Finding the Angle of Repose in Marriage, Part I

angle of repose

Have you been in a Target or a CVS lately? Have you been in any store lately?

If so, you’ve encountered the onslaught of red and pink bags of candy, the Valentines, and other related trinkets greeting you as soon as you walk through the door.

Seasonal holiday displays have risen to a new height in my lifetime. A person could literally redecorate her house every couple of months based on the upcoming holiday.

Last weekend, while shopping in one store, I noticed anything Valentine-related at the front of the store, and lurking at the back was anything Easter-related. When midnight strikes on Wednesday, the store fairies will work their magic, moving the Easter baskets et al to the front, beginning the cycle all over again.

This year will mark the thirtieth Valentine’s Day that Brad and I have celebrated together. Three of them dating; the rest as a married couple. There’s been the requisite flowers, the chocolate, the occasional bottle of perfume or small piece of jewelry over the years.

When the kids were young and I longed for a date night, Valentine’s Day was a much bigger deal for me. I have fond memories of some dinners out and trips to downtown Chicago just the two of us.

Earlier in the week, I told Brad all I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a cupcake or a fancy dessert from the local bakery that we could share. We leave for England in less than a week and I would much rather save our money for our trip than on a card or flowers. A very different request from what I would have said ten years ago.

The Valentine displays in the store reminded me of a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while: marriage—my own, and marriage in general. Not in an ominous sort of way, though.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the new year puts me in reflective mood. Seeing the cards and candy in the stores pushed this topic to the front of my mind again.

A number of years ago I read Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Angle of Repose. At over 600 pages, the book recounts the life of Oliver and Susan Ward as told by their grandson Lyman Ward.

Susan gives up her cultured life in the East to follow her husband West as he works as a mine engineer. Setting up a home in primitive conditions is hard and takes huge amounts of work. However, Susan enjoys her life in the West and the reader catches glimpses of a deepening love between the couple.

Inevitably, difficulties begin to arise in the marriage. The marital bond suffers and one spouse refuses to forgive the other for unfaithfulness.

In case you didn’t know, the term angle of repose is actually an engineering term, referring to “the angle of maximum slope at which a heap of any loose solid material (as earth) will stand without sliding.” This angle serves as a metaphor for the Ward’s marriage.

Some of you know I married young. I was 20; Brad was 23. We knew we loved God and each other, but we had much to learn about ourselves. I grew up in my twenties and so did he. Both of us would say we are different individuals than the ones who fell in love almost thirty years ago.

Throughout these years, we’ve had to learn how to flex and to bend to keep the other from sliding as the terrain changes. Together, we have created an angle that supports and holds the other person.

At times, this has meant releasing goals or plans for the time being (easier said than done). It has meant that for some seasons of life, one partner does more of the supporting, holding off a long-held dream or waiting to pursue certain opportunities.

As I have reflected on this metaphor in my marriage, I have identified three areas that have required us to adjust and recalibrate our angle of repose repeatedly over the years.

In part two of this post, I’ll share those areas and delve into them more deeply.

In the meantime, may you find moments this week to communicate your love and appreciation for those who are dear to you.

If you have read Angle of Repose, what did you think?


About aliciabrummeler

Writer, teacher, wife and mother. Lover of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
This entry was posted in Books to Read, Marriage and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Finding the Angle of Repose in Marriage, Part I

  1. Lindsey says:

    Angle of Repose was one of the novels I picked up one year at LOCS when we did a summer book swap in the teacher lounge on the last day of school. 🙂 I remember thinking, based on the title, that Susan would find contentment and peace in her marriage at last, but when the novel was over I thought it felt less like contentment and more like resignation. It was a more melancholy conclusion than I had expected. What do you think?


    • alwaysorange says:

      I miss our LOCS days!

      I agree with you. The book wasn’t the easiest of reads for me. I felt the same way at the end. It felt like the angle of repose became fixed for the Wards, rather than fluid. I’m glad I read the book, though.


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