To those who didn’t know them well, or well enough, the Marstons seemed an ideal couple, an enviable couple who had it all—money, style, social prestige, and a showplace home with state-of-the-art amenities and a spacious view of an adjacent golf course.
To those of us who knew them all too well, however, it was another story.
The couple’s disagreements with one another’s tastes, habits and opinions led each to an insistence on being right and a refusal to be corrected or contradicted by the other.
“Can’t those two ever agree on anything?” a newcomer whispered to me, shaking her head as the Marstons took aim at one another over the issue of floral arrangements on our summer evening dining tables.
“They agree on disagreeing with one another,” I said.
“Even in front of their guests?”
“It’s their way of being honest and open, no matter the time or place. As you can see, it makes for a lively marriage.”
“But not a happy one.”
“Maybe they have a different idea of happiness. Something’s keeping them together. That could be it.”
“A funny idea of happiness. Or is it a funny kind of love?”
“Whatever it is, who are we to judge others? Who knows what others say about us? Who knows what you or I might say about each other?”
“Don’t you dare!”
An invitation to a Marston party was proof you’d arrived socially, even if the hosts couldn’t remember your name or the reason why you had been invited.
In springtime or summertime, the invitation meant exotic cocktails for starters, lighthearted chatter with charming strangers, a memorable meal with a choice vintage served in their expansive garden, and the after-dinner option of a dip in a designer pool fed by a miniature waterfall and illuminated from within by alternating hues of green, blue, and violet.
Those who remained seated could make an evening of exchanging small talk, signaling the servers for yet another glass of Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio, and resting their eyes on the green sweep of the golf course that ran to a distant hill where the lighted clubhouse perched. On my own evening visits there, I noted how the gaze of club members tended to wander across the manicured course to the lights of the Marston estate, wondering what it would be like to live on the far side and indulge the privileges of luxury.
The marriage of the Marstons was a favorite topic of discussion for those of us who studied the couple whenever they began correcting one another and insisting they were absolutely justified in saying the other was dead wrong. At such moments, one could conclude that theirs was a marriage of opposites, a union of dissenters, a contest whose contestants seemed bound to one another despite their unyielding obstinacy.
“Why did you ever marry me?” I once heard Mrs. Marston challenge her husband in what may have been another way of asking “Why don’t you ever do what I say?”
“I knew it would never be boring,” he replied with a swift kiss that took his wife by surprise and left her unable to respond.
How the two had managed to remain together for as long as they had was anybody’s guess. Their game of blame and shame would have canceled most marriages. This one had endured, but how much longer could it last?
“What I don’t understand is why they’ve never put themselves in the care and keeping of a marriage counselor or a therapist,” I confided to my friend Chloe Chopoulos, a romance novelist who knew a thing or two about wayward passions and the danger of marital rivalry.
My question to her came shortly after the two of us had witnessed a bout of the Marstons that ended when the exasperated Mrs. waved a dismissive hand at her husband and cried, “Mere words cannot express the way I feel about you!” and he replied, “Back at you, kid!”
End of discussion.
“I have no idea what’s going on with those two,” I confessed to Chloe.
“Isn’t it obvious? Each one insists they’re right and is determined to stand their ground until the other surrenders. Don’t hold your breath for that. Not going to happen.”
“Doesn’t seem likely, does it? But what do you suppose would happen if they ever called a truce and agreed to be more–what’s the word?–tolerable?”
“The marriage would be over. If there’s nothing left to prove, there’s nothing to hold them together.”
“Not even the promise of a better life? Wouldn’t it be a happier marriage if both agreed to end their adversity?”
“And embrace harmony? Very pretty plot for a romance novel, but human nature tends to be far less forgiving. Life just doesn’t work that way.”
Then again, as the wise man (or was it the wise woman?) said, life is sometimes stranger than fiction.
I was out of the country for a period of time, doing business abroad for longer than I had anticipated and taking a side trip to scout possible opportunities for investors. On my return, Chloe had a story to tell me. She’d been at her hairdresser (where more deep secrets are brought to light than in a confessional with a sympathetic pardoner) when she first heard the news that the marriage of the Marstons was on the mend.
I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Say what? Didn’t you tell me that was impossible?”
“I did. But things took an interesting turn. It seems their case interested and lured two analysts—a married couple who shared an office in which each catered to patients of their own sex. When the female partner heard about the Marstons from a concerned relative who worried about their bickering and feared its eventual outcome, she asked her husband to take up the case with her and offer their services separately in order to see whether they could coax and prod the two to resolve their differences.”
“Why would they bother doing that?”
“They saw it as an opportunity for a professional milestone—-and a paper to be presented–and hailed–at their next professional conference.”
“And just how did they propose to sell the Marstons on the idea?”
“From what I was told, the pitch went something like this: When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and our willingness to change. At such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready and may never be ready to accept the challenge. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. The question for both of you now is, do you have the courage to move forward? Isn’t that a lovely attempt at persuasion?”
“And knowing them as I do, the Marstons refused to be persuaded?”
“As you might expect, they were skeptical and reluctant, but with such wisdom at the heart of their persuasive efforts, the analysts managed to gain a foothold. More out of curiosity than anything else, the Marstons tentatively consented to see the analysts separately. From there, they agreed to share the same room, but with the two analysts in close attendance to monitor the situation. The tumultuous relationship slowly began to become less tumultuous. It reached a point where the Marstons began to ponder the theoretical possibility of a relationship other than strictly adversarial. And that, in turn, led them to—-“
“Reconciliation? No way! It would take a miracle for that to happen.”
“Less a miracle than a practical solution, done in increments. The analysts slowly and carefully imbibed in them the wanting to be closer, the desire to say the right thing, and the succor of a compatible relationship instead of prolonged marital warfare. It was a case of moving forward or remaining where they were–and what they were–locked in the past.”
“And the Marstons bought it?”
“It didn’t happen overnight. Mrs. Marston said she’d be willing to forgive some, but not all, of her husband’s marital misconduct. Mr. Marston said he’d be willing to forgive some, but not all, of her marital misanthropy. With both agreeing to excuse or overlook one fault and another, the process of reformation was underway. In the end, they sealed their new understanding with a handshake and a cautious promise of reform.”
“And they lived happily ever after?”
“And not long afterward,” Chloe concluded her story, “they each filed for divorce.”
“What! You just told me they’d forgiven one another. They did what the therapists said and found the solution for a harmonious marriage. If they moved forward into the future, how could anything go wrong?”
“With all the antagonism removed from their lives, their eyes were open to who they really were. They saw one another clearly as if for the first time. And what they saw ended the marriage more quickly than a slap.”
“What are you talking about? What could the two of them have seen? What did they see?”