Mamie Baird Magnusson, a wonderful journalist and writer in her own right was married to the broadcaster Magnus Magnusson. Their daughter Sally Magnusson wrote a moving and powerful memoir that charts the story of a wife and mother’s journey to and with dementia. The book is called Where Memories Go (Why Dementia Changes Everything) – just buy it.
This excerpt is produced with kind permission. It’s the advice Mamie gave Sally just before she got married. It’s some of the best advice on marriage I’ve ever read…
Choosing to change your life, having the choice of abandoning the even tenor of your ways, the familiar rhythms, the self-oriented hopes and habits, for paths unknown.. a future directed by considerations other than your own comfort and ambition or peace of mind or even just the whims of the moment – ah, that is an agony to concentrate the mind, torment the soul and sorely prickle a sensitive skin.
Maybe that makes marriage sound like a terrible trial to be tackled with fortitude. It isn’t anything of the sort, but it is a new adventure, and any adventure worth its salt has the spice of danger, of risk, of treading unknown territory. There is only one immovable rule as far as I can see – each of you puts the other first in all considerations. It’s a great system. You just exchange egos. He looks after yours. You look after his. His whims are yours. Yours are his.
I know you think you haven’t the necessary patience, or selflessness, or whatever other virtues are required, that it just isn’t in your nature to be calm and self-sacrificing and you’ll spend the rest of your life coming out in lumps in an effort to fight against your true nature.
Piffle! Balderdash and poppycock! You are the kindest, most generous, loving and affectionate person anywhere. I’ve never known anyone swifter at coming back to say sorry – I usually reckon about twenty seconds before a contrite head appears round the door, and five minutes at the outside for the telephone to ring in penitence.
And you’ll be amazed at how time and practice can cut those times down until you find yourself apologising before you leave the room, or even – Heaven forfend and saints forbid! – some day in the far distant future you might actually desist from saying whatever it is you’re going to have to apologise for the next minute.
But that will happen gradually, with age and maturity. Don’t try to change yourself overnight. That man of yours doesn’t want to marry a saint. It’s you he loves, with all your impetuosity, flare-ups, deep glooms, gushes of affection and pangs of remorse. Don’t try to change your nature, or even think it needs changing. It’s you, the Sally we know and love. All that’s required is for you to make, not an emotional change, but a quiet mental decision to put his feelings first at all times, and for him to do the same.
It’s the good intent that counts, and that comes from the mind, and we all know the power of the mind. Nobody is going to tell me that it was natural maternal instinct or some basic biological stirring of the blood that made me get up at the crack of dawn for twenty years to feed people and see them off to work when body, mind and spirit craved sleep in quantities that only Jon and I can appreciate. I did it because I made up my mind I’d do it, and I thrived on it.
You could have put this step into marriage off. You could keep putting it off. You could opt out altogether from this most challenging of all realms of living, with its heights of joy, depths of despair, its demands on resources of character and personality hardly suspected and maybe never needed in any other walk of life. Many people get through life without taking this step. Many would have loved to do it and never got the chance. You were lucky to meet the right man at the right time, and you made your decision.
What happens on your wedding day is a piece of theatre. Of course you make your public vows, but they are no more important than the ones you make in private, and which you go on making, every day, every minute.
In fact if you could just promise to love, honour and cherish for a day at a time, renew your vow in your own mind every morning, or every minute if necessary, it would all add up to “till death do us part”. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just concentrate on today.”
Recently I was asked if I felt I was lucky. After some thought I said, yes… but I called it being blessed. Here’s one reason why.
Happy anniversary…to me!
Nine years ago I married my husband. The children called him Mr Genius Man because there’s very little he can’t do! I call him Lee.
Our wedding was such a beautiful day. It was a second marriage for us both, and we’ve both known the pain of vows gone wrong and rejection. So we took our vows even more seriously this time – and he has loved and cherished me every single day since. I am not on a pedestal, but I know how wonderful he thinks I am, and he quite simply makes me more than I ever thought I could be. What a gift.
But there’s more…
….because our vows were pretty special. Lee married me…and took on my four teenagers as part of a package. Four children? When I applied to one dating agency, that fact was met with silence and then a comment that it might be hard to find anyone….
But I did. The Universe gave me Lee – and he fell in love with me – and just started to love all four children too. We found a pastor who allowed us to make our own vows. So after Lee promised to love, cherish, honour me…he did exactly the same with each of my children, by name. I remember feeling such great love and emotion from the forty close friends and family that were there. And I remember standing with such joy as he did that, even as a wave of tears started behind us that just swept across the room. They knew Lee. They knew he would take this seriously. And he has. I am so lucky. We are so lucky. We are all, quite simply, blessed….
