By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick
Okay, I admit it. I’m addicted to Altarcations, Gawker’s tongue-in-cheek ratings for the marriage and commitment announcements in The New York Times Sunday Styles section. Gawker’s elaborate tally system (the brainchild of one “Intern Alexis”) tallies up status markers — Ivy degrees, Mayflower pedigrees, high-powered careers — to decide on the week’s winning couple: Add 2 points if a partner works as a management consultant, 3 if both work at jobs involving the word “banker” or “investment.” Magna cum laude? Add 2 points. Bride or groom from New Jersey? Minus 1. Married by a cantor or an Episcopal priest, plus 1. No other clergy merit extra credit. (Who knew?) I got to thinking that summer wedding season is the perfect time to devise our own competition. But how would it work?
Well, nobody’s mentioned anything about interns here at the Episcopal Café, so I invented my own points system. After years as a relationship therapist and a partner in my own marriage, I knew couples wouldn’t win based on what they’ve accomplished prior to their wedding day. Instead, like a shoe or thimble hopping around a board acquiring houses or hotels during a game of Monopoly, the idea would be to earn points over a lifetime in a relationship.
I figured we’d call this game – what else? — Monogamy. You and your partner wouldn’t compete against each other; you’re on the same team. And unlike the Altarcations couples, in Monogamy you’re only playing against yourselves.
To decide on the rules, I took out my prayer book and turned to the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. Lifting quotes from the beautiful prayer on page 429 is tacky, I know, but it’s for a good cause. Newlyweds – and the rest of us – can take a long, hard look at the prayer, racking up points with Monogamy’s rating system, and your partnership will emerge a winner.
The prayer says: Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.
Your move: Accept that bad things happen. You’ll both face challenges – jobs lost, kids in trouble, illness, boredom. 10 points every time you help your partner get through a rough time without blaming, rushing to impose solutions, or giving up.
The prayer says: Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.
Your move: Know that a relationship, like everything in creation, either grows or dies. Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil affects the weather in Texas, one partner making a tiny change can have a huge impact on the whole relationship. 10 points every time you listen to the still, small voice inside you, the deeper wisdom that can guide you forward as individuals and partners.
The prayer says: Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.
Your move: Remember “It takes a village…”? You two are the village. Your partnership exists not just to accumulate retirement assets and drive kids to soccer games, but to work together to make the world around you a better place. 10 points every time the two of you give your time, talent or money to someone who needs your help.
The prayer says: Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.
Your move: Recognize that nobody’s perfect, including you. Conflict between partners is a given. You resolve some of it and just manage the rest. The ability to admit you’re wrong is one of the most powerful glues in a marriage. 20 points every time you tell your partner you know you’ve blown it and you’re ready to work together to find a better way.
The prayer says: Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.
Your move: Realize that you, like every couple who walk down the aisle, are a living expression of hope for the future. Yet chances are that, sooner or later, the day will come when you look at your partner and wonder why in the world the two of you ever got together. That’s the day when the real work of marriage begins. 50 points when you’re willing to discover how you can heal from pain, overcome disappointment, and forge a bond that’s stronger than ever.
That’s it. Five rules. Truth is, tough as it is to earn points in Gawker’s mock-elitist Altarcations competition, it’s even harder to win at Monogamy. The good news is…you get better at it with practice, and you have your whole lives together to play.
Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child’s Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.