Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Sound Marriage (or, More Thoughts on Differences)

I can’t think of “making beautiful music together” without remembering Looney Tunes’ Pepe Le Pew from Saturday morning cartoon fame. Growing up, I watched this ill-fated skunk continually look for a willing recipient of his devotion and passion. Quite often it was a black cat with a white stripe painted down her back by some unfortunate mistake, causing Pepe to think that she was his perfect match. Sadly, his reek was a difficult difference to get over. Regardless of how good his intentions were, he seldom had any success in his relationships of devotion.

Many couples face the same challenge as Pepe, especially after they have been married for some time. In most marriages, the challenges are not one sided. Each partner may have a difference that the other has to manage. At the risk of being cliché, I hope to share some additional thoughts about marriage, differences, and music. The notion of making music together in a marriage has merit, especially when we consider the theory behind both music and marriage.

Some things sound good, and some things are sound. While similar words are used to describe a particular quality, they may not describe the same relationship. Occasionally I will hear of a marriage that sounds like it may not last. In a few instances the opposite is true – the relationship sounds too good to be true. What truly makes a difference is not what I hear, but how sound the relationship really is.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a musician, you may be more of a musician than you think if you have learned how to manage differences in your relationship. If the opposite is the case, here is some theory that might help.

Singing in unison is one of the most common expressions of music. Not everyone plays a musical instrument, but I personally don’t know anyone who can’t sing a round of “Happy Birthday” on occasion. Most people know the melody and will join in the celebration of a friend or family member without much coercion. Culturally, it’s just what we do. It’s expected. Singing the same notes as someone else is the easiest way to express music together.

In marriage, being on the same page, or in agreement, is also what we expect culturally. It is beautiful when two people make a decision to follow a certain path and stay together in a long-term commitment. They find a way to sing the same notes by spending time and sharing things in common with each other. Not only do they live together and love together, they make a commitment to work out their differences, for better or worse. The happiest and healthiest marriages I have seen are usually a result of two people who are willing to put self as a second priority to their marriage. There is a great deal of unison in their lives.

Having sung in numerous choirs throughout my life, I love harmony. I love the fact that multiple individuals can sing different parts to contribute to an overall effect. As varying musical notes are arranged to compliment each other, they create chords that blend and sound good. The result is harmonious and pleasing. Combined, the various notes are able to create a richer and fuller effect than can be achieved by singing in unison alone. Some harmonies are tight, and others are loose. Different methods are employed by composers to achieve different effects.

Harmony in marriage is easiest to achieve when a couple blends their efforts for a common purpose. Recognizing that we can have unity without requiring each other to sing in unison can provide richer experiences. In this instance, differences of taste, interest, and opinion, can provide more opportunity to experience all the good that life has to offer. Each person can then share the parts their spouse may be most interested in. They key is to make sure that there is a consistent melody to blend with. Common goals, balanced effort, and the opportunity to share and exchange are critical to making a marriage work.

As other parts are added to the marriage duet – and this may be the inclusion of children, other family members, or even close friends – the key to maintaining a harmonious marriage relationship is to stick with your melody. A melody in this case may simply be the decision to get married and be faithful. If another part of your life becomes so dominant that the melody is no longer recognizable, the ability to sing in harmony is left up to chance. That is a precarious place for a marriage to be, and it could jeopardize the relationship. On the other hand, what an incredible experience it is when multiple parts are combined to emphasize the beautiful melody of a sound marriage. As these parts compliment the musical theme, they can further enhance a marriage that might be strong on its own.

In the case of a symphonic orchestra, an elaborate composition of three or more movements is performed by a large number of string, wind, and percussion instruments. Each group of instruments will typically have a different role to play in the composition. The violins will play different notes than the cellos or basses. Their rhythm may also be different. Flutes, trumpets, and clarinets offer a different feel and mood than the stringed instruments. The addition of a piano, drums, and cymbals can add energy and emphasis to a strong musical theme. Alone, they would not accomplish the same result, but together they portray a story with broader range and depth.

Outside relationships can also have a profound effect on the success of a marriage. While these also add depth and energy, a symphony requires a conductor to lead, pace, and keep a good balance. In this instance, a musical theme is more important than a single melody. Life becomes more and more complicated as I introduce other parts and instruments to my life. In order to keep proper balance, I rely heavily upon my conductor to lead me. God is our conductor. He is always willing to direct us if we will watch and follow.

