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.