In the recent past, three of my friend’s parents or my adult friends themselves have gotten divorced or separated. All of them were doing all the “right” things–and yet it went wrong. When I was growing up–and I think the same would be true of my friends–I was told that divorce was something that non-Christians did, something people did when they gave up or quit trying. That it was better to live in a miserable marriage than to separate (with careful exclusions made for abuse and affairs). I don’t know if that’s true anymore.
While the Church is busy having a conniption fit over the issue of legalizing gay marriage (As to the legal issue, my opinion is somewhere along the lines that even if the Bible does actually mean that marriage is intended to be between only heterosexual couples, which I honestly don’t know, I don’t think it’s necessarily the best decision for the Church to try to impose its own moral standards on the secular world because it distracts from our actual mission. That is, the religious and secular/legal definitions of marriage don’t necessarily have to be the same.), there seems a much bigger problem of marriage within the pews: the divorce rate amongst evangelicals is (arguably, see here and here for different takes on the statistics) pretty much the same as that the general population. Whether these divorces are explicitly sin or just results of our state brokenness doesn’t matter for the sake of argument: what does matter is that it hurts people and is emblematic of the corruption of what was intended for good.
Marriage terrifies me. Two people like each other and then decide to spend what they hope will be the rest of their lives together. Half the time, neither of them have any experience being married.
So, in all of my expansive two decades of wisdom, here are four things I have learnt about marriage, why it’s hard, what makes it work, and when it doesn’t:
1) One of my friends whose parents recently separated said something to the effect of, “Well, my family is holding together, for now. No one has tried to run away from home, yet.” If God preserves and God reconciles, they’re definitely at the preservation stage right now. Also, did I mention that marriage is terrifying to me?
2) On the opposite end of the spectrum was another one of my friend’s parents. My understanding is that they married when they were both atheist/agnostic after college, but then the wife became a Christian and the husband turned back to his Muslim roots. Yet they made it work. The last time I saw them together was at their son’s graduation party before we left for college. We were doing toasts and the things the husband said about his wife were some of the sweetest, most beautiful, honorable, loving words I have ever heard. Despite their massive worldview differences, their love for each other was profoundly evident. I’m not sure if he had become a Christian yet at that point, but I know that when he died this fall, his family had full knowledge that he went home to rest in Jesus’ presence.
3) A college minister told me, “Even when you’re married, you keep changing. Think about how much you’ve changed in the past five years: it’s still like that once you grow up and get married and have kids. What can happen is if you aren’t careful, you have kids and then they go off to college, and then all of a sudden, you realize you aren’t living with the same person you married twenty years ago.”
4) On the van ride home from state senior year, I was eavesdropping on the coaches as usual. One of them was about to get married and asked the other coach for advice. She told him: “If a woman tells another woman, ‘Oh, I couldn’t go to the store today because the dog threw up and the kids had soccer practice late and all these other things happened,’ the other woman will say, ‘Oh, do you need me to pick something up for you?’ But if she tell that to a man, there’s a good chance he’ll just hear all the things that happened that day and not read into the fact that she’s actually asking for help. How men and women communicate differently is a big deal.”