This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.
Myth #4: “Forever is a long freaking time.”
Depending on your perspective, forever can be an excruciatingly long time. No one wants to live forever in misery. Although, I would suggest that for most relationships, the very notion of “forever” was originally seen as “not long enough.” Most romanticized spending their lives together, forever. And let’s face it, the euphoria of young love is intoxicating. Staying in that place forever sounds pretty awesome.
People often marry thinking that the love they share will outlast time, and that this love will conquer the greatest of challenges. We marry under the auspice that time will not assail the relationship. Until unresolved conflict begins to grow the weeds of resentment, couples can continue with the fantasy that time is their ally.
Several years ago a couple sat on my couch to talk through some issues that threatened their relationship. They were to be married in 9 months when they came to see me. The woman was extremely anxious about their upcoming marriage. The man sat next to her convinced that the issues they faced were no big deal. He kept telling his finance’ not to worry, that everything would be ok. His responses had the opposite impact on her that he wanted. She actually got more afraid of marrying him. At one point in the session I interrupted him and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t tell her not to worry. That is not the reality of the culture we live in.”
I told him that because divorce ends over half of all marriages, telling his finance’ not to worry was like telling someone that sharks are swimming near the beach but it’s ok to get into the water. Sharks are dangerous and telling someone not to worry about a clear and imminent threat would be foolish and unloving. Yes they loved each other, but love won’t save someone from an attack in shark infested waters.
Because of divorce, our culture believes forever might be too long, so let’s hedge our bets. Relationships formed in this culture are disadvantaged because of the ease at which it can be dissolved. A couple, or individual like the one I mentioned above, can think they are above getting divorced but this does not save them from the pervasive gravity of what the culture says is ok. Culture’s message is pretty clear: “When you stop being satisfied in marriage, get out.” This is an impossible message to escape in our current day and age. Couples that think they are immune to this message are living in a fairy tale.
We pledge forever to our spouse because we imagine “forever” being as easy and pleasurable as it was to fall in love. Unfortunately that is not true, and never will be true. Building love and commitment with another person doesn’t stop once the ring is placed on the finger. In fact, it’s the beginning of that building process.
Our culture sees marriage as an all-you-can-eat buffet. You go to these because you’re hungry and want a limitless supply of food, not because the food has been carefully prepared and/or is all that high in quality. It’s easy to go to marriage because we’re hungry and want to be fed. But let’s think about this for a moment, can you imagine being stuck at an all-you-can-eat buffet for … forever? That would be awful (unless it were sushi!).
On the other hand, what would it be like to be united as a co-participant (i.e. non-consumer) in a great building project where all the materials, blueprints, and resources were made available to you? Would that feel like an interminable prison? That is the picture that needs to be imagined as couples stand on the stage and pledge forever to one another. Furthermore, it’s the picture that needs to be reimagined by couples currently facing seemingly impossible hardships.
This is the picture of two willing participants coming together to build something that neither one of them could build on their own. This is the strange but hopeful phenomenon that the whole (the couple) is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Maybe it’s time to for you and your spouse to redefine what the goal of marriage is instead of trying to fit a god-like fantasy into a human-sized relationship.
As I mentioned in my last post in this series, being miserable in marriage is not an enviable position. No one wants to be miserable, much less miserable forever. If I can pull back for a moment, my whole motivation for writing these articles is to provide thoughts and counterpoints to the pervasive cultural belief that if a marriage is headed downhill, it’s time to bail. We can’t expect others, ourselves included, to be immune to the idea that bailing is the best option. Because we are all susceptible to these messages, no marriage is inherently safe. It takes work to create a safe marriage. Assuming your marriage (or anyone else’s) is “doing ok” is a major blindspot. This assumption is usually shattered with the discovery of an affair, divorce papers, or an intervention for substance abuse.
If you’re afraid that forever is too long, keep heart. It is too long to do forever in it’s current situation, but you can do it for one day. The 12-step process is fantastic at helping addicts approach life one day, one hour, one situation at a time. Seek help, find ways to remind yourself and your spouse of the reason you married in the first place. Find a good counselor. Begin to take care of each other again, it’s what likely happened at the beginning of your relationship. Be intentional with the time and energy you give and take from one another. Move away from the all-you-can-eat buffet. Forever is a long freaking time to sit next to one another in silence as you watch yet another rerun on HGTV or the History Channel.