Trial by Error – Chaos Theory and Marriage

 In The Marriage Paradigm

Trial by Error – Chaos Theory and Marriage in Marriage Conversation

We all seem to long for a template – a clear outline by which we can run a war, build an educational system or pay our bills. And we are mostly disappointed when the unexpected derails our plans, sabotages our hopes or stunts our success. Perhaps Shakespeare quoted by Faulkner in the Sound and the Fury wasn’t exactly right when he said “life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing” but some days he is close.

I was thinking these thoughts on a recent bike ride through the farm country here in Ventura County when a tractor trailer nearly ran me off the road. Perhaps he was an agent of chaos, or perhaps he dozed off. Maybe the low setting sun got to him. Whatever it was I was in the unique position of having to adjust quickly to this ‘simple twist of fate.’

My thoughts of course went to marriage. I’ve been putting my vision for successful, vital marriages down and recently published the first volume of With These Rings. The second volume is close but I’m having trouble finishing it. Maybe I want it to be neat, simple, and certain and I know it can’t be. At least my marriage isn’t. What we get to do is embark. We get to actually leave the location, the place we were at, and begin to head towards a place or places we’ve never been. This embarking is called a wedding, though few weddings actually honor either the departure or the journeys to come.

Weddings tend to get us stuck – the enchantment of a party – in thinking that’s all there is to getting married. We are experts at giving large parties not so good at departures or even at imagining what the couple will need for the trip. So the wedding comes and goes and the couple usually feels a huge let down – a matrimonial post partum – and then they wonder what it’s all about.

It’s about a journey, actually three journeys within the journey, and the road ahead is far from certain. So, as I fought to maintain my balance in the wind storm of the truck’s wake, I began thinking about the many times my marriage was nearly blown off the road. Sickness can do it, job change, moving, children leaving home, children coming back home, unexpected pregnancy, aging… and on and on. Like the cup in the coffee shop back home said “when you’re up to your elbows in alligators it’s hard to remember you started out to clean the swamp.”

With These Rings offers a roadmap but not your roadmap. It offers guidelines and ways to think about communication and conflict and it will give you a sense of the kinds of roads you’ll have to travel to be successful. It will even suggest some tools and equipment to take on your own journey but it will not give you the future.

The future is the tale told retrospectively. Telling it from the perspective of a look backward may make the journey seem less frightening, the story less compelling, the truck less threatening than it actually was. We talk of marriage as journey because it is the closest image we have to capturing the adventure. And to capture it as a journey is to warn of its inevitable surprises – severe turns of the weather, unexpected visitors, new terrain and unimaginable challenges. But it is a journey worth taking and becoming familiar with the different kinds of journeys within that journey helps orient us, like a compass pointing “look over there” or the night sky beckoning with its ageless directions.

Those of us fully engaged in the marriage conversation are learners, willing to listen to this partner we chose, willing too to embrace the necessary conflict that comes with exploration, discovery and revelation. Our two journeys come together, veer off, resonate as we tool down roads unknown and never before traveled. It’s not so much a life time commitment as it is the journey of a lifetime revealing depth of commitment.

With These Rings Vol.I is available through your local bookstore or at or You can also order it through

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