We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
― Joseph Campbell
Today, a tweet led me to an article called “16 ways I blew my marriage”:
Talking it over with friends later, they said you couldn’t just lose a marriage; it wasn’t like a soccer game (won by a stronger team) or a set of keys or a book (lost through carelessness).
But they were wrong. I know that you can lose any important relationship through carelessness; I also know that you can lose a marriage the same way. A marriage very rarely ends suddenly for no reason – it usually is death by a thousand knives, even if one of those knives is indifference. My first marriage officially ended when I left it for what I thought was the chance to be loved – but it had been dying for a long time.
It died through carelessness, when the person I was with forgot to cherish me and when they wanted me to be all that I wasn’t. I ended up trying very hard to be the someone my husband wanted me to be; and that had already had a shape and a name. He had found a friend, a soulmate, he called her while maintaining she was only ever a friend, who took over our lives and suffocated our marriage. He travelled a lot on business and would bring me home a present most times – but he always brought her one home too. He cooked fish pies and made little cakes for us – but always set aside some for her. He asked me why I couldn’t be like her, or dress like her or act like her – and I tortured myself asking why I couldn’t, while desperately trying to do what was asked, until I was exhausted being someone else.
They were dark days when I did not know I could dare to be happier. I stayed because my culture required it, because my beliefs insisted on it, even if those beliefs were sometimes second hand beliefs. With four small children, and a part time job, I kept spiralling down to a place where I could see no options and found I had lost my voice and become invisible. What could be seen brought envy from those who could not see – a beautiful mortgage-free house, £80k in the bank, a part time job and a busy social life. They could not see because I hid my heartache from all who knew me, and I hid myself by wearing ten ton masks of family life and hostess.
Living in a state of almost constant fear and anxiety, I lost myself. I lost hope in a place where I could see no options,where I shut my feelings down because that was less painful than knowing how they felt. I forgot what it was to be loved and could not dare to love myself, but when someone indicated that I might actually be a living, breathing woman, I leapt towards that spark of hope. In the process, I lost many many friends and much more. The leap was so vast it shook me so deeply that it would take almost a year before I could read more than a paragraph in a book again.
Louise Hay says that all that we do is driven by fear or love; I know this is true. I regret the way the marriage ended, and I regret that I stayed so long – yet I cannot fully regret this, because it forced me down the path that led me to my life today. That quote from Joseph Campbell is one of my favourites because I know the truth of it. I don’t know if I was willing to let go, but the letting go of the life I’d planned brought me to where I am now, with a life full of gratitude.
It’s a place where I dare to be happier! I’ve been surprised to find out what I might be capable of. I am blessed with a home that’s a haven, a great career, a part time coaching and training role. Where I’m surrounded by so many dear true friends, spiritual teachers and Anam Caras. My children have grown up and with their support I learned to swim, not sink, sometimes because I absolutely needed to provide for them, as I got so little financial support from their dad. They are as proud of me as I am of them.
In daring to be happier, I have had to make daily choices about how I think and what I do. In living authentically,I have learned from my mistakes – and I have learned to love and nurture myself and find my voice.
I have also learned that all I can ever be is me, and that’s just perfect. I have dusted myself off and polished myself up, and allowed myself (sometimes at least) to shine bright like a diamond. Diamonds come from ashes after all. I will not ever stand on a pedestal again, or allow others to put me there. I know too well how human I am – but as a human being, I long to be seen and loved for exactly who I am; we can ask for no more. To be loved carefully, to be cherished. Though I’ve known great pain and darkness in my life, I found that daring to be happier again brought all sorts of adventures.
It also brought me a special kind of love, perhaps because my now husband (Lee) is a very special kind of man. As I write this, he is away for a long weekend pursuing one of his hobbies – but I know he is thinking about me often. I know he loves and cherishes me because he will organise little gifts,and he texts and calls me when he is away, touching base little and often. Some people may not appreciate that, or find it corny; I am grateful from the bottom of my heart. Yesterday, I put my hand in my jacket pocket and found a small bar of my favourite chocolate waiting for me. Today, I got into my car and there was a beautiful winter plant sitting smiling at me. When I saw it, I burst into tears. Happiness Virus tears, he said to me later. Yes; these were good tears. Tears because I am loved for who I am and all that I could be. He will not lose our marriage through carelessness.