How is a marriage like a row boat?
Sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke, but stay with me for a minute.
Comparing a marriage to a row boat is actually an analogy that has helped couples I work with understand the necessary dynamics involved in building a healthy marriage.
Imagine, if you will, a man and woman rowing a small boat down a river. We could call this the river of life. The boat is their marriage.
Now, the river will carry their boat along whether they row or not. Often, this seems the easiest way to move downstream. Sometimes, however, the current can carry such a drifting craft into the shallows, where it may run aground, or into the rapids, where it may even capsize.
Just "going with the flow" is the approach many of us take to our marriages. We assume that once we are married the work is over; things will take care of themselves. But, as with our rowboat, sooner or later our marriage can run aground -- grow bland and uninteresting. Or life can place a rapid or two in our path -- a job loss, a health crisis, etc. -- that our "go with the flow" marriage cannot navigate.
Sometimes one of us in the rowboat takes charge. We might grab an oar and try to row with it, though rowing with one oar doesn't work very well. More often, we will pick up both oars.
It can get awfully tiring after a while (especially when the river is too calm or too rough), and our passenger may get tired of always going where we want to go, but at least someone is steering the boat forward.
That probably sounds like a lot of marriages. We decide we are the best (or only) person to take charge of how our marriage works and where it goes.
Our spouse goes along, either out of fear of challenging us, or because he or she lacks confidence in his or her ability to be an equal partner in our relationship.
Not too surprisingly, sooner or later we get tired of "doing everything" -- making the decisions, handling crises -- and our spouse gets just as tired of being told what to do and of feeling so dependent on us.
Clearly, our boat moves down stream best when both people row. It takes some work at learning to decide on a course and row together. Sometimes we have to stop to argue things out. Sometimes our rowing is out of sync and rocks the boat.
But, overall, we are both less tired, can get through the calm and the rough stretches better, and have a better chance of getting where we want to go. It is also a lot more enjoyable.
When we see each other as equal partners, set goals and work toward them together, and lean on each other when life gets rough, our marriage is bound to be stronger, more interesting and more rewarding.
It can take a good bit of talking (and healthy arguing), and things will seem a bit out of sorts at times, but it is worth it.
Marriage is a relationship that requires the active, assertive, consistent, persistent and equal involvement of both spouses. That's a mouthful. Perhaps we ought to just stick to rowboats.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."