“While a husband or wife wants to feel that things are done out of love and for love only, the fact remains that love continues only if it is nourished.”
“For two people to live successfully as husband and wife they must be able to understand each other as only true companions can. They must recognize the needs of each other and be willing to cooperate to satisfy them.”
These two quotes contain reasonable, relatable statements, right?
Well, guess where they are from? The book, How to Pick a Mate: The Guide to a Happy Marriage by Dr. Clifford R. Adams… published in 1946. A lot of things have changed since then – insert wife and wife or husband and husband as an option, for example. However, one would think that the basic tenets represented in these short excerpts would still be applicable. The question is, are they?
It seems like every day lately, I hear about another couple I know ending their marriage. Some of them have been married for three months, some for three decades. And every time I find myself asking, What happened? Not out of morbid curiosity, but out of genuine concern. Why are so many marriages today failing? This isn’t written to pass judgement or condemn, rather to really explore the reasons why this may be happening.
I could be considered old-fashioned in a lot of ways. If I had a choice, I’d be a housewife. I know how to knit, crochet, and sew. I take genuine pride in making perfect chocolate chip cookies. Spending every day raising my little boy sounds like heaven. And I also believe in meaning it when you say you’ll love one person for the rest of your life.
While I’ve only been married for two years, my husband and I have been together going on eleven, which is literally my entire adult life. I could tell you that we’re happily married because we have a picture-perfect relationship, but only half of that would be true. We’re not happily married because it’s always been easy. Believe me, I’ve watched a lot of Disney princess films in my life (which admittedly may or may not have contributed to my idealistic belief in true love) and I know what these predictable fairytales look like. My life and my relationship… not one of them. My husband and I are happily married, and in the non-traditional sense of the word, it is a fairytale. But that’s because we’ve put in a lot of work over the years. Being happily married is a lot of work, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Or has one person in the relationship getting walked all over, which is not exactly my definition of a healthy relationship, but I digress. Being happily married does mean treating each other with respect, still flirting and dating, taking care of one another, having some real Disney-like moments mixed in. But it also sometimes means disagreeing, arguing, yelling at each other, not speaking to each other for a short period of time, and questioning your life choices on occasion. That is realistic. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but going through all of that and still being committed to each other at the end of the day, that is. Coming out on the other side of the storm still holding hands is rainbows and butterflies and unicorns, too.
I know this isn’t exactly an epiphany. Humans have mated for life since the beginning of time. So what exactly is it that is causing marriages to evolve – or devolve – over time? I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and I think we have to start with what makes marriages successful in order to figure out why we are seeing rapidly increasing deterioration.
Communication is one of the key players always cited in maintaining any relationship. If we look back over time, we may choose to look at the fact that many women simply did as their husbands told them to, and that was the extent of discussion. Hence, former “happy” marriages. But let’s look at communication today in terms of how problems are solved, how feelings are expressed. There was a point in our history where the spoken word was actually valued more. I don’t think we can pinpoint the exact moment when it became less important to talk things out, but there has been a definite shift. A lot of times we like to put the blame on technology. We’ve grown so accustomed to sending text messages that communication has become impersonal. We no longer have to look people in the eye or read the hurt on their face when we sling insults or quit on them. Maybe that’s a part of the problem, but it’s not all. We are human beings with the sacred ability of free will. The truth of the matter is that people consciously choose not to talk things out with their husband or wife. Expressing our feelings by sitting face to face and using our words, again, is work. It takes patience and respect and for us to listen. Have we become so desensitized to each other that we don’t even feel the need to take the time to listen to the most important people in our lives? Are our loved ones suddenly not worth the time it would take to utter the words it would take to show them we care?
