Are We Free to Choose Outcome of Our Marriage – And Our Lives?

Published September 6, 1990. BYU Education Week is now over, and I must say I enjoyed the experience. I led eight discussions on topics relating to marriage. The audiences were attentive and well-informed.

The one topic that seemed to generate the most discussion was on the second day titled “Determining the Future of Our Marriage.” It was about agency, suggesting that, within some limitations, we can determine the future or outcome of our own marriage.

We talked about trends and things that have great impact on human behavior today. Among those mentioned were television and other forms of media, peers, family of origin, birth order, drugs (prescribed and non-prescribed), previous experiences, hereditary conditions, and overall health in general.

Some attending my Education Week classes felt that their lives, and subsequently their marriages, were being determined by forces beyond themselves. To some degree that may be true.  But the point I tried to make was that all of us have far more input toward our own behavior than we may realize. Consequently, we have more influence on our own destinies than we may think.

Not everyone attending my lectures agreed. I gave many quotes suggesting we are, within limits, free to choose our own behavior and the attendant consequences. One woman brought up child abuse and/or molestation. She wondered, appropriately, how much influence child abuse would have on the behavior of the child when he/she grew to adulthood. Another man suggested that children and adults who live with or around alcoholics are not always free to choose their behavior as adults. I agreed that these are traumatic experiences, which can be underestimated as factors influencing behavior later in life.

But I still believe, as do others, that most of us do not exercise all the available options to determine our own destinies.

Robert Fulghum, author and lecturer, tells of an experience he had at the Hong Kong airport in the summer of 1984. He was sitting by a young coed from America. She had long hair and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Nearby was her backpack, bulging with mysterious souvenirs.

But Fulgham also noted she was sobbing. She was supposed to return to the United States and was low on money. The young woman had waited in the Hong Kong airport on standby for two days, so she could purchase a less expensive ticket with the few dollars she had remaining.

The plane was soon to depart, and the young woman had lost her ticket. She had sat in the same spot for nearly two hours, crying and fretting over her misfortune. Between sobs she explained her predicament to Fulghum, who desperately tried to calm her. He and an older couple from Chicago offered to help her contact the airlines to see if anything could be done. She agreed and stood up to gather her belongings.

And then she screamed. She found her ticket! For three hours she had been grieving and crying, while sitting on her airplane ticket. Fortunately, they all were able to board the plane on time, and they celebrated all the way back on the flight to the United States.

Of the incident, Fulghum notes: “I’ve told the story countless times. ‘She was sitting on her own ticket.’ Listeners always laugh in painful self-recognition. Often when I have been sitting on my own ticket in some way – sitting on whatever it is I have that will get me up and on to what comes next – I think of the young woman and grin at both of us and get moving.”

May we all, married and otherwise, discover our tickets and arrive wherever it is we have chosen to go.

Are we free to choose the outcome of our marriage, or life? Are we sitting on our own tickets? I’d like to hear from you.

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