Friday, July 02, 2010


Learning to be Married

There was a good (and lengthy) read in this past weekend's Washington Post about marriage and how individuals find themselves ill prepared for the dynamic, often leading to divorce. I found it interesting on many levels, and everyone - no matter where your marriage is or how it functions - could probably benefit from the various approaches and scenarios in the piece.

I see many of the problems mentioned in the Post piece all of the time in court. I have gravitated away from handling divorces (by choice), but I oftentimes end up collaterally involved in them, either by way of representing the child as a Guardian ad Litem, in an Order of Protection linked to the divorce, or in Juvenile Court when one party makes allegations of dependency and neglect as a way of making headway in the divorce when the divorce judge has perhaps not seen aspects of the custody battle to the litigant's liking.

Please don't take this as bragging or anything of the sort, but I am truly blessed with my marriage. Angela and I don't really fight. On the surface, people may have a hard time believing that, with 2 lawyers who both work together in the same firm. After all, lawyers like to argue, right? But Angela and I really don't. When we have problems, we have problems, as in we have a problem with something that we will work together to overcome. Money, sex, in-laws - we have the same issues as other married couples, but we simply approach them constructively and as a team. That's why Angela is the perfect person for me to work with. If we have a problem at home, we develop a plan and work together to get over it. If one of us has a problem with a case at work, we do the same thing.

But I think that our marriage (and our work relationship) is probably a product of what we strive to be as individuals. Angela has a servant's heart, a direct product of her deep Christian faith. Our firm last year represented 99% indigent Tennesseans - men, women, and children. We are compensated for our work, but it is a form of service, as we take many cases that others within our profession would rather not touch.

And that selflessness is the key, in my opinion. The biggest problem I see in court - particularly in divorces but also in child support cases, child abuse, child dependency and neglect actions, and the like - is selfishness. People put themselves - their lust for flesh, their lust for money, their love of illegal drugs and the irresponsible actions that come from getting high, their love of being a child's friend in order to gain acceptance by the child instead of being a child's parent - above all else.

Angela is not a selfish person. She wasn't before, and she has become even less so since the birth of our two wonderful sons. I don't believe that I am a selfish person, and whenever I start to feel that some selfish needs are slipping into my psyche, I try to remember some lessons I learned long ago in Neyland Stadium way back in 1997. Although some people may not remember the group these days, Promise Keepers had a conference in Knoxville that summer. Not only did I recognize Jesus Christ as my own personal Lord and Savior that weekend, but I also saw great men - men like Tony Evans and Wellington Boone - talk about the need to serve as recognized in The Bible. They spoke with such passion that they made it almost seem like a competition. I remember Tony Evans yelling, "You WILL NOT outserve me!" That was over a decade ago - and it seems longer than that - but I still recall those words on a regular basis.

And that is what marriage has to be, in my opinion - two equally-yoked individuals serving together. Serving their children, serving each other, serving their community, and, through all of that, serving their God. Yes, it is important to know how to fight as a married couple, as well as how to manage money, prioritize decisions, learn to communicate, and all of the other marriage skills that counselors and marriage programs (such as the one described in the Post article)consider vital to marital survival. But all of that seems like details if you both are working together and not letting all of the other stuff divide you as a couple. Those skills mentioned above should be available for when something goes wrong.

I remember the old Athletic Director at ETSU, Keener Fry (who is currently Assistant AD at the University of Wyoming), speaking to our tennis team after we reported to campus for fall semester. Keener had just been named AD, and he was addressing each team individually as we went through such things as NCAA regulations, standards of conduct, and the like. One thing that Keener spent some time on was advice for life in the form of a list (which he had not authored but had provided to us nonetheless). I believe there were 22 points, many of them self-evident. While Keener acknowledged that these points were all important, two of them were vital: being as educated as you can be, and choosing the perfect mate for you as a spouse. And even with that, only the second one of those would be directly proportional to the happiness you would experience in life.

In the Post article, McCarthy writes the following:

A morning bird and a night owl won't ever fully eliminate their differences; nor will a spendthrift and a penny pincher. What distinguished satisfied couples from the miserable ones, he found, was how creatively and constructively they managed those differences.

And I think that is the crux of the article. Some of us are pairings of penny-pinching, Big Orange, conservative night owls. Those are the lucky ones who need to keep selfishness out of their marriage but, if they can do so, have the world at their fingertips. But most couples are just trying to be satisfied with what they have, working somehow to arrive at the level where the morning bird and the night owl are doing enough in the name of each other to keep one of them from flying the coup.

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