Marriage gets better when you give up

Oct 19 2011 - 6:04pm


The quiet hubbub of random restaurant conversations was interrupted by two voices rising above the drone. They were married -- their rings said so. But their body language -- all their language in fact -- said that for the moment, they were possibly regretting that.

Gestures and conversation tracked their discussion from a quiet but intense exchange to a progressively more animated and louder dialogue. He'd say something, then she'd say something, then he'd say something, then she'd say something. Their hands stabbed the air, their expressions increased in irritation. The drama culminated when she flung her hands in the air and said, probably louder than she intended, "I give up!"

She fled the restaurant. He leaned back, sighed, and studied the ceiling. All the young couples in the restaurant wore expressions of panicked alarm. All the older married couples didn't. Because those of us with a couple of decades or more of matrimonial bliss knew that her words were true. She just didn't realize that from that sweet and tender and probably not-too-long-ago moment when they joined hands, made the vows, and promised each other lots of things, they'd both been giving up.

Marriage is a lifetime of giving up.

You give up focusing on yourself and start focusing on someone else.

You give up making all the decisions by yourself, replacing it with that sometimes annoying task of negotiating to a common decision. And you give up having to make all the decisions by yourself.

You give up half of the bed, half of the closet, and at least half of the remote.

You give up coming home to a silent place at night.

You give up putting something down somewhere and finding it's still there the next time you need it.

You give choosing which movie to watch every time.

You give up wondering if there's someone out there who is right for you, and wondering if you are right for someone out there.

You give up acting like you like being single during those times when you don't.

You give up thinking in terms of "me" and start thinking and planning and behaving in terms of "we." And after some adjustments that sometimes reveal the painful reality of just how myopically self-centered you once were, you find you like it.

And if the day comes when you give up your sanity altogether and decide to have kids, you can turn the page and write Chapter 2 of what else you'll give up.

Marriage only works if we learn how to give up. When you're young and in love and contemplating matrimony, you have no idea how much you're going to give up. A young person in love thinks she wants to build her whole world around him. But what she doesn't realize is she actually wants him to build his whole world around her. (He's thinking the same way, of course). We humans are too self-centered at that point in our lives to really understand how much giving up it takes to be married -- or stay married. That ignorance is good, of course, because if we really understood how much we're going to give up, we'd probably never get married.

But we do. And we learn. And we sometimes slip back to self-centeredness and wonder if the giving up is worth it. But if we tough it out and learn how to give up the right things for the right reasons, self-centeredness fades and selflessness slides in, and we find that whatever we give up somehow makes us more than we were before.

Young couple in the restaurant: Don't give in. Don't give out. Just give up. You'll be amazed at how much you will get.

You can contact Louise Brown at or by calling her editor at 801-625-4223.

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