Marriage is one of the more unique and, in some ways, mysterious things humans do. For those who are religious, it is a covenant before God, a commitment until, as the officiant says, death do us part. But for the religious and non-religious alike, it also represents a great many other things: a pairing between two people drawn (usually) romantically to one another, a legal intermingling of two lives, and a practical agreement to raise children together, should children be a part of the picture. Property sharing, hospital visitation rights, joint taxes, and possible name changes represent just a fraction of the many ways that marriage transcends most other human interactions. Perhaps the best evidence of the complexity of marriage is in how messy and drawn out trying to untangle those complexities — namely divorce — can be.
At the time of this post, I’ve been married for 12 years. I was 29 on my wedding day (my wife was 26), and since then we’ve purchased a house, had two children, and engaged in countless other decisions together. Our marriage has been, I’m happy to say, a good one, and we’ve both worked hard to try and keep it that way, in spite of whatever challenges life throws at us.
From the very beginning, my wife and I made some decisions about what to keep private in our marriage. Some of these things we explicitly decided on, while others were more tacit, the result of watching other married couples and learning from their successes … or, in some cases, their mistakes. In each of these cases, we’ve more or less chosen not to share those aspects of our marriage with friends or family. If the need arose to share it with a professional, like a marriage counselor, that would be different, but for anyone else, we’ve opted to keep quiet.
So here is the list of some things that I keep private in my marriage.
I am aware that some people have no problem talking about their past or present love lives, sometimes in explicit detail. I know, because I’ve been present when people have have recounted experiences or lamented about problems they’ve had or are currently having. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that, on balance, I have generally found these stories to be well beyond the bounds of too much information, especially when alcohol was involved during the storytelling.
Prior to getting married, my wife and I explicitly agreed that, when it came to matters of intimacy, the subject was between us and us alone. We don’t talk about it with anyone: not with family, not with friends.
I’ve been in places where spouse-bashing is a regular sport. Sometimes the slights are intended to be funny — a shot at a husband’s idiosyncrasies or a wife’s temperament — while at other times it feels like a full-on marriage therapy session, with a person wondering aloud if their marriage will survive.
I believe strongly that a person who is in a troubled marriage should seek help with someone professional, especially if, say, abuse is involved. I also have decided that, to the best of my abilities, I would try my best to avoid airing criticisms of my spouse with someone who is not a professional. There are a number of reasons why I’ve chosen to do this, ranging from how it affects my mindset to how it reflects on my wife, especially in front of other people. It also reflects a larger mindset that I tried to adopt based on the words of pastor and family speaker Dr. James Dobson: “The key to a healthy marriage is to keep your eyes wide open before you wed, and then half-closed thereafter.”
On the flip side, my wife has done the same for me, and I cannot begin to express how grateful I have been for that courtesy.
This might seem like an odd, even flippant, addition to this list, but I think there is a really good case to be made for it. The best parts of marriage are the parts that are special. My wife and I have inside jokes between the two of us that no one else knows about. Some of these understandings are (to us) absolutely hilarious, while others reflect a more grim humor about the realities of life. But all of them add not only a certain lightness to our lives, but they also give us reasons to laugh, which is one of the healthiest parts of marriage. What makes this part of marriage special is precisely that it’s just between the two of us. While there may be some rare times when one of us might share one of those jokes with a close family member or friend, the vast majority of the time they represent a sort of secret language between the two of us.
What about you? What parts of your marriage do you choose to keep quiet?