cbareport-dec12 - page 13

December 2012 CBA REPORT
on second thought
ewspaper wedding announce-
ments draw my eye, especially
those that tell a romantic tale
of how the loving relationship evolved
to commitment. I don’t even read them
with a cynical eye, despite my work with
those whose bonds are unraveling. But
I do wonder if those who preside over
marriage rituals today, or the wedding
partners themselves, exact the “until
death do us part” promise from each
other, as in days gone by?
Isn’t it fair to say that every promise
we make to another is conditioned on
underlying, often unspoken, assump-
tions? Even marriage vows. And if the
early life experiences of each party evoke
different, undisclosed, perhaps even
unrecognized, assumptions, then what?
These questions came to mind after a re-
cent conversation with mediation clients,
and it sparked this old memory:
As a very young child, I often woke
early on Sunday mornings to a silent
house, my older brothers still asleep. I’d
leave my bed and wander to the door of
my parents’ room where I would settle
down on the floor, waiting until I sensed
the time was right to knock and join
them under the covers. Sitting there, I
listened to their murmurings. Although
unable to detect recognizable words, I
could discern the voice of one and then
the other, and I imagined them close
to each other, warm and cozy. Talking
things over.
Many years later, I married a man
of Norwegian heritage, in whose child-
hood home talk was sparse. He grew up
well accustomed to silence. Hardly any
wonder that the early years of our mar-
riage brought disappointment for me in
the talking realm, and frustration for Len
at my persistent yearning for a greater
sharing of feelings. Yet now, one of my
fondest memories is of our Sunday morn-
ings, as our relationship evolved over
time (with some help from the “talking
cure”). Both early risers, once our oldest
was in his teens, we left our two younger
kids asleep in his charge, and shared
a nearby cozy restaurant nook for a
leisurely breakfast, a practice maintained
even after our nest was empty. We talked
of the week past and that ahead, or any
worry either of us needed to air. Not
always happy talk, I know, although now
the memory is golden.
Back to the divorcing pair in my of-
fice: the husband was adamant that vows
spoken when they married bound them
to soldier on and maintain the marriage.
Neither had been unfaithful. There were
no violent arguments. But now they lived
as if brother and sister, with a pervasive
polite coolness. After a year of counsel-
ing, sometimes together, sometimes
alone, the wife reached an opposite
For complex reasons unique to each
couple contemplating this tortuous
decision, the underlying assumptions of
their marital promises for love, passion,
understanding and acceptance, some-
times are realized, sometimes not. Those
willing to do the hard work of unearth-
ing hidden expectations may successfully
reach new understandings and come to
honor rather than disparage or ignore
their differences.
This wife had carefully considered
her response to her husband’s determina-
tion to maintain the status quo, however
barren. She said:
Is it really the loving
thing to do? In terms of others, even if not
myself, would I be doing a good thing to
stay in the marriage? Does it help or hurt
us, or our children? I don’t want us to
model for them that this is what a mar-
riage should be. We may or may not find
new loving relationships, but I want them
to know that it is something that both of
their parents deserve, and that one day
they will as well.
Often what we witness in our homes
as children is what we come to expect, or
consciously decide to reject, in our adult
lives. I have known some who grew up a
witness to violence, or were plagued by
pervasive parental disapproval, and suc-
cessfully struggled to avoid replicating
these ways for their own families. Yet,
many times the cycle of abuse is perpetu-
What about a determination to per-
petuate a cycle of love?
Larsen is a senior mediator at the Center for
Resolution of Disputes. She received the 2007 John
P. Kiely Professionalism Award from the CBA, and
also served as CBA president in 1986-87. Her weekly
commentaries can be viewed at
A Promise
Not Kept
By Bea V. Larsen
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