I’ve been seeing a lot of articles recently being shared on the topic of marriage and why our generation is basically terrible at it.
I read these articles, often even written from the perspective of an individual from “our” generation and it always rubs me the wrong way. Our generation is painted as whiny quitters who are busy blaming everything around us for our marriages crumbling or not beginning in the first place. A generation who just doesn’t have the values that our grandparents had, and that’s to blame for our lack of “success” in the marriage department.
I think our generation isn’t falling for the idea that a successful marriage means a long marriage. I think our generation isn’t “cut out for marriage” because we have made the realization that we are worth saving, but a marriage is not.
Raise your hand if some time in the past month you have seen a post with a stock picture of an elderly couple and a quote about how marriages lasted in their generation because they believed in something like “no quitting” or “making it work” or “failure is not an option” or “we fixed things, we didn’t just throw them away.” Perhaps it speaks to living in a mostly conservative, religious state, but I see one of these posts at least once a week.
Why do I have such an intense reaction to these things? Because all I can do is imagine reading them in my darkest hours as my first marriage was falling apart and believing that I alone was responsible for making things work. I can imagine reading them and feeling my already heavy heart sinking even deeper into my shameful chest. I can feel the hopelessness that comes with thinking that you are unable to ever leave the situation you are in because of the fear of all the stuff out there.
But worst of all, I can imagine what my life may have looked like if I hadn’t listened to my gut. I can imagine what my days may have looked like had we both decided to stay. I can imagine the resentment and can almost physically recoil at the idea of spending my life in that space.
And I look around myself today, at all the happiness and joy and feeling truly at home and made for this life that I would have missed. I look at my life and the thought of living anything other than this life with this family in this moment is enough to make me fall to my knees in blind, overwhelming gratitude.
Yes, our grandparents’ generation may have experienced less divorce. Does this mean they experienced greater happiness? That they were more fulfilled? That their children “turned out” better? Does this mean they chased their dreams? That they made the world a better place? Does this mean their marriages were filled with love? That each partner was valued and respected and given unconditional love?
I hope we are all well aware that was not always the case. The fact is that there was plenty of infidelity, abuse, and bitter unhappiness back then. The difference was that instead of leaving a bad situation, many chose to stay, for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons came down sharply to shame and safety. Women didn’t have the rights they have now. Many were financially dependent. Many churches and families cast severe judgement on any person willing to leave his or her marriage.
“No quitters” is not the life I aspire to have. I’m not going to consider my marriage a “success” if we make it to 50 years but don’t really even like each other. The word “quit” has an ugly connotation in our society, but to me, quitting can be the bravest, wisest thing you will ever do. The same is true for staying, for fighting for your marriage. But only you know which one is right for you. Not your dad, not your pastor, not your best friend, not your sister, not the President of the United States of America. If that voice in your heart is screaming “QUIT!!!” then you owe it to yourself to at least explore that idea. You will know the right thing to do when it is time, and probably not a moment sooner. Quit those things that drag you down deeper and deeper and give your energy to the things that make you come alive. We so desperately need more coming alive people.
I don’t think marriage is for everyone, and I don’t think all marriages are worth saving. My parents divorced when I was a teenager and my only wish is that they would have parted ways sooner. The best thing my parents did for my future was to divorce, because I got to learn what a good, healthy, loving relationship did NOT look like. Had they not divorced I might have grown up thinking what they had was normal or healthy or what I should strive for. And I should fall to my knees thanking God every day that I didn’t grow up thinking that way. Because I never would have ended up in the marriage I am in if that’s what I believed.
Instead I grew up believing I deserved to be radically and wildly loved. I believed it. I always knew that I deserved that. I didn’t deserve anything short of feeling 100% accepted and celebrated for exactly who I was.
And I didn’t settle until I found it.
And I didn’t stay in a marriage that appeared to be one thing but was a completely different thing.
And I didn’t stay in a relationship where I couldn’t myself give to my partner all those things I felt I deserved.
And then, I found it.
My marriage isn’t perfect, because no relationship is. But it is damn perfect to me. I am committed to staying with this man for the rest of my life because he supports me in being the very best I can be, because he loves me absolutely without any qualifications, because I firmly believe our souls have known each other much longer than our bodies have. That is something worth fighting for, worth dealing with the mundane and the boring and the brutal and the downright ugliest moments in life. A bad marriage in and of itself is not worth fighting for. People are worth fighting for. Love is worth fighting for.
Glennon Doyle Melton writes:
“… many well-meaning Christians tried to convince me that my marriage was worth saving at any cost. That was not true. Marriages are not worth saving at any cost. People are worth saving at any cost. […] If your church is more interested in saving your marriage than your soul, raise your hand and ask questions. God loves you more than any institution on Earth, even marriage, even Christianity.”
I don’t believe that any loving God would want you to be miserable for your entire life in the name of marriage “success”.
Every once in a while I will be talking to a woman or reading something a woman wrote and I will feel this feeling start creeping up my spine and branching out until my skin does this icky tingling sensation. Maybe it’s the way her eyes look when she talks about her marriage or the way the words she uses just barely cover the shame she feels or the unhappiness she sees day-to-day or the unshakeable feeling that this just isn’t right. Whatever it is that catches me, once I see it I can never forget it. I am far too intimately aware of the polite cover-ups, the need to “put on a happy face”. I want to grab them by the shoulders so hard that it makes them pay attention and look them in the eye and tell them “for the love of GOD follow your HEART.” I want to tell them they don’t have to live in their parent’s mistakes or be paralyzed by the fear of what they imagine people will think or live in the shame of what their preacher has stood on a lofty pedestal and preached.
But I never say it. So I’m writing it now hoping it will find its way to those who need it.
My failed marriage is one of my greatest treasures in life, the thing that shook me out of the world of wanting everything to look perfect on the outside to the world where things actually felt right on the inside. Success does not mean winning the “longest marriage” award, at least not to me, not anymore. Success to me looks like happiness, like the feeling of contentment. Success is sleeping like a baby because I know I have found my way home. My failures have brought me the sweet success of delivering me where I was meant to be in life.