The Creepy Concept of Covenant Marriage

Recently, I came across a disturbing little factoid. In 1997, the state of Louisiana passed Covenant Marriage into law. Arkansas and Arizona later jumped on the bandwagon. Thank goodness no other states have taken the bait.

These policies, if you opt into them, make marriage more difficult to get into, and a lot more difficult to get out of. For starters, according to Wikipedia, you have to attend premarital counseling sessions, which “emphasize the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage”, and you must sign a statement saying that the marriage is for life.

While I think premarital counseling is a great idea, I wonder who exactly is conducting these sessions. And I really would have a problem with having someone other than me and my spouse dictate what the nature, purpose and responsibilities of our marriage are to be. Marriage is what you make it. No two are alike.

And as for signing one’s life away, if you aren’t confident that the other person is going to try for a lifelong commitment unless they put it in writing, then you might want to reexamine how much you trust this person in the first place. Trust is the bedrock of any relationship. If you don’t have that, you’re building a castle on sand.

This is starting to sound like the equivalent of a homeowners’ association for relationships. I chafe at rules and regulations. I’ll pass.

Even worse are the restrictions placed on getting out of the marriage. In a covenant marriage, you are waiving your rights to a no-fault divorce. Before you can even consider divorce, you have to first go to counseling. You must also be able to prove that your spouse has committed adultery, a felony, is a drug addict or a sexual predator, or that you’ve been living apart for at least a year (perhaps two, depending on the state.)

First of all, why bother with counseling if your spouse is involved in such heinous acts? Those things, as far as I’m concerned, are deal breakers.

And you notice there’s no provision for your husband punching you in the face and not being prosecuted for it, nor is there an option if your wife suddenly joins a cult. Your only recourse in those situations would be a long painful separation, and there’s no guarantee that the nut job in question would agree to being apart.

Life is messy. It can go south in many ways that are outside the bounds of these few legislative dicta. No one should have the right to define what you deem to be unsupportable.

Is it just me, or is it creepy and strange that these three super red states, full to the brim with conservatives who claim to want less government, not more, are all for these highly regulated covenant marriages? But then, this legislates religion and “family values”, and restricts the freedom of women even further, so yeah, I guess it makes sense.

Fortunately, these three states have not made covenant marriage mandatory, and less than 1 percent of the couples getting married each year in these places opt in to this foolishness. But still, it seems like a disturbing, backward trend, and it gives me the willies.

I love holding my husband’s hand, but I wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to it.

Business people handcuffed together

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Helpless Stress

Sooner or later, every train engineer will have someone step in front of his or her train as a way to permanently solve a temporary problem. That must be a heartbreaking experience. You want to stop, but you know you can’t. I suspect that all you can really do is close your eyes, swallow really hard, and get ready to fill out a boatload of paperwork.

No doubt this sometimes happens to bus drivers as well. And I’m sure ferry captains have their fair share of jumpers, just as we bridgetenders do. I can’t even imagine what first responders deal with on a daily basis. It’s a part of these jobs that no one wants to talk about. Helpless Stress.

It’s that feeling of being completely out of control. It’s that desire to save someone, and not being able to do so. It messes with your head. It’s the kind of vicarious trauma that people don’t quite understand until they’ve experienced it themselves.

The most frustrating thing about it is you know you’ve been through something big, but you’re not physically hurt. Nothing shows. Your wounds are on the inside, where no one can see them. So your friends and loved ones often expect you to “snap out of it.”

If you have experienced helpless stress, I urge you to take it seriously. Talk to a professional; someone with experience in crisis or grief counseling. Don’t try to simply power through. What happened is not your fault, but if you choose to not cope with it, that can compound the problem.

You’re not alone. Help is out there. Please seek it out.

Helpless Stress

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Satisfying Your Man

Recently a very distant young relative posted this meme on her Facebook page.

Hillary

It made me very sad. Not because I’m pro-Hillary Clinton (which I am), but because of the whole mindset behind this meme. So I asked my relative, “Why was it her responsibility to satisfy him?” All I heard back were some very defensive crickets.

And I really would like an actual answer to that question. Her husband cheated on her. How is that her fault? I loved Bill Clinton as president, but he’s a man that has demonstrated that he cannot seem to keep it in his pocket. There are a few of those floating around. But they’re adults and they make their own choices.

Even if there were problems in the marriage, or the intimacy had completely disappeared, there are plenty of steps to take before hopping into bed with someone else. Open communication, perhaps. Counseling. Even, dare I say it? Divorce.

