Marriage is Like Football

To help you understand the premarital work I do with couples before they get married, I need you to watch this piece by one of America’s best theologians, George Carlin. Sure, Germany had Karl Barth, Geneva had John Calvin, Americans have had George Carlin. Makes a lot of sense to me. In this brief set, Carlin will clarify the differences between to two sports, and I help relate to marriage.

Wake to your family patterns.

 “Do you, Roger, take this woman to be your wife?”
“I do.”
“And do you, Rebecca, take this man to be your husband?”
“I do.”
“By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. Let the games begin.”

I try and prepare them, those innocent young who come to the church to be married. I try to give them some picture that they have not only chosen each other, they have been chosen by their families, chosen as missionaries, as agents, as representatives. I try to show them how, in their lives up to this point, their families have been preparing them, educating them, training them in the ‘right’ way to live their family way, their long traditioned, heavily patterned, family way, sending them forth into marriage, to procreate a new family, one with the same values, behaviors, traditions, patterns of the family from whence they came.

I try to prepare individuals who come to me for premarital counseling for the upcoming mêlée. I ask them, “What do you think your marriage will be like?”

I listen to their responses, then I add, “I like to think of marriage as one really long…football game.”

Comparing marriage to football is no insult. I come from the South where football is sacred. I would never belittle marriage by saying it is like soccer, bowling, or playing bridge, never. Those images would never work as only football is passionate enough to be compared to marriage. In other sports, players walk onto the field, in football they run onto the field, in high school ripping through some paper, in college (for those who are fortunate enough) they touch the rock and run down the hill onto the field in the middle of the band. In other sports, fans cheer, in football they scream. In other sports, players ‘high five’, in football they chest, smash shoulder pads, and pat your rear. Football is a passionate sport, and marriage is about passion.

In football, two teams send players onto the field to determine which athletes will win and which will lose, in marriage two families send their representatives forward to see which family will survive and which family will be lost into oblivion with their traditions, patterns, and values lost and forgotten.

Preparing for this struggle for survival, the bride and groom are each set up. Each has been led to believe that their family’s patterns are all ‘normal,’ and anyone who differs is dense, naïve, or stupid because, no matter what the issue, the way their family has always done it is the ‘right’ way. For the premarital bride and groom in their twenties, as soon as they say, “I do,” these ‘right’ ways of doing things are about to collide like two three hundred and fifty pound linemen at the hiking of the ball. From “I do” forward, if not before, every decision, every action, every goal will be like the line of scrimmage.

Where will the family patterns collide?

In the kitchen. Here the new couple will be faced with the difficult decision of “Where do the cereal bowls go?” Likely, one family’s is high, and the others is low.

In the bathroom. The bathroom is a battleground unmatched in the potential conflicts. Will the toilet paper roll over the top or underneath? Will the acceptable residing position for the lid be up or down? And, of course, what about the toothpaste? Squeeze it from the middle or the end?

The skirmishes don’t stop in the rooms of the house, they are not only locational they are seasonal. The classic battles come home for the holidays.

Thanksgiving. Which family will they spend the noon meal with and which family, if close enough, will have to wait until the nighttime meal, or just dessert if at all?

Christmas. Whose home will they visit first, if at all? How much money will they spend on gifts for his family? for hers?

Then comes for many couples an even bigger challenge – children of their own!

At the wedding, many couples take two candles and light just one often extinguishing their candle as a sign of devotion. The image is Biblical. The Bible is quoted a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. The unanswered question is, “If the two shall become one, which one?” Two families, two patterns, two ways of doing things, but which family’s patterns will survive to play another day, in another generation, and which will be lost forever? Let the games begin.

Wake to your family patterns that cross generations.

“Because I said so!” I can still hear my father.

As a determined eight year old, I swore, “I will never say, ‘Because I said so’ to MY child.” Fast forward thirty-five years later, we have three children, Cayla, Abbie, and Nathan. Each, at one time or another, has heard me say, “Because I said so.” Each has also heard me lecture them on the evils of not eating their supper while there are so many starving children in India, another thing I swore I would never say to my child. The patterns we learn as children resurface when we become parents, no matter how dormant we thought them to be.

What I have found even more amazing is just how unquestioned our family patterns can become. Sensible or not, we assume our way of doing things is the ‘right’ way, like in this story…

 Every time Mary cooked a roast, she cut off a small slice on each end. A neighbor, over sharing a cup of coffee, watched her semi-consciously cut off the ends. “Why do you do that?” asked the neighbor.

Mary thought about it. She didn’t know. “I guess it’s because that’s the way my mother always cooked a roast.” She was a little embarrassed that she had no other reason, so she called her mother. Her mother told her that she, like her daughter, simply cut the ends off the roast because she had seen her mother do the same. Mary called grandma. Her grandmother explained that she had always cut the ends off the roast because the pot she used was a small pot, too small for a normal roast. She cut the ends off to make the roast fit in the pot. Mary realized that two generations later she kept the same pattern of her grandmother even though they no longer owned the small pot nor needed to cut the ends off the roast.

We observe and imitate. The patterned way is assumed the preferable way, the right way, the best way, and why wouldn’t we pass on the best way to the next generation?

What family patterns do you have which have crossed generations? Do you know why you do the things you do? Are there any patterns in your family or in your life which have been held with football-like religious fervor?