FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE
Does it really have to be this way?

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Many of us have uttered the words “for better, for worse” as part of our wedding vows and even if these words have not actually been part of our vows it is understood by most that in our marriage, we hang in there for the good times and the bad.

Our marriage relationships are often modelled on how we see our parents interacting with each other and what we may see portrayed on TV or in movies. I had always believed that some disharmony in a marriage was a healthy thing and when someone would tell me that they had never had an argument or disagreement in their relationship I was always quite cynical about this, thinking that this was unrealistic and not healthy. I now know that disharmony and/or arguments are really only okay if we understand why they happened in the first place and then work at not allowing them to happen again. Too often after such events however we just carry on, burying any hurts that may have been felt by not being understood by our partner. 

My husband Pete and I have been married for 30 years and have raised two adult sons. For many years when the children were young, disharmony and disagreements were part of our relationship, and this was considered by both of us as normal. For an outsider looking in it would have appeared that we had a ‘good and happy marriage’ and we felt that this was the case also. After all, this is what we saw in relationships around us and this fitted into the “for better, for worse” picture that society had created. Because we also subscribed to this picture there was not the impetus to look at the disharmony at a deeper level or try and understand what had caused the disharmony in the first place. 

We tended to live our relationship through the children and when we had time away together, which was infrequent, we often found ourselves talking about the children but seldom about ourselves and what may have been happening in our relationship. This created a very functional marriage and although we cared very deeply for each other it felt to both of us at times to be quite stagnant and ordinary. In addition, we were often doing our own thing as individuals and did not understand how to further deepen the connection between us. At one stage we thought it could help if we had dinner out together on a regular basis. This did not really change anything, however, other than reducing our bank account! 

When issues arose, there was an acceptance that the repeated behaviours and patterns displayed by both of us were fixed and a part of us. For instance, I would often get frustrated and irritable with Pete and would swear at him. This was quite damaging as neither of us truly understood or valued the importance of addressing our own feelings and reactions and their long-term impact on our relationship. 

After these events, even though we both knew that we wanted to be together, we both felt the pain that had been caused, as often it took a week or two to get our relationship back on track again. ‘Back on track’ meant burying the hurts that may have surfaced, not talking about it, and losing ourselves in the busy-ness of family life.

“For better for worse” may seem to be an inevitable marriage ideal but unless the issues which create the ‘worse’ in a relationship are explored, expressed, and understood, our relationships cannot evolve or deepen.

Pete and I started to look more seriously at our relationship when our boys were in their teens. We had come to a point where we wanted to make our marriage top priority and to honour each other and our relationship at a deeper level. This needed some real honesty from us both and some skilled counselling. I learned from Pete how hurtful some of the things were that I had said to him in earlier years and how he still felt this hurt in his body. Pete learned about the pressures I had felt as the main breadwinner as well as trying to be super-mother and wife. At that time, I was in a very busy and demanding job and often felt guilty that I was not truly present for my husband and children. I remember it being a big ‘stop moment’ for me when my seven year old son said one weekend that he could feel that I was still at work even though I was attempting to be and do things with him at home!
 
Part of the healing for us was to look at how we cared for ourselves first and foremost and this meant that we were more easily able to love and support one another. We learnt to truly appreciate each other in practical ways such as keeping in touch throughout the day with loving text messages, watching the tone in our voice when speaking to each other, or by preparing an evening meal together. It also meant that we started to call-out individual behaviours in each other which did not support the relationship. We had to work through the changes we needed to make together, in order to take our marriage to a deeper level. 

We continue to work on deepening our relationship every day. It has not always been easy to be totally open and honest with our feelings and to feel the vulnerability as we explore some of the long-term behaviours which had been well embedded into the fabric of our relationship and rarely questioned for so many years.

“For better, for worse” implies the inevitability of there being a ‘worse’ but we have found that this is not necessarily true. Does the ‘worse’ mean that we accept all the unacceptable behaviours in our partners, just bury any hurts we feel and maybe eventually leave the relationship?

If we had known from the beginning that we needed to grow our relationship on a daily basis and had the role models and support to do this, our marriage and parenting in the early years, would have looked very different. 

It is never too late to change the course of a relationship that may not be going well, if there is an intention on both sides to be honest, vulnerable, and open to change. Let’s start to role-model loving relationships where there is a commitment to deepen and expand from the beginning. Maybe then “for better, for worse” will become obsolete and not be part of the foundations on which many of our marriages have been built.