In the same year that Congress impeached Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Patrick asked me to marry him. We were twenty, with the fresh-faced views of the world that young doe-eyed lovers readily adopt. I was appalled by President Clinton’s indiscretions, unable to understand how he could disgrace his family and his friends, to satisfy his own lust. Ten years later, on the same weekend we celebrated our eight-year anniversary, another Southern politician wept over the political and personal debacle his life has become because of his philandering. Today, I am less appalled by Governor Sanford’s behavior; instead, I am saddened that he was able to fall out of love with his wife and quickly find love with another. I see Governor Sanford’s infidelity as a reaction to the long-term breakdown of his marriage. Am I wrong in thinking that this phenomenon---falling out of love with each other---happens too often?
Caitlin Flanagan considers this same problem in her compelling article for Time, Is There Hope for the American Marriage? She asks a critical question that should concern all of us, whether married or not: “What is the purpose of marriage? Is it . . . .simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren't many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression . . . . Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation's own safe passage into adulthood?”
Yet, numerous studies have been done showing that the stress of raising children can demolish an otherwise-faltering marriage. If the purpose of marriage should be the conception and teaching of children, how will empty nesters succeed in maintaining a relationship once the children leave home? I am by no means an expert on marriage and, really, I know little about this issue. But, it seems to me that the problem is not Americans’ focus on the wrong purpose of marriage, but rather an all-too-often debilitating displeasure in the marriage. That disinterest originates from varying sources: distractions, irritations, changing perceptions, or simple laziness. There are many ways to bolster and reinvigorate a marriage but I want to focus on three ways that travel has strengthened ours:
Creating new memories with each other. Boredom is surprisingly a leading cause of divorce. When we travel, we are exhilarated to find new places, interesting foods, and untold adventures. At home, we savor the best parts of our trips and laugh about the bad parts. These new memories help ward off the staleness that comes from mundane routines: waking up, going to work, coming home, watching television, and going to sleep.
Increasing our dependence on each other. When we travel to a foreign country or far-away city, we are alone. Sure, we have access to e-mail, the Internet, and phones, but, for all intents and purposes, we rely on each other to make sure that we stay healthy and safe. It is sometimes hard to abdicate my desire to be independent, but knowing that I have someone who I can depend on---and who can depend on me---is incredibly reassuring. And, because our happiness becomes dependent on the other's happiness, we take our commitments to each other more seriously.
Developing a partnership. Travelers are faced with decisions every single day, from where to stay, how much to spend, what to see, and where to eat. Travel is often unexpected --- a hotel could have closed down, we could miss the train we were expecting to take, or we could get food poisoning resulting in the expulsion of our digestive tracts. Dealing with the unexpected while compromising to make constructive decisions requires good communication and good communication leads to a happy trip and a healthy relationship.