Missing the Marital Mark

Thoughtful Woman Holding CoffeeThere is a wondrous place I visit for stories and their lessons.

This is the lesson that I came across recently:

… a thing succeeds when it is itself.

I roll the words across my morning tongue and wish them to be revelatory. I speak them aloud and note their widespread applicability. The words sound good, the words sound right, the words sound generous.

But they do not work in every situation.

They do not work when it comes to marriage.

The phrase above is excerpted from Wolf Pascoe’s story of Missing Your Mark, and in the poignancy of his tale, there are meaningful lessons.

Life Lessons

For those of us who are too trusting, we risk the role of the easy mark.

To those of us who live for vengeance, we risk entanglement until we strangle ourselves.

There is the pursuit of dreams – and potentially, disappointment or devastation if we find we cannot achieve them.

There is the moral of the story as I interpret it: that the dream’s success is the “thing itself” – the doing and the being; its doing and being.

Is Divorce Failure… or Experience?

I have spent the past days delving into relationships, and more specifically intimate aspects of marriage and divorce. I wonder how we miss the marital mark so frequently, and as I contemplate the covenant of marriage, I reconsider the teaching that success is in the thing itself.

  • If the “thing itself” is marriage, and if the marriage is miserable, then this lesson falls apart.
  • If the “thing itself” is who we are, and if we are miserable people, then these words do not apply.
  • When we enter into committed relationships and we do not treat the one we profess to love at least as well as we would a friend – then the “thing itself” – the relationship – is no success.

So does that mean that every relationship that ends is a failure? Is an unhappy relationship with oneself a failure? What of the troubled relationship we construct in marriage?

Marriages End

We may know the reasons that marriages end, though we only learn them some years later. We may know the observable symptoms – sex life being one – yet never know the underlying problems.

We may stay and do the best we can, or one of the parties may walk away. Either way, the “thing itself” – the marriage – is certainly no victory.

If this becomes the starter marriage, perhaps the experience prepares us for a second try. But if the thing itself results in emotional isolation, the building of walls we never quite take down, then we cannot learn from its potential lessons.

There are times when marriage is a sham, a facsimile, a warren of unfurnished rooms that once held promise and subsequently sit empty. These spaces mock us or turn us cold. We sense the missed mark in our capacity to construct or to refurbish. We find we’re unable to honor vows.

I wonder if the most vital vow of all is “to cherish.” Why do we not speak of it when it is broken?

Reality, Limitations

So what are we to take from the parables that instruct us that significance is in the being and the doing? Is success in the “thing itself” only true when we speak of painting a masterpiece, or selling a screenplay, or building a business?

What of marriage?

What if our meandering path in life is intended to discover what we’re made of, and what if the result proves to be a resounding disappointment?

What if our embarking on marriage yields emptiness or worse? Is there success in that “thing itself,” or only if we make use of its lessons?

While I may choose to cherry-pick what is instructive from every experience, I cannot see success in these outcomes – they are far from the mark, though they are “the things themselves.” At best, when a marriage ends, I deem the ability to examine it neither success nor failure.

As for wisdom, it is bound to its own set of limitations.


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  1. says

    And jobs end. (I was let go two weeks ago.) 20 years at the company and I’m out pounding the streets again. Sure changes one’s perspective. But I am not willing to become something I’m not, just to get a job… yet.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Gandalfe – I am so sorry to hear this. And you know I empathize, all too familiar with the pounding of streets myself. I wish you all the best in your search, and a good result – as quickly as possible.

  2. says

    Just found your blog and am glad that I did! I’m newly divorced and a single parent of two that is trying to balance motherhood, career, my coaching business … and running marathons! Looking forward to learning how to balance it all from you!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Jamie, I’m glad you found me, too!

      I don’t know how much wisdom I have to share, but I do ask a lot of questions… And there are many readers who bring a great deal of experience as parents and some, like me, as single parents trying to juggle it all under challenging circumstances. I hope you’ll find the conversation enjoyable and helpful!

  3. says

    I agree that leaving a marriage to find oneself often turns out to do more harm than good, especially when kids are involved. I don’t think searching for authenticity — unless that means coming out of the closet — is necessarily a legitimate reason to end a marriage. I guess part of my issue with the current wave of divorce backlash is that it seems to penalize people who leave marriages because they are treated badly. I’m not talking about garden-variety treated badly, I’m talking about being the target of truly destructive spouses. I think we have to be careful to distinguish which marriages and which circumstances are good enough, and which are situations that would make someone go nuts if they stayed.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      All good points, Pauline. And all the more reason that since we never really know what goes on behind closed doors, we shouldn’t be quick to judge others and their actions. I agree there will always be situations making divorce a necessity.

      That said, I do believe we would be better off with taking more time before we marry, and speaking more realistically about what marriage and parenting involve.

  4. says

    As usual when you quote me, BLW, you catch my crummy kickoff and run it back for a touchdown–or out of the stadium entirely into a new, better field of dreams.

    I would only add that I’ve never found any wisdom whose opposite isn’t also true.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It is a great line, Wolf, and I find much wisdom in it. It simply doesn’t apply – in my opinion – when it comes to people, and when it comes to marriage. (Loved your story, by the way – in case that wasn’t already clear.)

  5. says

    As you know, I am hanging on the thinnest bits of thread because I believe in marriage, because I want to salvage my family. But in the middle of it, as I read what you write about what I muddle through, it makes sense. Too much sense it makes me sad. If anything, it’s a constant discovery, right? And hopefully, we discover what we need to…right?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      We discover what we can. There are times when try as we might, we’re too close to the situation to see what’s really going on. At other times, even with the distance of space and years, we still don’t know for sure what happened.

      Do what you can, but know that you can’t salvage a family alone. It takes two to want it, and two to do it.

      Sending you all my good thoughts.

  6. says

    I wonder what accounts for failure in relationship. Not being present? Not being attentive? Not knowing where our boundaries are? Not being ourselves? Not protecting ourselves? Not loving the other? Not being honest? It takes two to succeed in a marriage, certainly. But, sticking deeply to a relationship, bending to accommodate the unacceptable, that strikes me as a failure, though the marriage may go on.

    I think you’re right that we should talk more about what it means to be married and to be parents together before we start the journeys, but we don’t know. Oh, we are naive. And I ‘m not sure how we could know our reactions the changes that come with marriage and kids. I don’t think it’s something you can learn from others. But maybe I’m wrong.

    I think every relationship that is a true success is one that allows each person to be themselves, with ease and understanding. These are rare jewels indeed, and I’ve never found one that was constantly successful.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You ask wonderful questions, Kate, and raise important points – some things – parenting for example – we can’t possibly understand until we experience it. I might imagine that those who helped to raise siblings have a bit more of an idea than the rest of us. But even if we’ve cared for babies / children, we aren’t prepared for the blissful and crazy-making bond that we feel to our children. Something that can be a shared blessing (or worry), and for some couples – a source of constant disagreement and even resentment.

      Yes, we’re naive, and at any age. I come back to something I wish I had realized when I married, and I was no kid at the time. I had signs – many – of things that weren’t quite right. But love turns away from what it doesn’t want to acknowledge. I went ahead anyway, believing that the pros outweighed the cons.

      I come back to three things when I think of relationships I’ve seen / known that truly “work” – common values, true character, and yes – chemistry. You can’t know how you match on those dimensions (other than chemistry?) unless you give things time.

      The other critical factor in my opinion? Luck.

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