"A Bright Little Flashing Fish of Hope"* and other thoughts....

Gwyneth Paltrow’s marriage is ending. By the time I post this, some other celebrity gossip will be the headline, but I’ve been a bit stuck on this one. No, I am not constantly thinking about the fact that another celebrity marriage ended. My obsession seems to be more about the fact that Paltrow and her ex are calling their breakup “conscious uncoupling” instead of “divorce.”   According to the NY Post, Paltrow “cites her gurus Dr. Habib Sadeghi and his wife on the subject: ‘For the vast majority of history, humans lived relatively short lives – and accordingly, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be lifelong; but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans, perhaps we need to redefine the construct. Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four, five, or six decades.” 

This whole concept troubles me. I want things to last. I want relationships to last. I have seen a lot of relationships end and rarely celebrate the finale. I crave consistency, longevity, history. I’m not a guru, but I don’t agree with Paltrow’s guru. I point instead to a different story I recently read about photographer Art Shay.

Shay captured beautiful images of his wife throughout their 67 year marriage and when I read about their marriage, something deep inside of me wanted to applaud. I got teary as Shay choked up talking about his wife who had recently died after a long battle with cancer. 67 years together and he still misses her. For some reason, HIS “biology and psychology” defied the odds and stayed with one person for over six decades. I don’t know any of the details of his marriage. For all I know, they could have had a long season of struggle and arguments and pain. Or they could have really just loved and enjoyed each other for the majority of their life together. I do know that when I read about this marriage, something inside of me stood up and cheered and celebrated their commitment to each other and their love for one another.

Are we really not made to stay with someone for decades? This was my rant on an early morning run recently. I tend to run early enough so that when I am talking to myself, the neighbors won’t hear me. (If they did, they would hear the best conversations!!) This particular morning, I was venting a little about Gwyneth. (yes, we were on a first name basis that day.)  It sounded a little like this: “Why does she have to call it ‘conscious uncoupling’? Does it sound better when it is some quirky term? Can’t they just say that they are getting a divorce because their marriage is broken and they just don’t think they can repair it?  Do we really need some fancy new term that we back up with some scientific evidence that proves that we just aren’t made for longevity in relationships?” I ran a bit faster than usual that morning because the whole thing just made me mad.

And then when my rant stopped, a question popped into my head and the conversation that followed sounded something like this:

Why does this make you so angry?

Well, because I want things to last.

There isn’t anything wrong with wanting things to last. But you are getting a little defensive and angry about all of this, don’t you think?

And then I heard the words, “Is it more about Unconscious Uncoupling or Conscious Coupling?” And I stopped running.

What is that supposed to mean?? (Remember my post on two question marks? Yes, I was feeling angry!)

Sometimes I think Unconscious Uncoupling takes place a long time before Conscious Uncoupling takes place.

I think so often a marriage starts off really well because we are consciously coupling all the time. We can’t wait to spend time together. We wake up excited to start the day with the person we love. We plan dates and put post it notes on the mirror that are cute and funny and well, adorable. And we stare at the person we chose and just can’t believe we get to spend the rest of our lives with this person and it makes us a little giddy to think about it.

And then life happens, and our children become the dominant focus of our lives and work is stressful and time is limited and it is often easier to plan a girls’ night out or a guys’ night out because then we won’t have to find a babysitter and easy is good when we are feeling so exhausted from all of the other things going on in our busy lives.

Before I continue any of these thoughts, I need to say one thing. I understand that sometimes marriages end because of betrayal or abuse or pain that just won’t heal. In no way do I want this to be a post where we all leave beating ourselves up and judging each other for things that have happened in our lives. I am not pretending to know the pain or loneliness that ends a marriage, and I know there is often pain that no one else ever sees or understands.

I hope you hear me on that.

This is more a post for myself and if it encourages you to be more intentional in your marriage or even some of your friendships then I praise God for that.

The whole Paltrow story made me defensive because I had to admit that I am not always as intentional about my marriage as I am about a lot of other things in my life. I love my husband. We have been married for 21 years and I love the man he is and the life we have been given together. I am grateful that we still really LIKE each other. But if I am honest, I have been known to text in the middle of a conversation with him, or to try and multitask and do three things at once while he is telling me about his day. As I talked to myself during that early morning run, I had to honestly ask myself if I am really being intentional in my marriage. How many questions had I asked Steve in the last two days? How many nights in the last month had I sat with him on the couch after a long day instead of saying, “I’m too tired to stay up and watch this movie with you.” When was the last time I left him a note in his car to encourage him or tell him how grateful I am for who he is? I used to do all of those things regularly, but lately, not so much. Not because I don’t love him. Just because, well, life happens and I don’t always make the effort to be intentional.

We are a productive society. We work hard and expect a lot of ourselves, but often I give myself a pass when it comes to my marriage because I know Steve loves me and is committed to our marriage. But what happens to a good relationship after years of this? Is that where we get to a place where we don’t know each other as well and just aren’t as connected as we were 15 years before? Is that when it becomes easier to look for the scientific research that shows that we just weren’t made to be with one person for multiple decades?

As I thought about Art Shay, I realized that he never stopped finding his wife with his camera. He never stopped studying her or capturing her in every day moments. I am sure she changed throughout their 67 years together, whether it was physically or emotionally or simply in her interests, but regardless, he continued to capture her. I want to be like that. I want to pay attention to my husband the same way a photographer or artist might because as Madeline L’Engle also wrote, “It takes a lifetime to learn another person.”

*“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.” –Madeline L’Engle