Fidelity also seems to be a troubling issue in many marriages. While it is true it was acceptable on a level that allowances were made for men with wandering eyes and hands in the past, let’s just consider what marriage is supposed to be: two people who are supposed to be unwaveringly faithful to one another in every possible way. Some people may participate in an agreed-upon “open marriage” these days, and that is another story altogether. For the most part, it seems as though many marriages are intended to be more traditional and are ending due to cheating. I’ve seen this happen in marriages that have lasted only a few months as well as marriages that have spanned decades. In every case, I cannot comprehend how you can go from promising to love this one person when you spoke your vows, to totally throwing those vows out the window. We live in a day in age where it is perfectly acceptable to marry for love of your own choice or to not get married at all. If you don’t want to be monogamous, then why get married? And if you loved someone so much that you wanted to marry them, how do you then hurt them in such a profound way? If you feel the need to do something so heinous as to commit adultery, whatever the reason, why not just tell your husband or wife that you are unhappy and separate?
People must be led to cheat or give up on their marriages due to a lack of intimacy. And by intimacy, I don’t just mean the physical sense. I mean the kind of intimacy that is metaphysical, the kind that reaches into your soul and is difficult to find words to describe. It’s easy for two adults to have a physical relationship, and maybe that’s part of the problem. While I may be old-fashioned in some ways, it’s not to the point of antiquated belief systems. I believe people should live together and get to know each other in every sense of the word prior to marriage. But I also believe that this culture we’ve created where physical intimacy occurs without a second thought is a problem. I think that it impacts our ability to be fully present for any other kind of intimacy we may participate in. Connecting to other people in deeper ways has become something that we take for granted. Lately it’s too easy to seek temporary comfort in the arms of another person, so that many people try to fill the void that was once filled by meaningful, lasting relationships with fleeting experiences with various people instead. It lends itself to the old saying, “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”
You know what else has become too easy? Divorce. Marriage has become like a car to so many people. Don’t like the old model? Trade it in for a new one. Not happy this week? Let’s just get a divorce. And I’m not saying this to suggest that people should stay in unhappy marriages just for the sake of being married. There are legitimate reasons to get divorced, like the aforementioned adultery or forms of abuse. And there are also real instances in which people try their very best to remain together but simply grow apart and cannot work it out. But how many struggling couples actually take the time to fight for their marriages anymore? Divorce has become so commonplace that I think many don’t feel the need to fight the good fight. Which to me is extremely sad, because if you aren’t willing to fight for the person you vowed to love forever, the person who at one point in time you deemed to be the most important, then what are you willing to fight for? So many couples hit their first rough patch and immediately throw in the towel. One example: I knew of a couple who were high school sweethearts, dated for ten years, got married, and were divorced less than a year later. What? How does that happen? You spent a decade learning about one another, growing up together, and then it’s just over? Sometimes I just want to shake people. Did you try everything? Did you attend counseling? Did you give every fiber of your being to make it work, or did you just quit because it was hard?
I think people have grown accustomed to quitting. I think we are an extremely selfish generation, and some of us don’t even seem remotely capable of putting someone else first. Family used to be the most important part of a person’s life. Now, many people value their own desires above all else. Many of us spend the majority of our twenties developing careers and floating around social scenes, doing what pleases us in the moment. When people used to get married at 18, they didn’t have the chance to develop independent wants. They didn’t have ten years of their adult lives only thinking about themselves. And while I am certainly not advocating that everyone should go off and get married as teenagers, I do think there has to be a happy medium for more relationships to potentially succeed. Deferring commitments to other people for so long into adulthood has to have an effect on our ability to step outside of the “me, me, me” mentality. And while this is not true for all, it seems to have a direct correlation to the rise in failing marriages. Compromise is a difficult concept when it’s so easy to quit if you don’t get your way.
So what exactly is modern marriage?
It seems to have a broad range of definitions. To some, it seems to be something that can be easily obtained and just as easily discarded. A pair of shoes that fits comfortably one day and then is out of style the next. To me, it’s as it always was intended to be: a lifelong agreement between two people to love each other and fight for each other, even when it would be easier to quit. I believe that if you decided that marriage to the person you love was right for you at one point in time, you owe it to each other to do everything in your power to get it back when all seems lost. Marriage isn’t a trend or a phase. And you don’t just go get a new one when it’s not shiny and new and you aren’t sure how to fix it. It also isn’t the right choice for everyone, and maybe people need to start considering that instead of treating a marriage like a trial or a bandwagon. But if you so choose, marriage is an investment you will make that always have a worthwhile dividend if you make the effort.