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Universal in marriage

November 4, 2003 |

Dear Mr. Keillor,
What are the key signs it is time to move on from a marriage? There are small children involved, so the stakes are high. But I can't think that staying in an unhappy, frustrating relationship provides such a sparkling model either. There are no drop-down-screaming-I-hate-you sort of fights. Not yet. Rather, just a lot of tense discussions, sudden silences, and a couple of lonely feeling hearts, not connected to each other.

So can you give me a list, or some questions to reflect on, or even a verse or two? I'm sure you have some slice of insight on the subject.
—Past The Ten Year Mark

Dear Past,
I should be an authority in this realm, having gone through two divorces, but I can’t offer useful advice based on your letter. The problem you describe—tense discussions, sudden silences, loneliness—is universal in marriage, probably universal in human life. It's as if you asked, "What can I do about mortality?" Every marriage in human history has gone through its bumpy periods and some friends of mine who are in flaming beautiful symphonic marriages of 20+ years will admit to having gone through stretches when the whole contraption seemed to have crashed. The advice I'd offer you may sound like the dumbest thing you've ever heard but it's this: find some way to have fun together. Be entertaining, however you can. Do something that makes the two of you laugh. Have a light-hearted evening. Make love. Take dance lessons. Do something to break the jam and lessen the tension. If you can manage to have a good time together and put your silence/loneliness/tension into temporary storage, you will learn something from this. Repeat the experience.

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