Five Minute Sherpa

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Myth #4: Forever is a Long Freaking Time

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.

Previous Posts in this Series:
Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary
Myth #2: Society Says Divorce is Bad
Myth #3: Miserable and Married


 

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.

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Myth #2: It Takes a Village

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 below 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.

Previous posts in series:
Myth #1 — Divorce Pain is Temporary


 

Myth #2 —  “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

The above quote links divorce to caffeine where the author states, “society used to think caffeine was bad, now it says it might help prevent cancer.” I’m in agreement that there are a host of issues society has gotten wrong. I don’t think anyone can argue that point. But, have we gotten the issue of divorce wrong? A question I had after reading this was: ‘Is divorce harmful to the body like caffeine was once thought to be?’

I don’t think the author intended for this connection to be taken literally, but I went on a search anyway and here is what I found. In 2009 the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published a study that linked divorce and widowhood to a decrease in physical health. In fact, there was a more significant toll on the physical health than on the mental health of those who’d divorced or widowed. I think some of this decline in physical health is linked to the need for companionship, because in this study those that remarried reported physical health issues getting better.

Not surprisingly, our society has drastically changed over the past 50 years. In the summer of 2013 I, and my extended family, buried the patriarch of our family, my grandfather. He was a man rigorous in his commitment to family, responsibility, and hard work. He grew up as the country exited the great depression, fought on the front lines in France, and stayed at his job for the entirety of his career. His work ethic was remarkable. I don’t think he would consider himself all that special amongst his peers, or others from his era. They did what they had to do, regardless of how hard it was.

The society he helped create said divorce was bad because (the following are my words), there was a cultural understanding that marriage was hard work, just like the rest of life. The culture supported hard work in every facet of life, and marriage was no different. Doing what feels good was not something my grandfathers’ culture promoted, or advertised. That is not the case today. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting pleasure. The culture’s message is clear: Do what feels good. This is not a helpful message for those facing hardships in their relationship.

Last week I wrote about marriage being one of the main pillars that creates culture. If you take marriage away, what is left? Doing what feels good often does not take into account the effect upon those around us. If our society is more bent towards encouraging choices that feel good, which I firmly believe to be the case, then there is tons of support for divorce being a acceptable (and desirable) decision. But did my grandfather’s generation, his society, get it wrong? On the issue of marriage, I think they got it right.

Usually doing what’s right comes at the expense of our own individual freedoms and desires. This is a difficult reality: The good of the whole doesn’t make all the individuals happy. In fact, the good of the whole often time comes at the cost of individual pleasure. There has to be a bigger story, a more compelling story, that causes people to lay down their rights, freedoms, and preferences for the good of the whole. Divorce is not that compelling story for a society because it promotes a me-first, “every man/woman for themselves” attitude. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. The history books do not reflect well upon those who take it upon themselves to act on desires for personal glory, or pleasure.

At present, our society is losing clarity on why marriage is important. The conversations are about civil rights and freedoms, not about what it actually takes to build a sustainable marriage. This is problematic, regardless of who you married. Our culture has deemed divorce acceptable thus we have lost a vital support system for marriages to thrive. I’m sure the saying is familiar: It takes a village to raise a child … well, it also takes a village to raise a marriage.

Next Up — Myth #3: The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.

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Sources:
Hughes, M. and Waite, L. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2009; vol 50

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Debunking the Myths of Divorce

Several weeks ago I ran across this article from Cherilynn Veland, a clinical social worker, giving women 15 reasons why not to be afraid of divorce. The author takes what she considers cultural myths, and debunks them to give women support in their divorce process. In some ways, I understand where she’s coming from. Historically women have not been treated as equals to men, and this has caused much pain, especially in the context of marriage.

This much is true: Our culture, and we’re not the first, objectifies women. Turn on the TV and within a couple of minutes the message is loud and clear: Women are sex objects. This creates an incredible tension to speak up and have a voice because boobs, legs, and vaginas don’t have voices. Seeing women as subjects, not objects, is not something we men are very good at doing. We tend to try and fix (often times fixing is relational violence), which presupposes that we have the answers, and that she, the woman, is broken and needs our fixing.

The institution of marriage is a subset of the larger culture. Great harm has been done to women in the name of religion, gender norms, and cultural values. These realities are not spoken to in Ms. Veland’s article, which I think is a massive oversight. Advice is often easy to give when we give little to no consideration to the cultural contexts.

As I was reading the article, I was struck by two things. First, nestled right next to the article is a visual advertisement for a TV show titled: “A Girlfriends Guide to a Divorce.” It pictures a woman, clearly happy and/or excited, holding up her left hand ring finger (clearly a middle-finger to marriage) with the caption, “go find yourself.” The message is clear: Marriage is holding you back from being who you’re supposed to be, so “screw” (PG version) marriage.

The second thing I noticed was how shallow the advice was from the author. I began working on counterpoints to her 15 reasons of why divorce doesn’t have to be scary. I work with a lot of people struggling to make a decision on their marriage. I am unabashedly pro-marriage (which will clearly come through over the forthcoming dozen-plus posts), but of equal importance I am am pro-growth.

Ultimately I believe the the greatest opportunity for growth in our lives comes through the conflicts we share with our spouse. Most marriages work really hard to avoid conflicts, which inevitably leads to failure because couples develop no strength to handle difficulties together. I see so many men and women doubling down on follow-up relationships after a divorce only to find out that their problems have followed them.

My hope in writing these rebuttals to the above article is to promote opportunities for growth in the context of marriage, especially if there are children involved. Even with an in depth understanding of the effects from divorce on children and society, people will still choose to divorce. Perhaps something written over the next several weeks might provide a glimmer of hope to a marriage in crisis. These are my opinions largely formed and influenced over the past 10+ years in my work with individuals and couples surrounding issues like marriage, sexuality, addictions, and divorce.

Myth #1 – Divorce pain is temporary.
Myth #2 – 
Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.
Myth #3 – Miserable and Married
Myth #4 – Forever is a Long Freaking Time

Note: This series will be published regularly over the next several months, so if you want to follow, make sure you subscribe (top right side of page) to receive notification when the next article is posted.