Dissonance vs. Cacophony
Some of my favorite music has parts that aren’t very harmonious. The music has character, depth, and feeling, but it doesn’t always make me happy. Sometimes the music doesn’t seem either comforting or pleasing. Instead it is dissonant. Chords seem incongruous; they lack agreement or consistency, or they are harsh and unsettling. In a musical composition, this is often used to create certain moods, or a deliberate tension that builds just before resolution. The dissonance can last for a few notes, or for an entire movement. The use of major and minor keys can influence the way we feel about a musical theme, as well as aid in telling a story. Without some sort of resolution to compare the dissonance with, it may be mistaken for cacophony.

I don’t know that I would recommend looking for dissonance in a marriage relationship on purpose. Differences seem plentiful enough without having to look for more. At the same time, I don’t know that I would fear the music, just because a few measures are incongruous or unsettling. Dissonance in marriage doesn’t mean that the marriage is bad or failing. It simply means the relationship is in some need of resolution. My resolution has more to do with me being resolute in sticking to my melody or musical theme than it does with having a perfect marriage. Yes, dissonance may have an associated mood that is hard to overcome, that is unless there is a conscious effort to resolve differences.

As a couple works through their issues of dissonance, something is needed to bring them back together again. Singing in unison is one way to do this. The results are easier to predict when a couple is doing the same things together. This may be especially helpful when partners want to fix their problems, but smaller efforts haven’t seemed to work. In many cases, however, unison may not be required. Mere acknowledgement of the melody or musical theme may be enough to get the couple back in harmony. A decision of what key to perform in will help. If one partner is playing a major key, and having a very positive experience, while the other is playing a minor key and is not receiving the same benefit, dissonance will turn to distance until the matter is resolved. Failure to be resolute in keeping covenants or commitments of loyalty will leave the couple in a state of cacophony.

Some musical performances are worth repeating again and again. Back by popular demand, a musician may repeat a show, or the performance may be recorded so that it can be enjoyed as often as a listener wants to play it. Fidelity in this sense refers to the quality of the recording, or the degree of accuracy to which the recording reflects the original performance. If the sound quality is diminished, there is less fidelity in the recording. If the best instruments and tools are used to record the performance, the music can achieve high fidelity. Hi-fi performances are much more valuable than music that diminishes over time.

A married couple looking for ways to create a hi-fi marriage would do well to employ the best instrument possible, namely the heart – the truer the heart, the greater fidelity in marriage. Strict observance of covenants, not just in actions, but also in intent, will help a couple to remain faithful to their original commitments of marriage. It will help them stay true to the feelings and emotions that brought them together in the first place.

Prior to the advent of the digital age, analog recordings could be damaged and altered if a record was scratched or a cassette tape was stretched. The music was no better than the means to record it. Similarly, marriage is no better than our methods to protect it and maintain its definition. Remaining loyal to our initial commitment and investment of marriage is a choice. If we maintain our choice each day, keeping it free from scratches or distortion, it will not only retain its value, it will increase in value because that kind of fidelity is less and less common in society.

Fidelity in this case does not only refer to sexual purity, but purity of thought, and intent. If covenants are made to honor, support, and love a marriage partner with a fullness of heart, anything that diminishes that level of commitment also diminishes the fidelity of that marriage. Alternates and substitutes can begin to eclipse the marriage relationship which result in distortion and failed fidelity, even when no serious transgressions are evident.

In some cases, the original commitment of marriage may seem damaged beyond repair. A weakened relationship may require re-mastering to get back to the original quality. There are ways to fix these types of challenges, but it requires the efforts of both marriage partners to accomplish. Usually it also requires a deep faith in God, and a willingness to include Him in maintaining the relationship as well. With God, nothing shall be impossible.

The pursuit of high fidelity requires an honest look at the influences we allow into our lives. Simply put, differences, interests, or outside influences that detract from or weaken a marriage relationship keep that most important relationship from being what it could be. While it may not be wrong, it prevents the married couple from having high fidelity and limits the potential of the relationship. In contrast, outside influences that improve a marriage relationship could also be deemed to improve fidelity. A couple seeking a celestial marriage with eternal increase should not settle for an acceptable relationship. Their goal should be higher, always looking for ways to improve their fidelity at greater and greater levels.

I believe it is important to maintain a constant evaluation of your marriage. Some relationships only sound good, and some relationships are sound. Part of being sound is being true – true to each other and true to your covenants. A sound marriage is one where both partners work through differences in marriage by finding ways to return to each other. It’s all about sticking to your melody and maintaining high fidelity. Finding ways to stay true to the theme you started with makes the best music.

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