Mom who would perform their ceremony, as her younger sister played the well known, recorded version, of the traditional wedding march, on an electrical piano in the rear of the parish. I am happy for my daughter’s ability to make important decisions on her own, yet saddened that these two kids could not find the way together sharing a relationship that could have been so much more for both of them, had they helped each other along through the daily problems that life threw at them, as life often does. Just about everything that you wrote within your article occurred with these two, in just about the same sequence. Thanks for writing this, and yes, God, bless America and it’s struggling union.

  3. July 15, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Tom, my dad’s ashes are scattered out underneath that bright orange tree in the distance of the 3rd picture. This was the view he offered up to those he counseled and was the greatest achievement of his life — his own farm with views as far as the eye could see. His own glimpse into eternity…

  4. July 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Well written, Ellen. You are a wonderful writer and could make some money on the side doing this as well as painting. Ever thought of that?

  5. Kelly (Patnode) Byam
    August 27, 2010 at 1:37 am

    Ellen- all of your writings are fabulous, but loved this…..and happily reminded me of your dad. Adored the man and was so honored that I was able to have him be part of my own wedding…..I should be in the book – November 1986. He’d be happy to know I still am.

    Be well!


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