The Buddy System (Easy or Hard?)

Posted on October 20, 2014


“Now we are in the boats in two by twos, only the heart that we have for a tool we can use.  And very close quarters are hard to get used to.  Love weighs the hold down with its weight.”  Emily Saliers, The Wood Song

 “Anytime, any day, you can hear the people say that love is blind.  Well, I don’t know but I’d say love is kind.”  Paul McCartney, Listen to What the Man Said

“Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage”  Sammy Cahn

“The hardest to learn was the least complicated.”  Emily Saliers, Least Complicated

“Loving a person just the way they is no small thing.”  Sara Groves, Loving a Person

 “Wendy, let me in.  I want to be your friend.  I want to guard your dreams and visions…  Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness.  I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul”  Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

“Two people got married.  The act was outrageous.  The bride was contagious.  She bloomed like a bride.  These events may have had some effect on the man with the girl by his side.”  Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones

“Every day is like survival.  You’re my lover, not my rival.” Culture Club, Karma Chameleon

 “Life is difficult.”  M. Scott Peck

Last week my daughters were over for dinner one evening when I was still at the office seeing clients.  Later my wife related to me that one of my girls had shared that she was disturbed by divorces of couples at the church and at work, and that ours was the only happy marriage she knew of.[1]  When I heard that, I was taken aback and wondering how she could have that perception.  I pointed out that all of my siblings and all but one of my wife’s siblings are in happy long-term (all over 25 years) first marriages.  In the neighborhood where we have lived for almost 23 years, I can go down the street and name neighbor after neighbor with marriages that appear happy (and I have known them a long time).  In our tract of 22 homes, there has been only one divorce in those 23 years.[2]

A few days later, I went to see my daughter for lunch to see what had been troubling her.  She clarified that what she said was not that she did not know others with happy marriages, but that we were the only ones who said it was easy.  One of my weaknesses or strengths as a therapist (depending upon how you look at it) is that I view marriage as a fairly simple straightforward endeavor.  I have written almost 150 blog posts, mostly on relationships.  In the end they are all saying the same thing in different ways.  One of my closest friends has pointed out that just because it is simple does not make it easy.  I suppose that is true.

When I later clarified with my wife, she said, “You’re the one who says it is easy.”  I was initially feeling hurt by the implication that being married to me was not as easy as I thought it was.  She went on to say that the last 10 years had been particularly good.  I disagreed, feeling that last year had been one of our most difficult relationally because of that wretched remodel.[3]  When we talked further about the times of struggle, it occurred to me that what she was talking about was that life is difficult.  No argument there.  I have been blessed that mine has been easier than what most people get, and I have still found it challenging.  If life were a computer game, many of the people I know would choose to play it on an easier setting.[4]

I think I have two points to make here.  The first is that the idea of marriage being difficult only occurs to you when it is difficult.  “Well, duh, Scott.”  Wait, hear me out.  By way of analogy, consider your experience when you are physically injured.  When you injure yourself, you generally know it right away.  Something hurts.  The injured area of your body screams at your brain, “Houston, we have a problem.”  When the injury heals, you might not be immediately aware of the healing until someone asks “How is your shoulder?”  You are not aware of the pain that isn’t there.  With marriage, you are very aware of the experience being difficult when you are going through a rough patch.  When things are flowing well, it might not occur to you.  There are always other problems to demand your attention (squeaky wheel, and all).

Second, marriage is more difficult when life is more difficult.  The obvious reason for this is that both partners are under additional stressors and have less in terms of physical and emotional resources to offer each other.  Further, when under stress, I become more acutely aware of my needs and more upset with you for not meeting them.  I think there is another more subtle contributor to marital distress also at play during these times.  During difficult times, we are often in some level of distress.  When you are in pain (at least emotionally) it is easiest to identify the person closest to you as the cause of the pain.  There are only two people in this relationship.  I know I am not the problem, so that leaves you.

Third (okay I really had three points and this is the main one), among other benefits, marriage is the Buddy System.  Wikipedia (that bastion of accurate information)[5] took the following definition from the Boy Scouts of America: “The buddy system is a procedure in which two people, the ‘buddies’, operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other.”  This was the original design of marriage, to help each other.  The first time in scripture that we read that something was not good (and this was before the fall) was when the man was alone.  “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper[6] suitable for him’” (Gen. 2:18).  Human beings do very poorly in isolation.  Despite the jokes that men have made about marriage over the centuries, the fact is that we fare better in every way one might measure when married than when single (longevity, physical health, mental health, financial well-being, etc.).  The buddy system has the original stated purpose: to help each other.[7]

I have sometimes observed that no one gets through life without a certain amount of trauma.  Some of these are Trauma (with a capital T), but there are lots of small T traumata.  If you lose a job, it is easier to recover with the support of a partner.  Chances are you will outlive your parents.  Coping with that loss is easier if you have a partner to whom you are securely attached.  When your sweet child becomes an adolescent and suddenly wants to go head to head with you over anything, you need a teammate.  Serious illness, who is there for you?  Research has shown that people cope with suffering much better if at least one other person knows they are suffering.  We actually experience less pain when we are with a caring partner.

Life is difficult, but it can also be very good, particularly when someone has your back.  When marriage is difficult, it is difficult.  When it is easy, other problems grab out attention.  Life is difficult, but it is easier with a partner than without.

“Maybe one day soon it will all come out how you dream about each other sometimes.  With the memory of how you once gave up, but you made it through the troubled times” Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, Fountains of Wayne, Troubled Times

[1] I know I am ending a sentence with a preposition.  It just reads better that way.

[2] That was a shocker as they had been high school sweethearts who had been married for 20 years and had two teenage daughters.  The divorce was hard on their girls, but that is another story.

[3] If you want more on that story go back and read:

[4] Of course, many of them are coming to talk to me because of the difficulties they are facing.

[5] Please don’t tell any of my grad school professors I quoted Wikipedia.  Drs. Lim, Olson, and Scorgie: Yes, you taught me better.

[6] Italics mine, not God’s.

[7] The fact that the man said “Wow, wow, wow” when he saw the woman was an added bonus.  Gen 2:23 loosely translated.