A good marriage can make tough times a lot easier. Tough times can make a marriage better or worse. I was thinking about this question yesterday, listening to John Michael Montgomery sing, "Do you remember the times of nickels and dimes...and love?"
Almost all of us can remember such times, when we pulled together to get through difficult times. We felt close. We felt loved. We felt blessed to have this person we share a lifelong commitment with.
Reminds me of that marvelous form of happiness Aristotle called Eudaimonia, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow, and Martin Seligman calls Engagement. It's a quiet sort of happiness, one where we don't even notice whether we're happy or not. We're content, but engaged with something other than how we feel. Time flies by. When we notice how we are again, it's just sort of a warm glow.
The "times of nickels and dimes...and love" are Flow for Two. We don't have to check how our relationship is going, because we're just in it, engaged in what we're doing together. When we come up for air, we just notice we feel very close to this other human being.
Csikszentmihalyi set out some criteria for Flow. They include working at something that's just a bit of a stretch for our current abilities, not routine and not so hard we can't go on. Making do, managing limited cash and time, sharing tasks -- those are stretches, exactly the sort of challenges for which we need a life partner, a spouse.
His criteria also include working at something where we have a way to tell, from moment to moment, whether we're succeeding or not. For a couple, a limited budget provides such a measure. So does a tight schedule and a shared to do list. Even if we forget to congratulate each other on our progress, we both know how we're doing.
So, if we "remember those times of nickels and dimes...and love" together, perhaps whatever problems pull us apart later are not flaws in our mates.
- If we are overwhelmed, as a couple might be after a fire or a cancer diagnosis or stricken child, maybe we need to bring in some outside help, to take the challenge down to the level where it's just a stretch for us as a couple.
- If we are fighting over money or parenting, perhaps what we need is to stop and find the same measure for success, so we can work on the problem together again.
- If we are drifting apart, maybe all we need is a new, shared goal, one that's just a little beyond our current abilities.
On the title song of that album, John Michael Montgomery sings, "Life's a dance we learn as we go." How true.