Jun 02 2014
The other day, I came across a casual statement that hit me like a cannonball. On her Facebook page, Catherine Keddington Arveseth mentioned that there are three stages of marriage:
- Loving without knowing,
- Knowing and not loving, and
- Knowing but choosing to love.
Boy howdy, do I wish I had heard this one thirty years ago! Fluffy and I thought we were the only ones who had endured the long, arid years of Stage #2. We thought that all by ourselves, we had done something horribly wrong. We had no earthly idea that this was just a normal stage, and everyone else went through the same stage that we had done.
I learned this piece of earth-shattering news just as Fluffy was loading the car for a two-day trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. I couldn’t wait till we got on the open road so I could share this bombshell with him. He was every bit as gobsmacked as I had been.
I said to Fluffy, “Just think of it. All that time we couldn’t stand each other, it was normal.”
He said, “It’s a little too strong to say that we couldn’t stand each other. It was more like a Cold War. Our marriage has been tempered in the fires of adversity. But no fisticuffs were involved. We never had to go to the emergency room.”
No matter what Stage #2 is called, we had no idea that other people were in our situation. We thought we were suffering alone. We couldn’t talk with anyone about our marital problems, because we were certain we were the only people in the world who were messing up.
We had our honeymoon period, of course. Fluffy always was a cute little fellow. It helped that he traveled about a week a month, and he took me with him. We were always in one big city or another, staying in an expensive hotel and eating in fancy restaurants on his expense account. We had a pretty nice life.
Then we moved to Virginia and had to grow a whole new support system. I’m not going to sugar-coat it; it took a long time. For the first few years, the only friends who presented themselves to us were not people we both liked. They drove a wedge between Fluffy and me. The Cold War had started.
We found ourselves treading water, spiritually speaking and socially speaking. It was dark. Eventually, however, Fluffy was called as one of the executive secretaries of our stake, and we found ourselves with a better class of friends. We also became temple workers in 1995. Things didn’t start getting better immediately, but we started being able to feel the sand underneath the ocean.
We no longer had to tread water. We started being able to walk toward dry land. The best part was, we were walking together.
I don’t know when it started, but people started telling us they envied our relationship. They could tell we loved each other. The first few times people said that, I thought, Boy, do we have them fooled. But then I thought about it and realized, I really do love that little fellow and he seems to feel the same way about me. When did that happen?
The answer was that it sneaked right up on us without our ever knowing it. For years his little habits drove me crazy. I got annoyed over the smallest things. But eventually I started to tolerate them and finally I started thinking they were cute. I guess he felt the same way about me.
We had reached Stage #3. We knew each other, but we chose to love one another despite our flaws. The superficial love at the beginning of our relationship had been replaced with a deeper kind of love that could look beyond flaws and see the person we would eventually become.
Fluffy explains it to friends this way: “Eventually I learned she was never going to change. I couldn’t fix her. I just had to accept her the way she was.”
We found ways to do this. He meticulously squeezes the toothpaste tube from the bottom, and I squeeze the toothpaste tube wherever I pick it up. After about twenty-five years of being annoyed with each other, we just bought two toothpaste tubes. Problem solved.
He puts the toilet paper roll on the roller so the paper comes off from the bottom. Everybody knows this is the wrong way to do it, but eventually I decided that if he changes the roll, he decides how it’s going to be put on. Problem solved, but again it took us about twenty-five years to figure this out.
I have never mastered the science of balancing a checkbook, and on the rare occasions when I attempted it, I would usually end up in tears. We solved this problem by having separate checking accounts, and Fluffy cheerfully balances both of them.
We also determined that the person who loads the dishwasher decides how the dishes are going to be loaded; the person who makes the bed decides how the bed is going to look, and the person who cooks the dinner decides what we are going to eat. The person who sits on the couch and waits for these things to be done does not get a vote. In fact, she is extremely grateful that all these things are done at all.
We have friends who at this very moment are mired in their own Cold War, only their Cold War is a noisy one. Until we learned about the three stages of marriage, we have had no idea how to help them.
