Tuesday, December 16, 2008


As you read this, the odds are quite high that you're going to think I'm writing about something I'm in no position to understand. But the more years I live, the more I think that being in the position to experience it firsthand isn't nearly as helpful to a clear understanding as some might like to believe. Read on, and see what you think.

I think the biggest obstacle to healthy marriage is the mis-calibration of expectations. It’s a flashing danger sign if you fall into one or more of the following traps:
  • Thinking, day after day, that because the stakes are so high, anything short of perfection is failure.
  • Thinking that any sign of conflict is a crisis that demands the most heavy-handed overreaction possible.
  • Thinking it’s worse to have attention called to a problem than to let the problem fester.
  • Thinking that an issue is so minor and petty that it doesn’t need to be addressed.
  • Thinking that your lives have to be so completely intertwined that nothing is separate from you or unknown to you.
  • Thinking that anything you aren't interested in, don't understand, don't enjoy, don't appreciate, is good fodder for mockery.
  • Thinking that in an emergency, if you really had to, you could just lay down an ultimatum and overcome any resistance to get your own way.
  • Thinking that your children are entirely dependent on you to set a good example in this area, and overlooking the possibility that if you bother to listen, they may actually have some lessons to teach you.
The kind of thinking that’s a good sign consists of understanding that it’s a delicate balance, a tricky negotiation that needs non-stop attention and work. The biggest part of that work is being willing to listen, to frame your perceptions and feelings in words, to work, gently and patiently, through difficulties. Easy to say, but baffling and exhausting to put into practice.

You might have gotten this far thinking, “Actually, you’re just stating the obvious. Everyone already knows this by now.” And where marriage is concerned, I think that’s probably true. But here’s the twist: I wasn’t really writing about marriage. Go back up to where I bolded it, and replace it with race relations. Then re-read it and see what you think.

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