You'll recall me telling you all recently of a couple who are now separated almost 2 years to the day of their wedding. Again, both are Christians. I point this out, because some will have us believe that Christian marriages are somehow more blessed (a few even think that ONLY Christians are truly married in the eyes of the Almighty). Anyway, Mr. Free and I, along with another married couple, had dinner with the female half of this couple who is now legally separated.
At dinner, she opened up to us about some of the reasons why she has moved out of her home. While she would like to reconcile, it didn't sound like that was gonna happen any time soon without serious Divine intervention. According to her, she left because her husband had taken to calling her profane names and meeting his "buddies" for coffee at all hours of the evening, without her, and on a regular basis. She also talked about his family always being at their home who she has to constantly wait on even while she was recovering from a very serious surgery last year and his verbal disrespect of her taking place in front of his family. Apparently, all of these behaviors surfaced after he lost his job awhile back and have escalated into a full scale and constant battle between the two of them. Unfortunately, she is in counseling, but he refuses to attend and refuses to admit that any of this is his fault. Basically, she should make all of the changes as he calls all the shots (and names).
For the record, this woman isn't really the type of chick to suffer in silence either. Although the bible states that a husband is won over by a wife's meekness, I'm not sure meek is in her vocabulary when it comes to this type of behavior. You'll recall, too, that her cousin was just murdered by her husband a little better than 2 weeks ago (in fact, she was just home from the funeral when we had dinner together), so she's really not in the most tolerant mood when it comes to her husband's sudden Dr. Jekyll transformation (or is it Dr. Hyde?).
So, the other couple, Mr. Free and myself did our best at convincing her that their issues can be worked out. I think it helped a little to hear that each of us have had our own issues in our marriages and have learned how to clearly establish and teach healthy boundaries, but that it wasn't an overnight process. Regardless, however, none of us has thrown in the towel. We've had to ride some things out even for years before we've relented to better ways of being. The 4 of us spent a few hours listening, suggesting and then listening some more as this woman has much that is burdening her heart. We continue to pray for her and her husband's repentance and reconciliation and I'll keep you posted on their progress.
One thing that really stood out to me in our conversation with her was that she said that she really didn't feel she was ever truly married. Now, I was at their wedding (and it was a beautiful occasion!), but throughout all of the fanfare, the vows, the witnesses, the blessings, she said that she never felt that her husband left his mother and cleaved unto her and she doesn't believe they ever became one. I think this was the first time that I'd ever heard a Christian who'd gone through all of the legal steps of secular marriage say that they still didn't believe they were married in the true sense of the word. I found this admission quite interesting. I've since wanted to ask her if she felt this way during the good times or if she was simply realizing this in retrospect (hard times have a way of adjusting our vision sometimes). They say that hindsight is 20/20.
The point of mentioning all of this, however, is to point out that marriage is not a perfect state of being. It is an ever changing situation and one that takes a lot of constant effort to maintain. In this day and age, many of us didn't grow up with strong examples of happy marriages. Heck, many of us didn't even grow up with examples of unhealthy marriages. Marriage just didn't exist, period, in a lot of our experiences. How are we then to learn how to even be married?
I asked my idealistic 18 year old, if he personally knew any married couples that he felt he could learn from and emulate when he eventually marries. He made reference to Mr. Free and I, but we were honest in pointing out that, though we're on the right track now and it's a blessing that he's experiencing our transformation, it might not be the best idea to go about things the way that we did. For about the first 12 years of our relationship, it was a rocky, ROCKY road between us. Sure, we hung in there and for the last 4 years or so, with a lot of repentance and a ton of work, things have been on a constant upswing, but we did everything bass ackwards in the beginning because we didn't know the first thing about relationships or marriage when we first got together. We had no role models or direction and we were both very self-centered instead of Christ centered and then spouse centered. So, while we had to gently remind him not to go about things the way that we did, we asked him if there was anyone else, besides the new and improved us (lol), that he felt he could look to and learn a thing or 2 from. After much thought, he couldn't think of a single marriage he'd want to emulate. How sad is that? He knows many married couples (both in his own family and all of his friend's parents are married too), but not one that he feels is a strong example of marriage.
I've asked this question many times of other people of all ages too and have received similar replies. For those who do know married couples, they're quick to admit that they don't know any that seem special or that stand out as role models for the institution. So, why, in this society, do we continue to get married if it doesn't seem to be a blissfully happy, peaceful state of being? Some will say that we do it for the children. But with more and more children being raised in single parent homes or homes where there's constant strife between their parents, obviously the strategy of doing it for our children isn't working. Others will say that we do it because it's the right thing to do. Okay, so if it's the right thing to do, why do we abandon it so easily and quickly? I'm not suggesting that divorced couples don't give their best efforts at making it work, but the sad fact is that no matter what they do, they've still managed to come up short and end up in divorce court anyway.
So why do we marry? If more than 50% end up divorced, doing the single parent thing or live out miserable existences just to say that they're still married, what's the point?
Now, lest anyone get the wrong idea, I'm 100% pro-marriage. I think it's the most honorable institution around. It is the most blessed of unions and it is definitely the Almighty's intention for men and women. I'm just asking questions here and would like us to really think about why we do what we do if we're ill-equipped to make it last.
According to my son, we do it because we're in love and love will conquer all. Sound familiar? Ask any divorced couple you know why they married or if they shared similar sentiments and ask them how far these ideals got them. I don't question this to be negative, just to point out that many start out with the same ideal, but, sadly, end up in the same divorced state.
My thoughts are that we do it because we're taught that it's the right thing to do when we're in love. When we're in that state of mind, we also tend to think that we can conquer anything together and that these feelings will last forever. Then, when unforeseen rough times hit (as they ALWAYS do), we're at a loss to figure out how to get that loving feeling back and how to move forward as one. In my own experiences with this, I've learned that you have to hang in there even when you're not "in love" and find new ways to fall back in love with your spouse. This cannot be done alone, however. Without Christ at the center of your marriage, I seriously doubt any lasting positive change can take root and flourish.
I've also learned that the D word has to be permanently stricken from our married vocabularies. And, since it's not an option, my personal opinion is that, unless you want to live a miserable existence until death parts you, it's best to learn ways to work on happiness together. Divorce being completely off the table, forces you to look at alternative ways of finding peace...and alternative ways DO exist and they can last for a lifetime.
In the meantime, I continue to question, to study, to pray for the state of marriage overall. And, whether you're contemplating marriage in the future, whether you're at a crossroads in your own marriage now or whether you're just about to step out of your marriage and go your own way, I hope you'll question, study and pray on the institution too. There's much to see and much to learn when we deal realistically with all that marriage entails. It's not a fairy-tale folks, but with proper consideration and care, it truly can be the best thing to ever happen to you.