Toward Commitment: A Dialogue About Marriage

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9780375414305: Toward Commitment: A Dialogue About Marriage
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With extraordinary candor and generosity, Diane Rehm, the nationally known Public Radio broadcaster, and her lawyer husband, John, open up for the reader their marriage of forty-two years, revealing the strong and passionate bond between them as well as the conflicts and turmoils that can overtake a relationship. In a series of highly charged dialogues, they grapple with their pronounced differences of background, attitude, and expectation, so that we actually watch them working to understand each other and themselves, and to resolve issues that even after their decades together have remained hurtful and destructive.

Their book is divided into twenty-six chapters, each centered on a difficult and important issue: the expression or repression of anger; strong disagreements about money, about family, about religion, about raising children; temperamental differences—she gregarious, he a loner; the complexities of sexual relationships, and the dangers of sexual estrangement and of the intrusion of a third person into a marriage; challenges arising from professional conflicts, from retirement, from aging, from illness.

What makes Toward Commitment so fascinating is the opportunity to overhear a husband and wife bravely anatomizing their relationship and confronting their points of discord. What makes it so extraordinary—and so valuable—is their total honesty. These perceptive and searching discussions will resonate with any two people who care enough about each other to reach painfully deep inside themselves in order to resolve their difficulties and emerge closer than ever.

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About the Author:

Diane Rehm has hosted The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington, D.C., since 1979. Currently it is broadcast to approximately sixty cities across the country, as well as internationally by the Armed Forces Radio Network. John B. Rehm, a highly successful Washington lawyer, both for government and in private practice, has recently retired. John and Diane Rehm live in Bethesda, Maryland.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Assumptions and Expectations

John


Looking back to the time before our wedding in December 1959, I am shocked by the naïveté of the assumptions I held about the experience we call marriage. In the ardor of intimacy, sexual and otherwise, I gave little thought to what lay ahead. I assumed that children, in some indeterminate number, would come, and that a family would emerge therefrom. I further assumed that, as a hardworking and ambitious young lawyer, I would see my income steadily rise and come to afford a decent standard of living. Most tellingly, I assumed that Diane and I would establish a mutually rewarding relationship, with no special efforts by, or demands upon, me. In short, the way we lived together in the first year of our marriage, before our son, David, arrived, would, in some deterministic fashion, serve as the model for our coexistence thereafter.

These assumptions concealed deep and even dark questions that I would be forced to face in later years, especially in therapy. How would I deal with my strong inclination at times to be alone and withdraw from others?

How would I become sensitive to Diane's need for intimacy beyond sexual gratification? How would I achieve a reasonable balance between the conflicting demands of family and profession? Above all, how would I learn enough about myself to develop into a warm and understanding husband and father?

In short, coasting on easy assumptions, I failed to articulate--to myself and others--any realistic expectations about the many facets of marriage. Unlike assumptions, expectations lend themselves to discussion with the other partner, and thereby to adjustment and accommodation. Assumptions, which by nature tend to be concealed and static, are traps that I fell into. Expectations, on the other hand, can serve as a foundation for a dynamic relationship. At the time, however, it never occurred to me to share my expectations with Diane.

In the absence of articulated and shared expectations, I--and we--blundered upon important truths about ourselves. This process of trial and error proved to be inefficient and emotionally costly. In time, therapy proved to offer a far better way of identifying problems and trying to attack them. At the very least, therapy gave me the support and guidance I needed to become a constructive partner in our marriage. But I am struck by the price we paid for the ignorance with which I entered into our relationship.

Diane

Having been married once before, I did come to our marriage with both assumptions and expectations. My first assumption was that this marriage was forever. I vowed to myself that divorce would never again be a factor in my life. I assumed I had learned enough about myself--and how to live with another person--through that failure, that I would be a perfect partner to John. After all, I told myself, I was no longer the same person who had married at nineteen. I was now a "mature" twenty-three. I had lost my parents. I had successfully lived on my own for the first time in my life. I had virtually separated myself from my community of origin here in Washington. I assumed that, because of those experiences, I had become a wiser, more independent person.

John and I enjoyed a wonderful romance, what every young woman dreams of. He was warm, sweet, kind, and attentive. On one of our very first dinner dates, I developed a terrible stomachache, perhaps a result of nervousness at being with the first man I'd dated since the divorce. I was embarrassed, but to my total surprise, John exhibited a kindness and caring I'd never before experienced, even from my own parents.

