• In a first marriage, Training Spouses are just like training wheels


    Margaret Burns


    One of the stops The Main Man and I planned for our tour of the Eastern Midwest was to visit Jeannine, the Main Man’s first wife of nearly 60 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri.

    I was surprised at the reaction this evoked in some friends:

    ~ “You’re doing what?”

    ~ “OMG!”

    ~ Hysterical laughter.

    I was incredulous.

    I am terribly indebted to this woman. Jeannine got The Main Man in shape for me. She was his Training Spouse.

    Unless the first husband or wife has done some irreparable damage during the marriage, you can look upon him or her as having been a Training Spouse.

    Training Spouses are like training wheels. No adult expects a child to be able to ride a two-wheeled bike on the first try, so there are small side wheels. These let you develop a sense of balance, good motor skills, judgment of risks and the ability to look ahead and anticipate what may happen down the road. Not bad skills to bring to a marriage.

    Or think of the role of training diapers. The toddlers learn to recognize an uncomfortable feeling that could have terrible consequences. The young ones, little by little, become acquainted with their body, emotional states and the result of ignoring signals of distress. Also not bad training for marriage.

    I am most grateful that Jeannine pulled The Main Man away from the conservative (understatement) branch of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. If you are not a Missouri Synod Lutheran you have a snowball’s chance in hell to get to heaven, or so the church teachings were when he grew up.

    Perhaps little has changed because this is the sect that recently removed a pastor from his church because he had appeared on the same platform with a Muslim cleric for a public ceremony to grieve for the horrendous killing of children in the Sandy Hook school.

    The Main Man grew up with the idea that this earthly life is just marking time until you can get to the promised glory of heaven. Jeannine warmed him over to an urban Presbyterian ministry that embraced all kinds of people and practiced a universal love of humanity. She (and the U.S. Army) started him on a path that led him to New York City, broadened his horizons and made him open to new experiences – like ballet and opera. He even sat through the five-hour opera, “Parsifal,” by Wagner at one point.

    He was an urbane man-about-town by the time I met him some years later. He went willingly with me to modern dance concerts when we were dating and first married. I learned to play contract bridge, which was his interest, mostly without talking, when we were newly together. Not surprisingly, both endeavors went by the wayside when the training wheels were off and we had found our own groove together.

    Not everyone has to go as far as to actually get married to figure out these relationships. There are plenty of smart women and men who have practiced on Training Significant Others, and only take the step of marriage when they have enough experience to know they have found Mr. or Ms. Right. They are the lucky ones because a divorce is never easy or without consequences, though not all of it is bad. I, too, am grateful to a Training Husband that taught me a few things that I came to see as non-negotiable deal-breakers in a relationship (not to be revealed here).

    Some marriage counselors are taking the position that we should think about marriage contracts with a specific number of years to run and an option to renew.

    Little did The Main Man and I know how ahead of the curve we were. We joked when we were married that we had a 39.5 year contract with an option to renew. That was primarily because we couldn’t imagine we would live long enough to get to 39.5 years, since we started out together later in life.

    Here we are, in year 46 and hoping to make it to 50. And still in constant negotiation. We have a debt of gratitude to those first spouses who helped make it possible.


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