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With care and flexibility, marriage can last a lifetime
By Ken Potts | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 7/27/2009 12:02 AM

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I took a suit to the tailor the other day. It just needed a couple of minor alterations (mostly in the pants, unfortunately) and I'd get more wear out of it.

You know, sometimes I think marriage is a lot like a good suit of clothes. With care and a few alterations now and then, they both can provide a lifetime of satisfaction.

For example, as we age we just naturally change. Our bodies get a bit larger here (as in my waist), a bit smaller there. We'll probably have to alter our clothes a bit to compensate.

Age changes us in other ways as well. As we grow older we see things differently, develop different values and goals, and have a different level of energy. So our marriages, too, will need to be altered to allow for such change.

Change will also take place around us. With clothing, for example, styles can sometimes dictate that we widen a lapel or lengthen a skirt.

In marriage, such factors as jobs, parenting responsibilities, illnesses and so on can make demands on us. Here, too, we may need to retailor our marriage to allow for the dictates of the world in which we live.

Of course, sometimes we make changes on our own. We like the new, the exciting. Perhaps we add a new tie or belt to our suit, just to enjoy the difference.

Our marriages also require a dose of newness and excitement now and then. Taking a class together, exploring a new hobby or sport, traveling - we need to initiate change in our marriages just for the fun of it.

Of course, we also have to keep change within limits. If we gain too much weight, our suit no longer fits. And some accessories just don't go with some outfits.

In marriage, if we take off in too many directions, especially without consulting our spouses first, we may find that our relationship no longer has room in it for the new wants, interests, etc., that we have cultivated. Or perhaps they just don't "go with" our marriage. Change in marriage, then, also must take into account the limits of our life together.

Of course, both our suits of clothes and our marriages require consistent attention and care. We can't just abuse and neglect a good suit - or a good marriage - and expect it to last for very long.

Sometimes, we may find that we no longer want a particular suit. We've just had it too long and feel we want something entirely new. Or perhaps it has had so many alterations that there is no tolerance or strength left for change.

Here's where our analogy breaks down. A marriage is not just a suit of clothes to be casually discarded at our own whim or convenience.

Marriage is perhaps the most powerful relationship we can ever experience. Even when our marriages end, a part of us remains forever bound to our "ex" spouse. For better or worse, marriage is in many ways eternal.

And that's why it is so important to treat our marriage with care, to respect its limits, yet also to allow for and encourage flexibility and change. Such a "tailor made" marriage can indeed provide a lifetime of satisfaction and joy.

• The Rev. Ken Potts is a pastoral counselor and marriage and family therapist with Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Centers, Naperville and Downers Grove. His book, "Take One A Day," can be ordered at local bookstores or online.