Growing up, my parents gave me good advice. I didn’t realize how good until I got married. From my Dad, I learned the importance of making wise financial decisions like “putting money aside for a rainy day,” (or saving), and “living within your means” (never spend more than you make). From my Mom, I learned the importance of marrying someone you were crazy about and who was also your best friend. “That will see you through the bad times,” my Mom would say. Of course marriage put all of their advice to the test, and I have been the better for listening to and applying their advice.
It’s my Mom’s advice that I would like to focus on here. I’ve attended many weddings. They all are pretty much the same. Everyone is smiling and radiant. There are happy tears, tears of joy. The bride and groom are saying loving words to each other during their vows. Their first kiss as husband and wife is filled with promise of a happy future and perfect wedded bliss. Now fast forward a few years, in some cases, even a few months. The recently blissful bride and groom are now angry. They see only each other’s short comings. There is a general disillusionment towards the idea of marriage. The words “separation” or “divorce” start to frequent the conversation, and then- pop! The happiness is over and so is the marriage.
In each scenario I think, “What happened?! They were so happy? What went wrong?” There are a variety of answers here, but they all boil down to the same thing. Someone or both of the someones got selfish. Thoughts of “how can you make me happy?” or “You are not making me happy enough” entered and replayed over and over in their brain. One spouse did all the giving, the other, all the taking, or there was no giving at all.
The most recent separation in my own family was between my nephew to his bride of eight years. When I heard of the separation, one very strong visual image came to my mind. It was at their wedding luncheon. I could see my nephew standing at the wedding table and glowing with love and emotion, even tears, as he told all of us, his wedding guests, how much he loved his wife, his best friend. He even pulled her up from her chair and put his arm around her, and put her hand on his heart. I must admit, I was touched. It was very sweet. And then the announcement.
Again, I played in my head, “What happened? They were so happy? What went wrong?” To give you the boiled down version, life happened, as it happens to all of us. Children came along. One of the children has a chronic medical condition. My niece-in-law who had ADD had now also developed anxiety and depression. So life happened. And after two sessions with a marriage counselor my nephew announced that “he tried” and “I’m done.” I was floored.
I realize there are some very justifiable reasons for contemplating divorce, like adultery. But there again, it is because someone got selfish and committed an act of irreversible consequence. And even then, I’ve seen spouses forgive the wandering party and work things out.
Now in my case, there were years when my husband was in graduate school that the only time I saw him was on Sunday. There were two years of my marriage when I had four children under 11 that my husband was gone almost 24/7 working on a restructuring of his company, and at that same time, I was diagnosed with a heart defect that was going to require surgery. We had financial distress and health issues, enough to sink any marriage. And yet in all of that mess, one phrase my husband said to me when he asked me to marry him kept playing in my mind: “There is one word we never say in our family, and that is ‘divorce.’ We are married for life. We work things out.” I’d never heard anyone say it like that, but I liked that idea.
So no matter the stress, we worked it out. Was it easy? No. Were there times when resentment and frustration entered our marriage? Yes. Do I think we will ever be faced with trouble again? You tell me. We now have three teenagers. But we have made a commitment long ago that we both believed in. I have no doubt we will have more challenges, but we will take them as they come and roll with the punches. What else can we do? That’s life. And for better or for worse, we’re going to make it through.