Everything I Know about Marriage I Learned on a Teeter-Totter

The playgrounds of my childhood always had two things to play on – a swing and a teeter-totter.

The teeter-totter was an extremely long board fitted perpendicular to a piece of large pipe that it pivoted on. The only way to hold on and ride it was to grip the sides of the board. The more advanced teeter-totters featured two pieces of pipe fashioned into a t-shape securely attached to the end. Those didn’t come into fashion until a few years later.

By today’s standards there was nothing safe about it. There were multiple ways to incur an injury. One of the favorite “tricks” to pull on someone was when they were up in the air and you were on the ground was to jump off and let them plummet to the hard-packed soil. No doubt this resulted in multiple spinal compression injuries. But no one paid attention to the pain because you were too busy chasing down the villainous perpetrator.

The teeter-totter also worked as a catapult. If you pushed off the ground with all your might and your friend on the other end braked hard when he touched the ground, no matter how tight your grip, you could be dislodged. Your trajectory resembled a broken-winged quail as you sailed across the playground, landing in a cloud of dust.

One of the problems involved the weight differential on each end. The twelve year old bully who was still in third grade required two to three classmates on the other end to counterbalance the board. If he pointed you out to come sit on the other end of the board, you were caught on the horns of a dilemma. If you refused, he’d beat you up. If you joined the other victims on the board, you knew he would eventually either catapult you or let you drop like heavy stones into a mangled heap of knees, elbows, and heads striking each other and the ground. And chasing him down to beat him up was out of the question.
Another challenge to riding a teeter-totter was climbing on it. Sometimes the pivot point was four feet off the ground. One person getting on was simple. Just sit down on the end resting on the ground. The puzzle was, how can you get your partner on the other end while it rests ten feet in the air?

You would have to push off the ground with all your might and your partner would have to jump as high as they could, hoping to grab the other end and climbing on board. If that failed, your partner would have to start at your end and walk the board toward the opposite end until the board slowly began leveling itself from the balance of weight.

What you needed to make the teeter-totter work perfectly was the perfect partner. My perfect partner was Jane Foote. (I can’t help that I was a ladies’ man at a young age.)

Jane and I were the exact same size. Her being a tomboy didn’t hurt either.

We could do a soft, rhythmical up and down, each one pushing off the ground with the same amount energy that had lifted them up a moment before. We could teeter-totter fast or we could teeter-totter slow.

One amazing feat we could perform was to make the board sit perfectly level, balanced on both ends.

We made, and kept, a promise to never jump off the teeter-totter when the other was at the apex. (There was one time I got mad at her for a paddling I received because I let her copy off my spelling test. During recess that day I tried to catapult her off the teeter-totter. The foolish reaction of a child!)

As simple as it may seem, marriage is much like a teeter-totter. While I’ll admit that the title of my article is hyperbole, there are some practical parallels that can be applied.

Just like the teeter-totters from my childhood, there is nothing safe about marriage. There are innumerable opportunities for injury, some self-inflicted and others perpetrated on us. Betrayal, neglect, abuse and affairs cause the most harmful injuries – a broken heart, a broken spirit and a broken mind.

The most important safeguard against being wounded by the marriage teeter-totter is finding that perfect partner, someone who brings balance to your life. Someone you can look at across the teeter-totter from a position of equality.

For a marriage to work, both people need to make a commitment to never bailing out (jumping off the teeter-totter) when the going gets tough.

We live in such a disposable society and commitments are treated much the same way. The prevailing attitude seems to be if there is something a person doesn’t like about their spouse, then divorce them and try again.

Who is the strongest person in a marriage? The simple answer is, the one who is not the weakest. In healthy marriages that is never the same person all the time. Sometimes I am strong. Sometimes I am weak. When I am the strong one, I need to be prepared to “lift” my wife. And when I am weak, I need to have confidence that my wife is going to “lift” me.

In Galatians 6:1 we have an interesting word picture of how to treat someone who needs help. The English phrase is “restore them gently.” The original Greek word that has been translated “restore” refers to putting a socket back in place, as in a dislocated shoulder. When our spouse needs our help because of them being “down,” we should approach them the same way we would want to be treated for a dislocated joint.

But let’s not forget the reason teeter-totters have been a staple of children’s play for hundreds of years – it’s fun to ride a teeter-totter!

That dizzying feeling in the pit of your stomach when you suddenly descend rapidly; the joy of watching and listening to your partner’s laughter; the skill it takes to create that balancing act when you are sitting level; the challenge of holding on through the bumps; the relaxing feeling of a gentle ride; the exhilaration of a rapid ride; the excitement of finding that perfect partner.

Marriage can provide the same types of thrills. It’s ok to be afraid of marriage, but don’t let that fear keep you away from the most exciting toy on the playground.

2 thoughts on “Everything I Know about Marriage I Learned on a Teeter-Totter

  1. This is really good and so true!! I never really looked at it like that and compared it to somthing but it really makes you think. Thank you for sharing it with me!!

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