We went to concerts, to plays, to art galleries, to movies. We went on long walks, talking constantly, glancing at each other, shyly kissing for the first time in the boxwood gardens at the home of George Mason. We loved taking long drives into the countryside and then going out for pizza and wine at Luigi's, talking with each other about our dreams, our fantasies, our attraction to each other. In vino veritas, John said to me, and then had to translate.

I naively believed I understood how to deal with tensions in personal relationships because I had undergone a three-year marriage and the trauma of divorce. So much of what my ex-husband and I brought to our marriage was based on similarities: culture, language, status. Our families knew one another, we came from the same community, we enjoyed the same foods, we understood our heritage. There were good times, of course. For the most part, however, those good times were not spent by ourselves, but rather when we were with friends, sharing laughter and good food.

When the breakup came, after the death of my parents, I knew in my heart that, as much as leaving my husband, I wanted to leave that very same community which had surrounded me for my whole life. I yearned for freedom from the familiar, and my search--both internal and external--was leading me in directions I sensed would allow me to experience that freedom.

When John Rehm came into my life, I believed that he represented all of those "new directions" I was seeking but unable to articulate: a broad worldly outlook, sophistication in music and art, and sensitivity to each and every aspect of my mood, my tone, my actions. When he finally came around to proposing (and writing it down!) I accepted because I knew marriage to John would bring with it an entrée into "the world" that I had never before experienced.

Of course, I also saw in John a tendency to withdraw, to separate himself from me, to "close down." However, I convinced myself that whatever the causes of such episodes--lasting moments or hours--they would magically disappear if we were married. He was, to my eyes, perfect.
Dialogue on Assumptions and Expectations

Diane: The whole question of marriage revolves around assumptions and expectations. I was twenty-two, you were twenty-nine, and we never talked about such ideas. I don't know how that might have affected how we behaved toward each other. What do you think?

John: Well, I think it would've made for an easier relationship, because we would have shared plans, shared commitments, a sense of where both parties were going, instead of making up the decisions as we went along. I think it would have been a more stable foundation for a marriage.

Diane: But you had this whole external set of expectations. Number one, that you would be "in charge" of the family. Number two, that you would be the breadwinner. Number three, that I would take care of the household and the children. And, of course, I shared those expectations. Mine were no different from yours. The area where we differed was in our internal lives: how much I expected you to be a partner to me, and how much you expected to be solitary. That's where the expectations and the anticipations differed.

John: Yes, I agree, and that's where I think the expectations move into the trickier realm that I call assumptions, because the expectations you've just mentioned rested upon my own personality, which had never been tested, because I'd never lived with anybody else before. It took some years for me to gain at least some understanding of who I was in that respect, and that's of course where therapy helped. So it's particularly the area of assumptions, unstated assumptions of which we're largely ignorant, that I think was the most troublesome aspect of our marriage.

Diane: Beyond that, because I did not understand your unstated need, the first year after David was born, you assumed that we were not going to make it. You said to me at that point, do you remember, "I'm not sure we've made the right marriage."

John: I don't recall the specific instance, but I'm not surprised, because for me, how shall I say it, this marriage was a brand-new, unforeseen test of who I was and how I could get along with others. That need had never arisen in my life before. My parents were happy to have me lead a solitary life if that's what I wanted and to follow that course for the rest of my life.

Diane: But why did you get married in the first place then?

John: Good question. Sexual desire was, without question, a powerful motive.

Diane: But you could've had sexual relations with other women.

John: That's certainly true. But somewhere in me, obviously, there was a desire for a more permanent commitment, something I could count on, and I suppose that's another one of the unstated assumptions, lurking below the surface, that I made. In a sense, though paradoxical, I needed some degree of security as well as, within that security, the freedom to be on my own. That's quite a tension.

Diane: And that's where we got into trouble. Because you had the security of coming home to me every single night, or, as the need arose, you said, "I have to work. I have to work six days a week. I have to work seven days a week." So that I was left thinking and feeling, Well, my God, where is he in this marriage? And your excuse was always work!

John: You've put your finger on it. I was both in and out of the marriage at the same time. Or that's what I wanted, to be in and out of the marriage at my choosing. So that, when I wanted to, I would have a companion, beautiful, sexually attractive. At other times I would leave the house, primarily through work, but in other ways as well, as they occurred to me.

Diane: Do you think other young men behave in similar ways? Do you think you're that different from other young men, not only of your generation but of this generation?

John: Well, not that different, though I may be a bit farther along the spectrum. As you and I have discussed before, I am convinced that there's something in the male psyche which does make it difficult to make that commitment. Our literature, culture, movies, are full of instances where young men are dragged into marriage, on the one hand thinking that it's wh...

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