THE GOOD FIGHT
(Then Comes Marriage, Part 5)
WHEN MARRIAGE FLIES HIGH:
“I got rhythm, I got music,
I got daisies, in green pastures,
Who could ask for anything more!”
WHEN MARRIAGE DRAGS LOW:
Love was such an easy game to play,
Now I need a place to hide away…”
Marriage is like the weather.
When it’s sunny, life feels euphoric.
And when it’s stormy, life feels doomed.
It may sound bipolar —
Because that’s exactly what it is.
Conjugal combat comes with the territory.
There’s no shame in messy matrimony.
In fact, one of the many profound ironies of marriage is that knowing how to love entails knowing how to fight.
But, how so?
What separates the constructive clash from a destructive crash?
Marital storms come in three sizes:
Drizzles are short snaps & brief bickers.
Momentary flare-ups that come and go.
Quickie quibbles are hardly pleasant.
But they’re relatively benign.
Thunderstorms are heated arguments.
“That’s NOT what I said…”
“Well…that’s NOT what I meant…”
“Well…your mother really IS a belligerent nazi!”
These feisty fits may last an hour. Or two.
Sometimes less. Sometimes more.
They often subside with minimal damage.
(Unless said mother was on speaker.)
Then there are the hurricanes.
This is where mega crap meets mega fan.
No speaking. No eye contact. No nothing.
The tension is so thick you can taste it.
What we say:
“Mommy and daddy are just working some things out…”
What we mean:
“Mommy and daddy are just cursing each other out…”
It’s dense. It’s dark. It’s devastating.
And it happens to the best of us.
Surprisingly enough, we encounter the “Good Fight” not in passing drizzles or scattered thunderstorms, but in the harrowing hurricanes. These are the monumental crossroads which serve to make or break the quality of our marital journeys. The how and why of this counterintuitive phenomenon is what I’d like to explore.
Marriage has been called lots of different things.
By lots of different people.
But Talmudic terminology takes the cake:
“A millstone on our necks”
– Kedushin (29b)
Now, of the many “stones” to adorn our necks — pearls, rubies, emeralds — choosing the visual of a millstone to capture the marital experience seems more like a tacky bit of husband banter than a genuine hallmark of holy matrimony.
Millstones crush, grind, and pulverize.
Is this really the essence of marriage?
And if it is, why are we so fond of the time-honored institution?
Sigmund Freud was not a model spouse.
But he described what it takes to be one:
“Good spouses soften each other,
without weakening each other.”
Of course, Freud had his own problems.
But profound insight wasn’t one of them.
He was on to something — but, what?
What’s the difference between softening and weakening?
Aren’t they just two different terms for the same kinetic process?
What’s the opposite of “love?”
If you answered “hate,” you’d be correct.
But you wouldn’t be Elie Wiesel…
“The opposite of love is not hate—
The opposite of art is not ugliness—
The opposite of faith is not heresy—
– Elie Wiesel
This is a cute quote.
But is it factually accurate?
Can three unrelated disciplines — love, art, and faith — share the same common antithesis? I’m pretty sure that defies the rule of opposites.
How can “indifference” be the single converse of three distinct constructs?
It’s a familiar formula:
Water + Rock = Bible Story.
Indeed, Biblical and Talmudic nuggets galore seem to continually revisit these two iconic symbols: water + rock.
“The rock gave forth water…”
“Drops of water pierce the rock…”
Interestingly, we find these props perpetually popping up in the sagas of marriage. Time after time, matches are made – not in heaven, but at wells:
“A great rock obstructs the well…”
“Daughters come to draw from the well…”
Many scriptural marriages begin at wells.
What’s the symbolism here?
Why does the water/rock duo make a cameo appearance whenever wedding bells start chiming?
“I’ve been bent and broken —
but I hope into a better shape.”
– Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Every fight is a unique animal.
But good fights share a common thread.
They melt our pride to weld our souls.
It’s a battle between being “right” and being “right-sized” — and the battle takes place within ourselves.
We want to be happy.
And we want to be right.
But we can’t have both.
So we’re forced to choose between surrendering together, or defending apart. And when the pain of being apart outweighs the synthetic strength of feeling right, our egos begin to melt.
And our hearts begin to soften.
The mind wants to defend its position.
The heart wants to end the partition.
The mind exclaims: “but I’m right!”
The heart responds: “but you’re alone.”
The mind fortifies a well-crafted debate.
The heart just begs the feud to abate.
The mind surrounds the heart with stone.
The heart would rather feel, than fly alone.
It’s been said that the greatest distance in the world is the distance between our heads and our hearts. The millstone of marriage is what breaks this barrier. The neck may keep our heads guarded in their own kingdoms. But the marital millstone serves to sever this defensive distance. Crushing our prideful armor, so that our hearts can disarm the ammo of our minds.
This is what makes the “Good Fight” so profoundly redemptive. It breaks us apart in order to reinforce the strength of our bonds. Each surrender chips away at our pride. And when pride melts, souls weld.
Good fights don’t weaken us.
Good fights soften us.
The ego effaces weakness.
The heart embraces softness.
To be softened but not weakened.
Transforming a momentary breach.
Into an eternal bond.
This is the essence of “The Good Fight.”
Elie Weisel wasn’t describing definitive opposites. He was describing experiential opposites.
The experience of love, art, and faith are one and the same: openhearted vulnerability.
And their opposites are also one and the same: stone-hearted indifference.
It’s not always easy to drop the armor.
It means feeling vulnerable.
It means feeling fragile.
It means feeling exposed.
We’d rather harden the heart in a protective veneer of stone, than feel the flowing waters of emotional vulnerability.
But we don’t marry ice cold stones.
We marry deeply flowing hearts.
It’s the source of true art.
It’s the source of true faith.
And it’s the source of true love.
“I won’t disturb the slumber,
Of feelings that have died —
If I never loved,
I never would have cried…”
– Paul Simon, I am a Rock
Perhaps he had it backwards.
Perhaps it is not love that makes us cry.
But our ability to cry that lets us love.
If I never cried,
I never would have loved.
We hide behind,
A shield of stone,
The head is armed,
The heart alone.
But soon we discover,
A deeper art,
When falling together,
Beats flying apart.