I read a great blog post the other day by Matt Walsh entitled, My wife is not the same woman that I married. In it, Matt wrestles with what it means to be committed to another person for a lifetime in a society which not only considers the idea of “till death do us part” to be the height of naivety, but has actually begun throwing divorce parties to celebrate the dissolution of these lifetime commitments. (Yes, people actually make cakes like this one, which is relatively mild as compared to the cakes which depict the divorcees spouse decapitated.) Matt is young and has only been married for three years. He’s still relatively inexperienced. He has a friend who tells him, “You think of divorce as this scary thing, but sometimes it’s the only way to be happy. You shouldn’t stay in a marriage if you’re miserable. Things change. You wake up and suddenly she’s not the same person you married. It happens. Trust me.”
I was on the receiving end of these self same arguments for years. From the very beginning I’ve had friends and coworkers try and convince me that my marriage was doomed to fail. And, all I can say to Matt is, “Hang in there. It get’s better.” After seven years the jabs began to taper off. After fifteen years people started to view my marriage with quiet disgruntlement. After twenty they quit telling me that my marriage was doomed for failure and began to tell me that I was just lucky. Lucky to have found the right girl. Lucky to still be with my high school sweetheart after all these years. Lucky to still be in love with each other. Lucky to have such great kids. Lucky. Just wait Matt – someday all your hard work will pay off and people will praise you for being “lucky.”
I myself don’t particularly like being told that I’m “lucky” for two reasons.
First, lucky undermines all the hard work that went into twenty years of marriage. It robs us of all of the effort we put into parenting our children. It invalidates the sheer stubbornness required to succeed in any endeavor that is worth doing.
Lucky is a cop-out. Lucky is a scratch ticket – not a successful marriage.
Secondly, lucky doesn’t give credit where credit is due. Granted, there are people who have worked at their marriages as hard as I have and still wound up in divorce. That’s why I say give credit where credit is due. I am not lucky – I am blessed. My marriage and my family are a result of God blessing our hard work. We couldn’t do it without Him, and we certainly aren’t the reason why we have succeeded. We are truly blessed, and believe me when I say that we know it.
Why are others so convinced that our marriages will fail? Because,“People sometimes change,” as the wise old sage reminds us – cynical beyond his years. Matt’s response? “No, people always change.” And he’s right. Let’s face it, the stats are on their side; although it’s not as cut and dried as you might think.
It turns out that the divorce rate has actually been decreasing – but so has the marriage rate. Many young people today choose to simply never say their vows deciding instead to co-habitate without commitment. The claim that over half of all marriages end in divorce is, as it turns out, simply wrong. “The demographics of divorce are routinely reported wrong, calculated wrong or misinterpreted,” says Robert Hughes, a former professor in the Department of Human & Family Services, College of Human Environmental Science, University of Missouri-Columbia. Hughes says that for every two marriages that occurred in the 1990s there was one divorce. “This does not mean the divorce rate is 50 percent [because] the people getting married in a single year are not the same ones getting divorced,” he says. Thus, the divorce rate is misleading for a number of reasons. Not all states report divorce statistics. The divorce count is based on the total population, not the total married population. There are many other factors that can affect the statistics of divorce including age, location, and previous marriages. Here are some better statistics:
- About 31 percent of a person’s friends, aged 35 to 54, who are married, engaged or cohabiting have already previously been married.
- People who have been married many years (say, 35-plus) and have never been divorced have almost no chance of the marriage ending in divorce.
- The rate of divorce per year per 1,000 people has been declining since 1980.
- A young couple marrying for the first time today has a lifetime divorce risk of 40 percent, “unless current trends change significantly.”
“Each of these statements is true and defensible,” according to Professor Stanley from the University of Denver. “One the positive side, the rate has been slowly declining. On the negative side, a young couple does really have a high chance of not making it…Marriages starting out today are at great risk for divorce or marital distress.”
Before Missy and I ever took our vows many of my friends asked me how in the world I could ever want to spend my entire life with just one person? How could I possible be content with being with only one woman? Proponents of this position often resort to comparing the woman to a chunk of meat. The argument goes something like this, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love steak, but if I had to eat steak three meals a day, seven days a week, year in and year out for the rest of my life I think I’d kill myself! After all, variety is the spice of life.” It’s hard to argue with such a convincing metaphor, but I’ll give it my best go.
There is a fundamental flaw in this argument and the flaw is this – as Matt said above, people always change. The woman I married twenty years ago is not the same one I am married to today, and I am not the same man she married. In a certain bizarre way I’m actually on the side of the people making this objection. I don’t want a static relationship. Matt said it this way in his blog, “I didn’t marry “the person she was.” I married her — Alissa, the woman, the being, the body and soul. I married the totality of her, which means I married her changes, not just that one, single, momentary version of her that walked down the aisle in that church in Ocean City three years ago.”
