They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

This week I found out that two acquaintances of mine, both of whom are in their mid-20’s, are headed for divorce in their respective marriages. Neither marriage, so far as I know, has any children on the way, and neither marriage appears to have lasted very long at all (a year or two at most). What lessons can we learn from such disastrous ‘starter’ marriages?

I am not married myself, nor have I ever been. As the child of an ugly divorce and the recipient of more than my share of comments from both of my parents about the failures and inadequacies of both sides (I happen to believe both of them had just and legitimate complaints against the other), I have not been in a particular hurry for matrimony, desiring to be as sure as possible about the fitness of the relationship and my own readiness for the state, and having had a general rarity of opportunities in general for me to ever have been close to marriage myself yet. Nonetheless, I have given the subject a great deal of thought, and while it pains me to see so many of my peers make a mess out of matrimony, I can’t say that it surprises me very much.

Marriage is one of two lifelong covenants that most people make during the course of their young adulthood. The other is baptism. Both of them are covenants made before human (and divine) witnesses. Both of them include certain contracts, including “till death do us part,” and both of them begin with beautiful ceremonies and then dive into hard and often unpleasant work as one realizes the price of one’s commitment to God and men. There is no easy way to put it honestly: when you marry you are making a covenant oath before God that you are willing to stay with this person for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, until death do you part. To break such an oath makes you a traitor before the eyes of God. And, to be fair, we can break our oath of marriage both by splitting up or by committing actions that destroy the bond of intimacy within marriage (such as adultery and abuse).

But a great many marriages fail without reaching that drastic level of unacceptable behavior. Many marriages fail because people may want the happy scene of a wedding, but have not counted the cost or ensured their own commitment to working through the inevitable problems of making two separate lives become one harmonious union, or ensuring their own commitment to the person they have chosen to love and cherish and honor ’till death do they part. Don’t people take the words seriously? Don’t they think about what they are doing, or what they are about? Sadly, it appears that this is not the case often.

There are many bad reasons to get married to someone. People get married because they get caught up in infatuation with someone and want a legal and moral sex partner. Some people want an escape from a bad family background, not realizing that if one hasn’t gotten rid of your own baggage, it will harm any relationship that one is in. People might want the romance of a wedding but haven’t considered a lifetime of dealing with the thousand little vexations about life with someone else–like how late they stay up on the computer (instead of snuggling with you on the couch to watch a sappy romantic movie), or how they fold their towels, or how they leave their dirty clothes in piles on the floor, or how they tend to be snappy and sarcastic when upset or stressed out.

While dating most of us are on good behavior. We put our best face forward in the attempt to woo someone. And they are putting on their best face too, because almost no one wants to be alone and miserable with their cats or their girlie magazines. As a result of our initial desire to make things work, we miss a lot of important details in knowing people for who they really are. Most people, men and women, are far more considerate of others in dating than in marriage. Letting yourself go is more than just a matter of looks (though that is a part of the problem too). I suppose few of us want to see other people as they are, or want others to see us as we are, because we often simply want to be wanted more than we want to be loved for who we really are.

As a result of this natural bent towards deceiving ourselves and others, we fail to engage in the very important act of vetting. We settle all too easily rather than really doing our due diligence on whether the people we are getting ready to promise lifelong commitment to are really going to be good for us (or whether we are good for them). All too often we come to ministers looking not for counsel and advice on what we need to work on to make a long-term marriage work, by facing up to potential problems early, while we have the maximum motivation to work on them openly and sincerely, but merely for a rubber stamp on what we have already (perhaps mistakenly) decided.

But these have always been problems. Many cultures have a history of arranged marriages where partners little know each other before marriage. And yet there was a certain amount of commitment to make things work that is often lacking in today’s marriages. To be blunt, many people lack resilience. Most of us don’t have the personal strength to fight through trials and disappointment; instead we cut and run. Someone has health problems that affect their personality and make them different from the person that one married and fell in love with? Then one’s marriage is in jeopardy. Heaven forbid that we be able to handle changes beyond one’s control. Someone expects love and loyalty and doesn’t like someone going out with one’s single “girlfriends” to bars to flirt all the time? Such a person is obviously not the fun person one dated and married. Clearly.

We have to recognize that a marriage is a change in state–we go from people thinking and concerned only with ourselves to people who are focused on making a partnership work. As someone looking for a wife, I am looking for a partner in our shared enterprises, far beyond merely sexual partnership to such matters as intellectual and economic partnership for the greater mutual good. And I would assume that anyone considering me as a husband would be thinking about such factors as standard of living, and emotional compatibility and ability to handle conflicts without violence. I would expect nothing less of the sort of sensible woman I would want to marry. And this is even more serious if and when one has children, because then one has to think of how one is going to pass on one’s own family culture on to the next generation. Both marriage and parenthood require that one put aside one’s own selfish neediness and consider the best interests and success and happiness of others. We are ill-equipped for that sort of outer-directed focus in our present culture.

