Sep 242013

kisssmallOne of the most glorious naïvetés of my adulthood was how I thought—hoped—Generation X would approach divorce.

Our parents were the first generation who divorced without significant social stigma, so they did it a lot. We, their children, got a good, solid look at more broken homes and stepfamilies than anyone previously had. I thought that would make us more careful. I thought we’d be more hesitant to marry. I thought we’d work harder to stay married when things got rocky.

And oh, rainbows, unicorns, and candy for everyone.

We aren’t any better at staying married than our parents were. In fact, we’ve made the whole thing worse. If our parents’ greatest contribution to the destruction of marriage was the ubiquity of no-fault divorce, then maybe ours is the destigmatization of children outside wedlock. Whatever the case, we’re certainly not burnishing the institution, are we?

Several years ago I enjoyed listening to Dr. Laura at work. I don’t have satellite radio, so I don’t hear her anymore. I didn’t listen every day then, because let’s face it, a big part of her shtick is being unbelievably irritating, and that’s only so much fun day after day.

One thing she had very correct was her approach to bumps in the marital road. When someone called her with marital problems, her basic attitude was:  has your spouse fundamentally changed? Or is s/he essentially the same person you married? If the latter, then guess what? You have work to do. Be about it.

“Be about it” means going to your spouse and opening the discussion as soon as you’re sure it’s a problem (whatever it is). Open the relief valve as soon as there is pressure. Don’t watch with morbid fascination to see what it can withstand.

One of the most depressing things I ever heard our pastor say was about the nature of couples looking for his help when things got rocky. He said they generally waited much too long to call him. By the time they were sitting in front of him, they were quite done. They wanted him to hold their hands while they got divorced, not try to save their union.

Marriage is forever. It is your reality, your world view, your paradigm. There is no Plan B. You promised him/her. You probably promised God. If it’s the fabric of your entire earthly existence—and it is—then tend to its health daily.

Fireproof doesn’t mean the fire will never come. It means when the fire comes that you will be able to withstand it. – Ken Bevel as Michael Simmons, Fireproof

Now that is a sweet and sincere Christian movie, but even if you’re not Christian, that’s as rock-solid a maxim as there is. You’re not going to avoid trouble altogether, so steel yourselves for it. When you’re certain it has arrived, don’t marinate in it. Talk.

So what is a good reason to bail? After all, some marriages do need to end. I appreciate that. I used to think that anyone who cheated was issuing his/her spouse a license to walk. I still think it’s enough in a lot of cases. Abuse? Yes, if you’re being terrorized in your own home, you need out. Addiction? That can do it too.

I think the key in any case is penitence (or lack thereof). If you cheat on your wife, but then throw yourself at her feet and beg for her forgiveness, and your walk matches your talk, you can put it back together. It will almost certainly scar, but it need not bleed forever. If you’re serious about an alcohol treatment program and demonstrate consistent sincerity in completing it, as well as following up with counseling, you can put it back together.

People do still make large mistakes and genuinely repent. You’re not a sap for allowing that possibility.

On the subject of allowing that possibility, and leaving it on the mat trying to save your marriage:  if you have children, then you have to. Choosing to break the home of a person you and your spouse chose to make exist is an exceptionally grave decision, and you should exhaust yourselves completely trying to avoid it.

My older son asked me not long ago what it was like to have a stepmother. I told him not to worry about it, because he’d never have one. I’m pretty confident in the strength of our marriage, and if something unthinkable happened to Lea, I believe that I would choose to be alone until both boys were grown.

A blended family certainly can succeed, and I’m not unequivocally claiming otherwise. But have your eyes open on this:  even when a blended family goes as well as it possibly can, it’s considerably harder. There are insecurities and emotional minefields present with no good resolutions. She is not your child’s mother. He is not your child’s father. You cannot simply declare otherwise into being.

If you break your home and amalgamate another one, your children will never be the same. Do you have a situation poor enough to warrant that risk?

In my long and consistent observation, nothing so reliably brings out the worst in someone as divorce. If there’s nastiness in there anywhere, then divorce will bring it out.

So do something original and unexpected—for yourselves and your children.

Stay married.

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  4 Responses to “ On Marriage, Part VII: The Scorched Earth of Divorce”

  1. I believe this starts at the beginning. I was a partner for a summer for a wedding photographer one summer in Huntsville. In the course of viewing 86 weddings that summer I can say confidently that two of them were prepared for marriage. I would guess twenty years later, those two couples would still be married today. IMHO – it starts with making sure and taking the time to pick the right partner to begin with, staying committed to your vows before God and put in the work. Do not make your children your only commonality, but make time to continue to date each other. Every year take the time to write a one page letter on why you feel in love with your partner and why you chose to get married and what you appreciate new in your relationship from the previous year.

  2. Julie, continuing to date each other is key.

    Something my friend Christy pointed out on Facebook that I wish I’d mentioned is that vague complaints of being “unhappy,” as a primary reason for discord, tend to be highly suspect. That’s a yellow light that says REENGAGE on it flashing, not a red one that says CHEAT or LEAVE.

  3. I agree with you for the most part. I think divorce has its place, and when it’s needed, it’s needed. I’m happy that no-fault divorces exist because, prior to them, you had to PROVE your spouse was cheating or what-not and women, on the whole, got screwed by that system. Also, as someone with a lot of abusive relationships in her family, making someone who is abused FIGHT to leave is not going to help….er getting off track here. Anyway, for cases where divorce is necessary, having a no-fault divorce helps that process be less expensive, less life wrecking, and generally cause less fallout. Which can be a good thing.

    That said, I absolutely agree that in the absence of serious issues, people need to put in some effort. I think there are a lot of reasons people don’t (no role models and no idea why what they are doing is wrong, immaturity, mental health issues, picking the wrong partner, etc, etc.) It’s always amazing to me that what seems like common sense to me (ex: Don’t speak ill of your spouse to others or they will think ill of your spouse and pressure you to leave) is not.

  4. MrsDragon, that is an excellent counterpoint. I think “we can always get a divorce,” consciously imagined or not, is a primary cause of the mess we’re in. But I’m right there with you in it being an asset to some who might not have had the power otherwise to get out of bad situations.

    (And I’ve said this before: I’m not sure I believe in a literal fire-and-brimstone hell, but if it exists, I hope it’s absolutely stuffed with men who terrorized women in their own homes. Every time I’m around someone I either know or strongly suspect has hit a woman, I just want to punch him in the face without warning.)

    As I said on FB, I decided to do this series mostly because I wanted it out there for consideration. If it happens to hit someone without role models, or an immature person, or whatever in time to avoid a mistake, or in time to salvage a situation, then it’s a good thing.

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