Each of our friends has been everlastingly upset because the other spouse has not been fulfilling his needs. What they do not understand is that we are not supposed to go into a marriage to be served or to have our own needs filled. We are supposed to go into a marriage to serve our spouse and the family we have created.
Instead of going into our marriages with the expectation that we’ll do fifty percent of the work and our spouse will do the other fifty percent, the way we should go into the marriage is to expect to serve as the Savior would serve. If each of us fully expects to do a hundred percent of the work around the home, joyfully, both of us will always be happily surprised if the other party does anything at all.
In addition, we grow to love the ones we serve. If we are each trying mightily to do the lion’s share of the serving, we’ll each be doing the lion’s share of learning to love. That alone could shorten the time we spend in our own personal Cold War.
Too many couples do not understand this. Like Fluffy and me, they had never heard of the three stages of marriage. They mastered Stage #1 just fine. They went into their marriage loving one another without knowing each other. Then, when they got to know each other, they recoiled in horror. Now they were mired in Stage #2, wondering if it would ever get better.
Husbands chewed with their mouths open. They scratched in embarrassing places. They did not leave the room when they had to pass gas. They left the toilet seat up, and they did not even apologize when their innocent brides fell into the toilet in the middle of the night. They only took out the garbage sporadically. And oh, how they snored!
The wives did not look like the women in the fashion magazines when they woke up in the morning. Their breath stank. They passed gas just like the guys did. They cried sometimes for no reason. They couldn’t do a simple home repair or squash a tiny spider. They needed constant reassurance that they were loved. They expected their husbands to work all day and then help around the home at night.
This was not what they bargained for when they looked at each other, dewy-eyed, at the altar. But since nobody had told the husbands or the wives about Stage #2, a lot of husbands and wives felt stuck. And a whole lot of husbands and wives have bailed out of their marriages, not knowing that things were going to get better. They did not know there was a Stage #3 to look forward to.
They blamed the person they were married to, not the process. They reasoned that their unhappiness couldn’t have anything to do with themselves. It had to lie in their defective spousal units. So they did the logical thing — they abandoned ship.
They headed for greener pastures. They found husbands who, they knew, would not chew with their mouths open. They found wives who, they knew, would look good at 5 o’clock in the morning. They were happy — at least, until they left Stage #1 of their new relationships and found themselves mired in Stage #2 once again.
The thing I can’t help but wonder is if people are warned ahead of time that Stage #2 exists, whether they can avoid that stage altogether. You should be able to sidestep it just as easily as a person can sidestep a pool of quicksand if only it is posted with a warning sign.
Perhaps hundreds and thousands and millions of couples were forewarned and were spared the misery that Fluffy and I endured, I thought. This simply had to be the case.
Then again, maybe it isn’t the case at all. Maybe the three stages are like floors in a building. You may not want to climb that whole staircase, but all three flights of stairs are going to be there if you want to make your way all the way to the top.
When we got home from Atlantic City, I looked up “three stages of marriage” on the internet. Maybe, I thought, there was a better explanation than the little bit that I had seen. To my dismay, I could not find these three stages. Maybe it’s only Catherine Keddington Arveseth who knows about them. I am infinitely glad she mentioned them when she did. She has come across something I believe to be true.
Perhaps nobody but Catherine knows about the elusive Three Stages, but there are actual classes being taught within the Church for husbands and wives who are just like us.
These are great classes for getting you started. In fact, Fluffy and I took one long after we did not need help anymore, because friends of ours needed moral support or they wouldn’t go by themselves. If you’re in your own Cold War, seek them out and go to them.
If you do not have access to a marriage class, persevere. Serve your spouse as the Savior would do it. Once you make it to Stage #3, you will be glad you hung on for the ride.
I know from personal experience that Stage #3 is worth fighting for. I’m living it now, and it’s so terrific I’m just glad we had the patience and endurance to get here.
Those of you who are struggling in Stage #2, persevere. After all, the scriptures said it best: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).