You do well when you obey the Holy Writings which say, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself”~ James 2:8 NLV
Dear Guy who called my views on marriage naïve (AKA Tim),
Contrary to how things probably look, I really am not a jerk who has been ignoring you or your comment. It appeared in my inbox late Monday night and, frankly, it was long and I was tired, too tired to read it thoroughly, let alone formulate a lucid response. When I did get around to giving your comment a thorough reading, it didn’t take me long to realize your feelings on the subject of marriage merited more of a forum than a hasty reply would allow.
So here goes.
Your comment was polite and articulate (a rare thing in the blogosphere). However, it did seem to indicate that you’ve had some unfortunate personal experiences with marriage and for that I am truly sorry. It is not my intention to underplay the power of your personal experience or the experiences of millions of people who have faced the pain of divorce. I have never experienced the trauma of divorce. However, I do have friends and family members who have, and even from the outside looking in, it’s clear that divorce sucks. Everything humanly possible should be done to prevent it.
All that being said, it’s really not fair to blame marriage when marriages end. Contrary to popular belief, marriage is not an entity or a living being or even an institution. Marriage is a contract—a legal, moral and spiritual contract—and every contract becomes over time a situation involving people. A contract cannot be blamed for the conduct of the parties who signed on to the terms of the deal.
Responsibility for the death of a relationship has to lie squarely at the feet of the people in the relationship. Admittedly, fault is seldom equally distributed. One party quite often carries the lion’s share of the blame for the demise of the relationship. Marriages struggle and end for many reasons, but at the root of all lay almost always one or two issues.
The roots of divorce frequently go back to unrealistic expectations long before the “I do’s.” The romantic notion of soul mates has set up millions of couples for failure. The myth of the “right one” is a silly fairytale. No matter how well matched and compatible a couple is in the beginning, no marriage can survive gross mismanagement of the relationship.
Furthermore, marriage will not make an unhappy person happy, nor will marriage solve underlying problems or character issues in the lives of the people getting married. Weddings are not magic bullets we can shoot at loneliness, laziness, poor self-image, meanness, sloppy relationship skills or general discontent. Those problems must be dealt with long before the wedding day or the relationship will be doomed.
Selfishness is a cancer that kills many marriages. Self-centeredness shows up in big and little ways in marriage. Rudeness, cheating, overspending, laziness, stinginess, dishonesty, withholding sex and lack of attention to the likes and dislikes of the other person all reveal a heart that is unwilling to work on the relationship. Perhaps self-centeredness is epitomized most clearly in a refusal to apologize, acknowledge bad behavior and take responsibility for problems in the relationship.
Unhealthy patterns of communication are another relationship killer. Giving the silent treatment, name-calling, screaming, criticizing and relentlessly bringing up past misdeeds is a sure-fire way to effectively poison a marriage.
You called my views on marriage naïve because I listed the established benefits of a stable, happy marriage. The benefits of matrimony include good physical and mental health, financial security, well-adjusted children and a good sex life. It is not naïve to believe in something that has been proven. Naiveté is found in believing that there is somehow a superior, less painful alternative to marriage.
The alternatives to marriage are limited: cohabitation, serial monogamy and singleness. Singleness is not a realistic alternative for most of us, leaving cohabitation and serial monogamy. Cohabitation and serial monogamy offer none of the benefits to individuals, children and society that marriage does and yet the end of those relationships are every bit as psychologically painful and financially costly as divorce.
Marriage is not perfect, Tim, because people are not perfect. The solution to the problems in marriages is not to look for a viable alternative to marriage. Nor is the answer to avoid marriage altogether; the world would be a dull and gloomy place indeed without the security and camaraderie of enduring relationships. The answer to the marriage quandary is to educate people, before and after they say “I do,” on how to have the kind of relationships everyone wants to have. The real solution is to gently come alongside those who are struggling in their relationships and show them a better, less painful alternative to divorce.