The idea that men have these needs and it’s the women’s responsibility to fulfill them or else is antiquated and absurd. And it’s actually insulting to men. It’s rude to reduce them to animals that have no ability to maintain self-control.  If you want to play the field that badly, then don’t make a commitment to one person. Simple.

I hate that there’s even one young woman out there who thinks that this meme makes sense. I hope that she’s never cheated on, because she’ll think she’s to blame. I want to shake her and tell her to just be herself, and if her partner doesn’t appreciate that, if that’s not enough for him, then she is the one who should be dissatisfied.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

The other day I witnessed something awful. I was working on the Fremont Bridge here in Seattle. It’s 30 feet off the water. Right next to it is the Aurora Bridge, which is 170 feet off the water. Before they put up the higher railing on the Aurora Bridge, the only bridge in the world more known for suicides was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Fortunately the higher railing has reduced our statistics dramatically, but some people are extremely determined.

It had been a really good day at work. The end of my shift was fast approaching and I was looking forward to going home. Then I heard the sirens. I looked up, and there, standing on the thin, fragile railing, 170 feet above the canal, was a teenaged boy. He stood there, motionless, as the fire engines and police cars gathered around him. They didn’t get too close. Several officers were trying to talk to him, but he wasn’t acknowledging anyone, as far as I could tell. He just stood there, on the brink of death, gazing off to the horizon.

And I felt like a bug pinned to a display board. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away. All I could do is quietly say, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, oh God, please don’t do it.” My heart was pounding. I felt sick. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life.

I’ve been a bridgetender since 2001. This isn’t my first rodeo. But in the past I’ve only experienced the aftermath. I’ve either heard them hit (which is a sound you’ll never forget), or I’ve heard the fire engine race up and them coax the guy down. This time I had a front row seat for the most pivotal moment in someone’s life, and I couldn’t do anything to help.

Then a woman came running up the sidewalk, her arms outstretched. An officer stopped her just short of the boy. He still didn’t move. He stood there for 30 minutes. It felt like an eternity.

Then, thankfully, he decided to climb down. But to do this he had to make a 180 degree turn on that railing and squat down. That was the scariest part for me. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it suck if he changed his mind and now he accidentally fell?”

Eventually he got down and they were able to get him in the ambulance. They drove away and reopened the bridge to traffic and everything went back to normal. Sort of. But meanwhile I was nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I went home to an empty house and had no one to talk to about it. Oddly I was ravenously hungry, but was so sick I couldn’t eat until the next day, after having had several nightmares.

Post Traumatic Stress. That’s a problem. Because it won’t be the last jumper I witness when I work on this bridge. All my coworkers have seen several. And they say it’s worse when they actually jump, especially when they hit the ground or a building instead of the water. Clearly, I’m going to need some coping skills if I’m going to deal with this on a regular basis.

So I decided to take advantage of my Employee Assistance Program and see a counselor. I had my first appointment yesterday. We talked about suicide and what it means to me personally and what it means in general, and she gave me several things to think about.

She said that some people are in so much emotional pain and feel so out of control that they take the control of the one thing that everyone can potentially control—their death. It’s an awful choice to make, but some people may think it’s the only one they have. Others are under the influence of drugs and are making irrational choices in general and this is just another one of those irrational choices. She also said it was normal for me to feel sympathy for this person’s pain and confusion. That’s a very human reaction.

Then we discussed the difference between sympathy and empathy, because that’s what I clearly have to work on. Here are the definitions:

Sympathy [sim-puh-thee]

noun, plural sympathies.

  1. harmonyoforagreementinfeeling,asbetweenpersonsoronthepartofonepersonwithrespecttoanother.

Empathy [em-puh-thee]

noun

  1. The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

I have always taken pride in the fact that I’m a fairly empathetic individual. I can put myself into other people’s emotional shoes and act toward them accordingly. This is a skill that not everyone possesses. I get frustrated by insensitive, oblivious people. But it never occurred to me that sometimes empathy is not the best thing to have.

Because, you see, I took that young man’s emotional pain into my body. I mean, I really felt it. And because of that I had to deal with it in the aftermath, kind of like having to expel poison. Not good.

So my homework, probably for the rest of my life, is to learn to not take people’s pain on board. It’s okay to feel sympathy, pity, sadness for that person and what they are going through, but I really need to not take it into my soul. It isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to me, and I don’t have to take ownership of it. What a concept.

Wish me luck.

IMG_0329

Sunrise, a boat race, and my view of the Aurora Bridge from work.