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A marriage story – everyone needs a mate

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A gift for Sally on our 46th Wedding anniversary


A smile is a sign of Joy

A Hug is a sign of Love

A laugh is a sign of happiness and having a friend like me …

Well, that is just a sign

of your good judgement!

In 1976 there was an aura about marriage that influenced my thinking. Being brought up in the Catholic tradition, there was a lot to consider:

  • A relationship for life – a commitment
  • Marriage is a Sacrament -what did that mean?
  • Children?
  • Marrying a young woman who was not catholic.
  • Getting permission from the Church – yes, really!

Not to mention the more practical issues, e.g. lack of funds and where would we live?

How our society trivialises these issues in the 21st Century makes it hard to believe I spent any time thinking about it. But, of course, I did spend a little time, but at 25, it all was a leap of Love (or faith!).

Over time we have had many reflections on our early relationship:

  • who chose who and why?
  • What were our hopes and dreams then – what is the reality?
  • What are our hopes and dreams now? Even after 46 years – there is still much to talk about.

One constant reality is that I was a young man with potential but little else in those days. I played a lot of cricket and rugby and had a modest academic record. I was a Research Officer in the Public Service. As it happens, Sally remembers from our first meetings that I was the “nicest” boy she had met. I was slim, had fair skin, and was tall enough! So, there’s a wrap. My view was she was confident. She had a smile that lit up the room and put sparklers on friends’ birthday cakes. It was simple stuff. Anyone with those qualities was worth marrying.

I can remember the day after we married.   I walked across the tarmac (a flight to Sydney)  behind Sally, thinking, “Shit, this is for life! What does that mean? I had better get my act together.”

As our lives evolved, Sally’s optimistic view was that things will turn out well. Even in some of my darkest financial moments – I had no idea how we could afford to live, she said out of the blue – you know Ben, I always have a sense we are prosperous.  Who says that?

Over 46 years, we have never run out of things to chat about. One of the joys of marriage is you always have a mate to hang out with – even when you are doing nothing. Doing nothing together is fun. But, as a colleague pointed out over a beer one day, everyone needs a mate.

For millennia, marriage has been a basis for the continuation of life in our Universe. For those who choose marriage, it is a form of “permanent mateship” where there is the opportunity to create a family (legacy) and answer many of life’s great questions.

The HEART (Spirit) of it:

  • Who am I? (Identity)
  • Why do I exist? (Purpose)
  • What do I stand for? (Values)
  • What is my unique contribution? (Focus)

These are questions at the very core of our existence?

The next grouping of questions focusses on Practical Matters but as a couple:

  • Where are we going-what does the future hold? (Direction)
  • What are our dreams-aspirations? (Goals)
  • How will we realise these dreams and aspirations? (Plans)
  • How will we make decisions and resolve differences?
  • What does progress look like together? (How do we measure it?)

While I did not fully understand the questions in the early days, it did not take me long to realise that I wanted to create a great marriage and a healthy, happy family – in the same way, Sally’s parents and my parents had for us. So, in those early days, we ensured we were building a solid foundation. 

Over 46 years, I have had plenty of time to ponder all of these questions, and we have had many chats. The conversations are endless, and our understanding of ourselves and our relationship has evolved. I have also had to speak at a few wedding receptions (my four children are married) and had the opportunity to reflect more deeply. I also had the privilege of being invited to speak at a friend’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

These events have caused us to reflect with much greater focus and depth. In the case of our children, we pondered what our hopes and dreams are for our children. What did I/we want to say to our children about marriage? One old friend said to me, “When you speak at your children’s wedding, it is one of the few times in their life you have their undivided attention – so say something worth saying”.

A Marriage Story is a commitment to a great Cosmic Story.

 Marriage is a time when you discover you are a part of a much larger story. In a world preoccupied with economic, social, political, and environmental problems, it is bewildering if there is no superordinate purpose and connection.

In the first instance, children are that purpose. For us, five pregnancies and four children in 8 years certainly focussed our minds on something other than ourselves. It was a fantastic tumultuous, and spiritual time. Being married and having children was an experience, and I was “full of awe”. We were now a part of a bigger story that had its roots thousands of years ago and in the Christian tradition 2000 years ago. Our families of origin had a continuing story. Sally’s mother pointed out to me early that her family story could be traced back to Richard the Forester (Doomsday Book). A serious epic! All families have a story. During COVID, I pondered my ancestors’ courage by leaving their families and their homeland Ireland and England – to board a boat to a settlement in New South Wales (or Queensland). There was nothing here.

As I now look at my 13 grandchildren, I am reminded of that connection to the more remarkable story. A colleague of mine recently suggested that maybe our grandchildren are our connection to eternity! I will have to ponder that for a while.

Children are, in fact, significant learning on the journey – the wonder of it all. We create these beings who challenge us to think beyond ourselves every day, week, month, year. Although, as parents, their futures are ours for a very short time, that time is an “accelerated learning process on life”. They ask every question imaginable. Where did I come from? Who is God? And the continuing question – WHY? Existentially they ask you – who you are and what you stand for – every day.

I frequently ponder that “each child enters the world initially to make their parents better people.”

Being a parent is the consummate social laboratory. We discovered there is no “one best way”. We found we knew little, and we had much to learn. They all arrive in the same ‘pod’. They grow up in the same family environment, yet each is unique.

It is still a thrilling ride with our children now as parents. They now struggle with every question imaginable. Many of the questions are the same. Some learning, we’ve discovered, is not intergenerationally transferable. Each generation needs to learn in their way in their own time.

 A Marriage story of 50 years is an Epic Story, so our 46 years is an emerging epic?

 Epics are long poems that tell a story about heroic events or deeds in a time beyond living memory. Every family story is epic. There is a search for a greater connection.

As with all epics, there is/are:

  • A Beginning Middle and End
  • A Hero and heroine
  • Multiple Plots
  • Mountains and valleys
  • Joy and suffering
  • Wounding and healing
  • Dry gullies and side-tracks
  • Moments in time to be treasured and celebrated

Those who have walked the journey – or are walking the journey will recognise the themes, the patterns, and the plots. There is nothing new. It has been happening for thousands of years. Yet, at the same time, each family story is unique, and the learning is profound.

The romantic model of marriage is only a relatively recent phenomenon, and it has only emerged in the western world in the last 200-300 years.

(As I write this, not every culture enjoys this freedom.)

As Sally and I celebrate our 46th -wedding anniversary, I reflect on the many conversations we have had over a drink in the evening. Of course, the first conversation is, should we drink tonight given our resolutions? Then, having nailed that – we might chat about how much fun we have doing nothing together! The children, grandchildren, dreams, and aspirations might lead to the Australian Open, the Brisbane skyline or what’s happening at Southbank. And we often ponder how grateful we are for our lives! (And each other)

It’s the sort of thing mates chat about!


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