I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot the past few months but two things spurred me on to finally actually write about this. First, I came across the below graphic that quite succinctly sums up everything I will try to say here. Second, Tom Brady & Giselle’s divorce has been all over the news lately which means the subject of marriage & divorce has been ubiquitous.
Part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to write about this is because I know people from my family & hometown will read this & it will be very tempting for them to assume that I must be having my own marital problems. While I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve definitely had our moments, the truth is my husband & I are still very happily married. Certainly we have disagreements & say things we don’t really mean from time to time. Sure we take each other for granted occasionally & have to find ways to acknowledge that & fix it. But no, we are not getting divorced or separated or even remotely considering doing so. Sorry to disappoint on the gossip front but that’s genuinely the truth. Just had to put that out there before any rumors got started…
Also, I don’t want anyone to read this as an indictment of my parents or anyone in particular. This is more an indictment of SOCIETY, rather than any particular person or group.
Having said all that, my husband & I are at the age now (mid 30s) where we are seeing a fair amount of our friends/colleagues getting divorced, or even remarried after a previous divorce. Probably because of my own naivete & because of how rare divorce is in my own family, I always had this silly idea that our generation would have a lower divorce rate. I think I assumed that because so many of us grew up with divorced parents that we would somehow find a way to avoid repeating the pattern. Deep down I suppose I knew there was nothing special about us & we were likely to make all the same mistakes every other generation has made, but hey, a girl can hope, right?
There’s a lot I want to say here but I want to get this part out of the way first. Despite how much I was taught that marriage is for life & when you say I do that means forever, I actually DON’T think that divorce is the end of the world. Is it ideal? Well, probably not, but LIFE isn’t ideal. What it comes down to is that a lot of marriages were never healthy relationships to begin with, & when you look at it that way, you realize that divorce isn’t always such a tragedy after all. Sometimes it is by far the best option. In other cases, relationships do start out healthy but become “diseased” over time- sometimes simply because people grow & change- & sometimes that means growing apart. Is that ideal? Well, maybe not, but it’s LIFE. In the end I think it does more harm to children, individuals, & society in general for people to stay in unhappy, unhealthy marriages for years on end than to just be rational, end things, & move on. I know multiple people who swear their lives would have been better as kids/teens if their parents had just gotten divorced rather than being miserable together, which sometimes meant taking out their own problems on the child. And I’m sure there are tons of others out there who feel the same way. If you’re reading this & you’re in an unhealthy marriage, that’s something to strongly consider.
I for one find it very interesting that religion (& society in general) places such a strong value on marriage & yet so often does almost nothing to teach people what a healthy relationship actually looks like. All we’re told is “get married, have kids, be faithful, go to church, pray together, make it work.” That all sounds well & good but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, it’s not actually very helpful. Not to mention that because of the religious association with marriage & the fact that divorce is usually viewed as a sin, many people are encouraged to stay in unhealthy- or even downright abusive- relationships. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard older people (& sometimes younger people too) say “Marriages just aren’t the same these days. Not like the good old days. Marriages just don’t last anymore.” What I always want to point out to them- but rarely do for fear of seeming rude- is that there never actually were any good old days. You’re incredibly naive if you think that your grandparents & great grandparents & their parents & grandparents before them all had happy, healthy marriages. I’m sure some did but I’m also sure plenty didn’t. A lot of these people stayed married because they HAD to– they didn’t have any other choice! There was either no legal way to get divorced or else the societal stigma around it would have been so great as to make it effectively impossible. (Not to mention that a lot of women wouldn’t have had a way, outside of marriage, to support themselves or their children. That’s a whole other can of worms.)
What I’m getting is this- the real issue is not so simple as “Oh, people just can’t (or won’t) stay faithful anymore.” The real issue is that society puts so much pressure on us, especially in more rural areas, to get married & have kids but provides us with very little practical advice on how to do so in a healthy manner. (I’m speaking mainly of American culture here, though I suspect this is a problem worldwide, but of course I can only really speak to the culture in which I live.) And why is it that we are given so little direction on building & maintaining healthy relationships? Well, the reasons are myriad of course but I think a significant issue is that a lot of people, even older people, have NEVER experienced a truly healthy relationship themselves, so how could they possibly teach others how to have one? (As an aside, I also think there is a certain amount of resentment among older folks who have experienced their own unhappy marriages who are essentially jealous when they see younger people realizing they don’t have to live in misery forever.)