And the results are obvious. Because we lack resilience, because we lack prior planning, and because we lack the emotional maturity to consider the needs of our people and have a sense of duty and responsibility to others, we cannot form lasting and trusting relationships. We can’t have good marriages without being mature and responsible people ourselves. I certainly see in myself some areas that need work before I’m fit for a lifelong marriage, but I have a good idea what those weaknesses are, and hope for the opportunities and the resources to fix them. If you’re not even working on such matters, how can one be prepared for the shock of ending one’s glorious honeymoon vacation to the reality of someone who lives like a slob or ends up being a whiny nag when she doesn’t get her way instead of the sweet purring kitten or gentlemanly stud that one dated for years. The result is a lot of marriages that break up for reasons of folly and immaturity rather than abuse and treachery. And once we get in the habit of cutting and running from difficult relationships, it’s a hard habit to break. It only gets easier with practice. With all of this, it’s a miracle that any marriages last at all these days.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

  1. Hey Nathan, how interesting that you wrote about this topic. I happened to know a married couple: the man is white American coming from a blue-collar, uneducated non-Christian background and older, while the wife is younger and though of indigenous background comes from conservative Christian background (never had a boyfriend, lived at home) with generations of scholarship, therefore educated. Here’s the sad part. The husband, whose moral life is not-so-good hung around with druggies with variety of bed partners while he had many strings of “white” live-in girlfriends that also came from blue-collar, uneducated background, of whom were predominantly white, marrying one of them and divorced shortly. Coming out of an abusive background, it should not surprise you. Rejected, relationships did not last, and basically replacing one after the other with the same scene. Now the 2nd indigenous wife came from a family of values, as well as Christian and educated. But to make long story short, the white husband turned out to be insecure and anti-social, I mean no friends and he and his family disowned each other. So what makes one think that it would be alright for the wife who grew up in missions to maintain her family and friend relations? Well, it is rather apparent who would be the most influential. Over the years, he not only has been dominant but tried to change her identity to the point that she became incapacitated that she not only initially forsaken her Christian values because the husband’s voice was all she heard most of her life, not the voice from above. Coming from uneducated background, he undermined her even in front of her professors and colleagues as if he was the “highly-intelligent” man, yet he would not take the time to read but spend most of his leisure time watching TV, making it his education, religion, and entertainment. In the scene, the wife must decrease whose job is to puff up her husband wearing a mask all along so that he could increase to make an impression and be accepted by others. And so it is interesting to note this type of scene even within the church concerning the idolatry of the male that Christ condemns in this site http://www.womenpriests.org/scriptur/mollenk2.asp. In sum, how embarrassing it is where at some point, people will be able to tell the pretense.

    Lessons Learned:
    1) Even when claiming Christian, yet Christ said that you will know them by their fruits where eventually people will be able to tell (Matthew 7:15-16, 20).
    2) It is alright to remove the mask of denial to admit the weakness for the following reasons:
    – Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
    – For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:23-24).

    Evidently, there are more passages that we can think of to add to the list. In reference to the Biblical passages where the wife submits to the husband as Christ loves the church, I did not place emphasis because this would only be possible if he first and foremost removes his macho mask and quit serving two masters; in other words, he’s the self-serving god that does everything in his own power rather than boldly come to throne of grace broken (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). At this point, a transformation needs to take place just like any human needs to put away his old nature by crucifying the flesh by casting it on the cross rather than dump it on the weaker vessel (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). Otherwise, he will have a difficult time unraveling that defense mechanism out of apathy to numb the pain in living life of rejection since childhood.

    This works in any case because the Holy Spirit cannot work through us unless we let go of those dead bones in the dark closet that we hang into.

    • Your particular comment does bring out a lot of issues. Being a guy–I tend to focus on the nagging and disloyal and disrespectful feminist wives that this society produces so well, but on the other side abusive and domineering husbands generally also spring from insecurities. If we feel weak we tend to project an aggressive strength to others. If we are genuinely strong we need not bully or oppress anyone. You seem to have your own personal issues, from what I can gather. But so do we all. I’m generally pretty open about my issues; they’re not worth hiding anyway. God did ordain men as the heads of the household, but they were to show the same self-sacrificial love of their wives and children that Jesus Christ shows for his bride, the Israel of God. What power-obsessed bullies do is make everything into an unequal power relationship rather than reflect and practice the biblical model which places responsibilities of service, not self-aggrandizement, for those who hold offices of godly leadership. No insecure bullies are fit for such offices, regardless of gender.

  2. Eleanor Vieau says:

    I do not support feminism. In fact, I do not really know of one personally which means I have no reason to be equally yoke with them. What bothers me is rather cultural. First, there is nothing wrong with mixed relationships. But what I find problematic is not incidentally noticing one or two, here and there, but I have noticed these more often where the tendency among indigenous women, let’s say are in public in a restaurant while eating, look down like children that are to be seen and not heard, and I could tell who wears the pants at home. Is submissiveness cultural that they often become prey and be dominated upon? On the other hand, the issue is “insecurity” and so easy for anyone to project hangups on someone else rather than confront it. When men and women are “confident,” there is no need to bully others, and simply no need to rely on another (external power supply to draw strength from), Confident people have clear conscience and thus not afraid to say, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me (Phil 4:13).

    • Without knowing the specifics it is difficult to say what happens in a particular case. Nonetheless, I suspect those who are insecure might (whether knowingly or not) target a potential mate in a “submissive” culture to find someone who would not be too hostile or challenging to their supremacy. Whether it is the case in every or even most of those “cross-cultural” marriages is hard to say, but it certainly is one possible motive. Likewise, it is very likely that on both sides a certain desperation for a match may cause one to either consciously or subconsciously lower one’s standards to avoid remaining alone. We are terribly complicated beings, and we reap what we sow.

  3. Pingback: The Art Of Catching Flies | Edge Induced Cohesion

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