"Marriage is wonderful, isn't it honey?", Husband will say through gritted teeth, putting his arm around me.
"Oh, yes, I've never been happier!", I'll say, in the manner of a Stepford Wife, a big grin on my face.
The response is usually an awkward laugh followed by a conversational diversion such as the weather. Like Madgda Szubanski disguising the seriousness of her weight problems by saying she's "made by Cadbury's", we publicly mock our marriage to make the reality more palatable: it's laugh or cry.
But like the premature (and immature) Michael Jackson jokes doing the rounds after his death, playing along with this farcical scenario just got tired. And, really, it wasn't funny. We may have prided ourselves on our honesty and candor, but verbally reinforcing the idea that your marriage is crap to all and sundry does nothing to fix the problem. It feeds it. And cheapens it.
So, like Magda resolving to hop off the binge eating bandwagon, I declared an end to the marital tomfoolery. Who were we benefiting with such crude verbal behaviour? We were bringing ourselves down and the institution of marriage with it. It was time to grow up.
A small comfort came care of one of our young comrades: "You've shown us that no matter how bad your marriage gets, you can't just walk away from it," said the young man. And I wanted to cry. Gluttons for punishment we may be, but we do have that to our credit: a dogged commitment to honouring the oath we took before God. We're in this till death do us part.
Which brings me to a new study, which has found that a quarter of relationships will end within six years and 50 per cent by 25 years. Divorce statistics are nothing new (the commitment-phobes love to bandy them about as evidence of the stupidity of saying "I do"), but I do rather hope that after watching the Boomers and Gen-X make divorce de riguer for the even moderately discontented, leaving their children to pick up the messy pieces, that we might be able make some progress on the marriage-for-life front.
My main concern is that we tend to look for the quick-fix rather than committing to anything longer than it takes to upload a picture on Facebook. If we're not happy in our job, we jump ship to another one; we avoid signing up for phone contracts; the latest gadgets quickly render last year's model redundant; and we're not particularly brand-loyal, always looking for the better deal amongst a plethora of choices. Maybe marriage needs a cool marketing campaign?
In response to the story on ABC referencing the survey, WhatIsLove writes: "When people realise love is a verb - then marriages will last the test of time. If you do not feel there is love in your relationship - then love your partner. Take action! Take the risk of surprises, the risk of you taking action, and stop waiting for your partner to "make the change". People hate to hear this, but to love your partner is to sacrifice your time, space and energy for your partner - this also is why you "choose" a partner."
Obviously, the new survey stats are retrospective: we don't know how Gen-Y and their younger siblings will honour marriage (because, um, most aren't married yet). But if the precedent for divorce is set, who do we have to model ourselves on? Thanks to some boyhood delusion, Husband's idea of the perfect marriage involves me putting out in the kitchen and in bed (simple!). Meanwhile I was brought up witnessing the sort marriage issues the characters faced in Lantana (just short of Revolutionary Road dramatic extremities). Sex-on-tap fantasies or Ray Lawrence/Sam Mendes directed despair (or, as Beyonce sings, a "sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare")? Where's the middle ground?
The survey also found that people whose parents are divorced are more likely to call it quits on their own marriages, while couples in which both people had been previously married had a 90% higher chance of splitting than those marrying for the first time. "With few exceptions, the painful numbers indicate that statistically you have a better chance of finding happiness in your current marriage with all its challenges than if you move on to another one," says UCB Australia.
Thankfully, for me, the answer to positive role modelling lies in Husband's parents: they're the proverbial poster couple for a solid marriage. They've had more than their fair share of trials but they've stuck it out, and have rather enjoyed each other's company in the meantime. Granted, they are committed Christians, and God doesn't condone divorce, but their synchronicity just makes me want to give more to my marriage: darn it, I want what they're having! If my marriage has been a 2-minute noodle meal (my specialty!), there's is the three-course baked dinner.
What I've learnt from them is that the marriage is like a living organism (no, not orgasm) that must be fed and nourished and loved and respected: it's separate from the two of us (owned by God), yet we're both expected to invest into it – like relationship superannuation – by giving it time and our unselfish attention and sacrifice. No mean feat for two stubborn young people intent on doing their own thing most of the time! But Husband is the fruit to my nut: we could be the perfect Cadbury couple, if we'd just start acting that way.
Our 'Marriage Sux!' skit is going to be a tough act to follow (we really perfected that one). But, just as Magda said of her determination to shed kilos, "You need to love yourself and do it out of love for yourself, and love for your poor old body", so too we need to change our "miserable till us part" mentality for the sake of our poor old marriage, the love of each other and respect for God. I've no doubt there will be more genuine laughs along the way. And people might start asking us how we are again!
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:13
Girl With a Satchel