Seeing as we have now been married over a decade, my husband & I have definitely had our own challenges. We have had to contend with varying communication styles, different love languages, & other such challenges, but because of our genuine connection/friendship & understanding of each other, we have found ways to make it work, ways that actually aren’t even that hard. Do I sincerely hope that we will live up to our marriage vows of “till death do us part?” Of course. But I’m also willing to admit that if we ever get to a point where we are genuinely unhappy & unhealthy together for a long period of time & we cannot find a way to repair things, that I hope we will have the presence of mind to move on before we cause further damage to ourselves, our daughter, or others. I genuinely hope that never happens & I like to think that because of how we have learned to communicate & work together that our chances of avoiding such a fate are quite good. But I also know that life isn’t a fairytale & sometimes things happen that we can’t foresee. That’s just how life is.
To be clear, I am not in any way trying to say that I’m some kind of marriage or relationship guru, but I will say that I do think the relationship my husband & I have is fairly rare & somewhat unique. And for that I am very grateful. But I don’t think such relationships should be as rare as they are. While I am not even going to attempt to write up some kind of “blueprint for a healthy relationship,” I do think the following questions are good things to consider very early in a relationship- or maybe even before the relationship really takes off at all. Some of these are things I/we were taught to consider & some are things we’ve just learned along the way. Remember, everyone is different & there are really no right or wrong answers here.
- What is your love language? Remember you may have more than one, depending on the circumstances. What is your partner’s? Are you comfortable discussing this with each other?
- What role will or does sex play in the relationship? In my opinion, it should never be used manipulatively, & furthermore (in my opinion), you can’t have a truly adult relationship without sex. Thus waiting till marriage is illogical to me. BUT to each their own. Regardless, know your thoughts here & be willing to communicate them.
- What is your communication style? Can you be direct about your wants/needs (including sexually)? What is your partner’s style?
- When you have a disagreement, how do you handle it?
- Do you want kids? Does your partner want kids? Who will play various roles if you do have them? (E.g. Will one of you be a stay at home parent? If so, who?)
- How will you discipline said children? Can you communicate your own childhood experiences & why you want to repeat them or avoid them?
- Can you discuss politics, even if you disagree about something, while maintaining respect?
- Do you want to spend time together, even if it’s just doing really mundane things like grocery shopping?
- How do you expect to split household chores? This is a big one. I see a lot of women unhappily married because their husbands are basically adult children who expect their wives to be their mothers. That would be a huge turn off for me, as it seems to be for most women. Men, keep this in mind!
- Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Which is your partner? If you’re not the same, will this become something you resent about the other person?
- What are your views on finances?
- Last- but perhaps MOST important: How comfortable does this person make you feel? Would you want to spend time with them or get to know them even if you weren’t dating (or planning to date)? Forget the whole “makes your heart skip a beat” nonsense. Real love makes you feel COMFORTABLE & safe, not nervous & unsure of yourself.
Again, I by no means think I’ve “got it all figured out” or have a “perfect relationship.” Absolutely not. But these are things that I’ve learned over the years from my own relationship, as well as from studying other marriages/relationships around me. And I truly believe a lot of pain could be avoided if more people addressed the above issues before getting married (preferably LONG before getting married). I know that as our daughter gets older, we will be actively teaching her these things, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it may be. I don’t want her to think that she HAS to get married & that if she does, it HAS to last forever, even if she’s miserable. More than anything I want to her to know what a happy, healthy relationship looks like. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that marriage has to be boring or a “trap” or anything negative like that (not that I grew up thinking that, but I think a lot people do). After all, that’s the best way to ensure that someday she has a happy, healthy marriage of her own (if she wants one).
So- to answer the title of this post: Is marriage overrated? Drumroll…
Well, like just about everything in life it’s not a simple yes or no answer. If it’s a truly healthy relationship, then no, marriage is most definitely NOT overrated. However, I will say I think there are plenty of people who have healthy, committed relationships who aren’t actually legally married, & I don’t consider those relationship as any less worthy of respect. Marriage is great- IF it’s with the right person (keep in mind there is no truly PERFECT person), but if it’s an unhealthy marriage then, it IS in fact overrated. Thus as a society we need to focus more on healthy relationships rather than just marriage for the sake of marriage.