When Marriage Needs a Mulligan*

It started out so well.  From the time their paths crossed, they were drawn together with a force they did not want to resist.  Dating led to engagement and on into marriage.  The honeymoon raised some warning signs but love and passion quieted the nagging concerns.  The first year of marriage, consumed by work, social engagements and learning to live together distracted them from the unsettling tension signaling trouble ahead.

During the second year life became more routine opening the way for the growing concerns to come into focus.  Passion declined sharply, replaced by a sense of ought and obligation.  The spaces between their togetherness widened and filled with frustration and indifference.  The conviction that the marriage was a mistake was no longer framed as a question, yet the implication was unthinkable.

The confirmation of pregnancy in September seemed to infuse the marriage with new meaning and a sense of purpose.  The growing life diverted their senses away from the fragility of their relationship and on to preparation for the baby’s arrival.  In May, a new cast member arrived on life’s stage, commanding attendance and attention.

Fatherhood, exciting at first, dissolved into the realization that an intruder had taken over his home and commandeered his wife’s attention, interest and affection.  Motherhood filled a hollow place in her life where uncertainty, frustration and anger had darkened her days and filled her nights with forboding.  The love she needed to give now had a place to live while the love she longed to receive swept through her without reserve.

The cold distance between them widened as indifference numbed the sense of loss of the bond the passion filled early days promised.  The child became the fulcrum and the gravity which held the couple together while the hunger for the warmth of a nurturing relationship gnawed at the fragile fibers of their commitment.  The dream of being loved unconditionally and sharing the journey through life seemed unattainable while a feeling of being trapped financially prevented them from uttering the words separation or divorce.  Yet they both knew they could not go on indefinitely in this state of emptiness and disappointment.

Neither could bear the thought of living apart from the child so they consulted with a marriage therapist from whom they learned that marital love is not a noun but rather a verb.  Happiness is a deviation from the norm, not the standard condition of life.  The norm of life is contentment; a state of being that is neither bored nor infused with excitement.  They learned that feelings come unbidden and leave without warning and therefore are not reliable indicators of reality.  We feel passion and are driven by its power but we do love in spite of how we feel or what we want at any given time.  Feelings follow and reinforce the loving action.  A healthy, mutually satisfying relationship is built on commitments based in the needs of the relationship and fulfilled with actions and attitudes rising out of the foundation of self-control.

Both believed that the marriage was a mistake and wished out loud that they could start over without penalty.  He explained that in golf a poor drive from the tee may be replayed without penalty.  The therapist responded that a mulligan is not the same as a new game.  It simply allows the golfer to continue the same game as if the first drive had not happened.

What the couple wanted was to wipe out the marriage as if it had never happened and take a different course.  This cannot happen in life.  Once a marriage is formed and a child is born, a mulligan, a restart, is the best for which a couple can hope.  As in the game of golf, however, the mulligan stays in the minds of the players.  No matter what the player with the mulligan scores in the game, everyone remembers that the score is always one stroke higher.

Should the couple go on to divorce the marriage remains a fact in their lives and the child will tie them together as long as they both live.  In life, a divorce is forever part of a person’s history and current resume.

A mulligan in marriage is not a divorce but rather a place where the couple is able to stop, learn from their past mistakes, draw a line separating them from their negative past and design a marriage which is mutually satisfying, healthy and growing.  Then, with the help of a marriage therapist, build a new marriage in which both wish to live.  This is how the marriage mulligan works.

* A second chance to perform a certain move or action

Copyright 2011 – Dr. Orville E. Easterly All Rights Reserved – Do not copy.

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