I choose to embrace change and enjoy it, because let’s face it, like it or not it’s coming. This is the answer to those who worry that their marriage will fall apart if their spouse changes – that’s only true if you don’t permit them (and yourself) to change. But this is also the answer to the immature idiots asking how you can possibly spend your life with just one person. The answer is embrace change, both in yourself and in others. Grow together. Love together. Learn together. Experience change together. Hold on tightly to each other. Trust me, your life will have plenty of variety.
We decided when we got married that divorce wasn’t an option. Chalk it up to that old fashioned, “For better and worse” stuff. We didn’t fully understand what for better or worse meant – we were young and we were in love. When you are young and you think of “worse” you picture morning breath, or maybe the flu. You don’t picture being your partners primary caregiver if they become disabled. You don’t realize that there may come a time when you don’t “feel” in love with them; when you don’t like the person they’ve become or the way you are when you’re together. Fortunately for us, we weren’t just young and in love, we were both ridiculously stubborn. When divorce isn’t an option and your partner changes, or your feelings for them change, or you encounter really tough times; you will come to a startling (and not very romantic) conclusion – namely, “I am stuck with this person for the rest of my life.”
When that happens the very next thought is typically, “I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. I am miserable. She is miserable. And we’re stuck with each other.” When divorce is not an option, it really opens up the horizon so to speak, because all of a sudden nothing else is off the table. All of sudden you are willing to do whatever it takes to fix the situation because you sure as heck don’t want to live like this for the rest of your life! Typically your partner will feel the same way. Believe it or not, there is often nothing like a mutual disdain for your marriage to really bring you together as a team. Marriage may be the leading cause of divorce, but when divorce isn’t an option, you find that you are forced to work together and will do literally whatever it takes to fix the situation, because quite frankly the alternative is unbearable.
Often people will argue that, “Maybe it’s not always about trying to fix something broken. Maybe it’s about starting over and creating something better.” While percentage differs slightly depending on the source, 60 to 67 percent of second marriages fail, and 70 to 73 percent of third marriages end on the rocks. As it turns out, the wisdom of experience only goes so far. Unfinished business from the first marriage must be attended to, and let’s face it – you’re still you. Money and financial worries, stepparent relationships with stepchildren, siblings and half siblings, bickering with former spouses about support, custody and visitation – all of these create significant liabilities when people decide to walk down the aisle again. The reality is starting over won’t be any better. It will be harder. And marriage is notoriously hard anyway. It is likely the hardest best thing you will ever do – with the possible exception of parenting which is itself an outflow of your marriage – and a significant part of both it’s joys and difficulties.
In the Catholic Church marriage is viewed as a sacrament. God’s divine grace is actually infused in the life of the couple and made visible through their vows as they live out the promises they made each other.
In a sacramental marriage, God’s love becomes present to the spouses in their total union.
Because their vows are the visible mark of the sacrament, it is the only sacrament which is not administered by a Bishop or Priest, but rather by the spouses themselves. It is considered to be their vocation – their life work. A sacramental marriage is more than a union of a man and a woman; it is, in fact, a type and symbol of the divine union between Christ, the Bridegroom, and His Church, the Bride. Because of this, the couple’s relationship expresses in a unique way the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and his people. Through them God’s love becomes present to their family and community. The faults and weaknesses of the one are compensated for by the other’s virtues, and in this way they grow together in Holiness, and help each other towards mutual salvation. As married Christians who are open to the creation of new life and committed to each others mutual salvation, they participate not only in God’s creative act but also in the redemptive act of Christ.
Perhaps the only thing harder and better than marriage is the life of discipleship to Christ. It is fitting then, that St. Paul compares our relationship with Christ to a marriage. The Church is Christ’s bride, made holy and without blemish by Christ Himself and by the righteous deeds of His saints.1 And like all brides, she has been joined to Him that the two may become one flesh. And it is through this incarnational mystery that we, the bride of Christ, become in that marital union of one flesh, the very body of Christ, with He Himself as our head.2
Is there anything more grotesque than picturing Christ divorcing his bride? Telling her that she has “changed” and that He no longer loves her? Or that He Himself needs a change – or has fallen in love with someone else?
“…the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”3
But take heart because,“…if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”4
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“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27, “…and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Revelation 19:7-9 ↩
“He is the head of the body, the church;” Colossians 1:18a, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” 24, “These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” 2:17-19 ↩
Malachi 2:14b-16 ↩
2 Timothy 2:13 ↩