(Sample Chapter) INTENSIVE TRAINING COURSE
One of my firmest beliefs is that every couple contemplating holy wedlock should be required to undergo intensive training. We have schools to teach every other skill; why not demand a mini-diploma before John and Jane are permitted to register their preferences at Target, and check honeymoon rates to Cancun?
Yes, there are already marriage preparation courses and computerized tests, mostly church-sponsored, and that’s great. But I can’t help wondering if the instructors deal mainly in theory, or if they themselves are battle-scarred veterans of the two-merging-into-one-kitchenette scrimmage. If I were to design a truly practical course, for example, I’d require all engaged couples to wallpaper a room together. There’s nothing like a joint decorating project to really get to know one another. Couples would pick out the paper (looking through a minimum of twenty-five sample books), measure the room (one with plenty of windows and uneven crevices), calculate the cost, faint, look through another twenty-five books, consider using only border paper, order the paper, back-order the paper, phone the manufacturer about the paper, assemble tools, mix paste, spill paste, cut, weep, reorder…well, you get the idea.
Follow-up classes might include arranging furniture together, hanging pictures together or for a chance of pace, hosting a dinner party for both sets of in-laws together. Couples who are still dewy-eyed after these encounters should probably teach the next session---they’ve obviously got something special.
Another session would involve sick husbands. When a male contracts a cold, flu or other death-defying disease, he’s a changed creature from the stalwart male with whom she recently exchanged “in sickness and in health” vows. Saying he reverts to childhood is less than accurate---how many children whimper at the sight of a digital thermometer? No, the ailing husband is rarely dealt with in depth, yet his bewildered bride needs much advice during this crisis.
She should know that, depending on his temperament, a man will react to a sore shoulder or the sniffles by a) blaming her and being surly, b) convincing himself it’s the plague, making out his will and being surly, or c) pretending he feels fine, carrying on as usual, developing pneumonia, blaming her and being surly. All three types will require special menus, including foods which previously elicited no interest, a pyramid of tissue boxes (yes, even for a pulled muscle), frequent servings of lemonade and plenty of reassurance. Especially since he insisted she phone the doctor and now demands to know why she didn’t ask the following questions: “Is it contagious? Is it terminal? Where did you get your medical degree?”
Her strongest ally here is time: soon Husband will emerge from the Valley of the Shadows and bounce off to work, while suggesting that, in the future she not get so overwrought about illness.
My ideal marriage course would also encompass a seminar on finances. How will he deal with the fact that his conservative wife has not yet discovered that one can take money out of a savings account? How will she cope with a mate so addicted to the sound of ringing cash registers that he cannot mow the lawn without taking his Visa card along? Engaged pairs would learn that whoever handles the money worries about the money; the other partner gallops through life yelling, “Charge!” And unless bankruptcy is a distinct possibility, the twain rarely meet. Nor should they, since one of the pair can’t rest until the checking account has been balanced, while the other figures that if the total looks reasonable, why fret? “How much was the check for on the twenty-ninth?” Wife asks Husband.
“The twenty-ninth? Let’s see…What was the amount?”
“That’s what I’m asking. Who was it to and for how much?”
“Hmmmmm. Was that the week the tire blew? Or wait a minute---weren’t we celebrating our anniversary that night?”
“Our anniversary is next month.”
“Oh. Actually I must have been thinking of your birthday.” The room temperature has suddenly dropped forty degrees.
“That’s in August!” Slammed door. Unbalanced checkbook.
There should be at least one class devoted to timing—that little detail that wreaks havoc between even the most devoted duo, especially when Punctual Patty links up with Late Lester (and they usually do). I have never seen a bride actually walk down the aisle, or a football team with clean uniforms---my husband’s idea of “being on time” is loosely translated as “arriving before anyone is saying goodbye.” And there’s the matter of inner clocks: when we were dating, neither of us noticed that he was a night owl and I an early bird. After our “I do’s” I realized that waking him involved four alarm clocks and, occasionally, a tap-dance routine on his chest. At parties, however, I’d prop my eyes open with one hand and give him desperate “let’s go home!” signals with the other, which he always ignored.
“What kind of a man has never in his whole life seen a sunrise?” I once shrieked in frustration.
”What kind of woman spends a night out exchanging tuna recipes and dozes off during the Super Bowl?” he countered.
Over the years we have adjusted----he’s now the early riser and makes the best coffee in the neighborhood. But wouldn’t it be nicer if we had been primed beforehand?
And what of belongings, especially when one partner is a casual sort and the other goes quietly berserk at the drop of a dust mote? It’s not long after the honeymoon when his socks tossed in the middle of the coffee table, his wet towels on the bedroom carpet or his closet stuffed with high school sports gear plunge her into cardiac arrest. Or her compulsive attachment to the vacuum cleaner and her collection of aerosol cans send him out searching for an all-night poker party? Hammering out a compromise can take months of re-reading the marriage vows, looking for loopholes.
Finally, couples in my ideal marriage class would be willing, nay eager, to make God the center of their lives. He certainly is primary in this labor of love and is only waiting to be asked to pull his share of the load. There would be evening prayer, of course, a quiet time when husband and wife join hands and ask for guidance and forgiveness. But couples would also learn the fine art of brevity in heavenly sharing. There are very few family situations that “Help, Lord! Right now!” won’t cover. And it beats talking to yourself. God can also touch you gently with hope (and a reminder that love is not a feeling, but a commitment).
Marriage Class would emphasize that similar backgrounds and values are important because they provide a firm foundation on which a couple can build. But those differences in tastes, temperaments and opinions, while perilous, can also add spice to a shared life. A Republican can co-exist with a Democrat, Arlene Athlete can merge happily with Sedentary Sam, and a red-and-orange personality can thoroughly enjoy a blue-green mate. All it takes is compromise, honesty, give-and-take, patience and plenty of love.
And perhaps a course to explain it all.
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe. Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord, and I will change your lot.”
---Jeremiah 29, 11-14
Moms Go Where Angels Fear to Tread by Joan Wester Anderson - Newly Released Book by Guideposts Publishers