What ever happened to marriage?
I’ve been thinking a little lately about marriage. Maybe its because my son is engaged to a wonderful young woman. Maybe its because I work with a bunch of smart twenty-somethings. But lately, I’ve noticed a trend.
I’m the black sheep. Or worse: a dying breed.
Most of the people I know are divorced. Most of the singles I know have a view of marriage that is one part fear and one part abhorrence that they might have to give up anything – last names, finances, property, nights out, whatever. Marriage is that thing someone does when they want to be miserable. Love is that thing that you hope happens but you’re really suspicious of. Commitment is that thing that if you formalize becomes the beginning of the end.
I happen to have a great marriage. I’m still growing in my love and affection for the girl I married. I’m still devoted and faithful. I’m still committed to being responsible and considerate. For me, marriage is liberating and not constricting. We’ll celebrate twenty-one years together in October.
Apparently we’re like a black rhino: rare, nice to see, but to be avoided.
It’s a strange world.
It wasn’t always this way. The Boomer generation that so famously divorced in the 1980s are still divorcing in the 2000’s (faster than any other generation before it). The Millennial generation (a large percentage of whom are actually parented by Boomers) have learned that love should be on your terms, at your whim, and at your timetable.
Love the one you’re with.
But the Silent Generation or Greatest Generation didn’t think that way. I’m not saying every marriage was perfect, but I think if you’d polled how many in those generations loved their spouse and how many of them tolerated their spouse (wishing society would let them divorce), I think you’d be surprised by the answer. Most Boomers grew up in loving homes where the parents actually liked and loved the other person.
I think the focus changed. Things turned self-centered and self-serving. Life became about pleasing the individual self rather than deriving joy by helping others achieve their potential. The Silent Generation sacrificed the individual for the collective as a rule of thumb. The Greatest Generation understood the value of sacrifice.
Love may appear to be self-serving. After all, if it's not self-serving then one can “serve” and therefore “love” anyone, right? But disagree based on the results of falling in love. People who are in love bend over backwards for the other person. They are considerate and kind not so they can have more sex, party harder, or get their way. They are considerate and kind because those are results of being in love.
People these days try to “out-think” love. They try to explain the inexplicable. And then their reaction is all about themselves.
I want to be clear: I didn’t fall in love easily. I was in love when I got married, but I wasn’t THAT in love. Not the way Melissa was with me. In the beginning, I was probably more in “determination” or in “responsibility” or just scared out of my wits that I would screw things up than I was “in love”. But God took this little seed of love in my heart and it has grown into fragrant flowers through the years.
But that required time and a lot of Tender Loving Care (TLC).
I know that today when people are in love they move in together until they’re no longer in love. Some try to fix that by getting married. Others try to fix it by moving out.
Maybe its because they started by indulging what is best for them. Maybe its because they’re busy trying to “test the waters” hoping that the boredom and tediousness of living together won’t be greater than the joy of being around each other.
It’s just a thought.
Remember the days when people married for love and stayed together their whole lives? Remember when old couples would still walk hand in hand and smile at each other with an endless supply of conversation?
I know, I know. I’m a relic. We’re on our way to being one of “those” old couples.
So at the risk of helping others who aspire to be relics, black rhinos, or other strange and rare creatures, here are some tips:
1. DO focus on the values of the other person. I didn’t want to be Melissa’s life. I didn’t want Melissa’s friends to be her life. I didn't want Melissa's career to be her life. And I sure as heck didn’t want Melissa to be mine. But I did want her to live for God first. And I also put Him first. I knew if we were growing toward the same point, we would grow closer to one another over time.
2. DO focus on direction. There’s no way you can or should structure your future. Pursuing the perfect house with the perfect job and the perfect children will drive you insane. People who appear to have those things didn’t focus on what to get. They focused on the direction they needed to go. Other things will fall into place.
3. DO focus on helping the other achieve their potential. Invest in one another’s happiness. Some couples “keep score” (you washed the dishes last night so I have to wash the dishes tonight). Keeping score only fuels the perception someone is “winning” and someone is “losing”. That fuels bitterness. Instead, focus on how to be considerate and compassionate to one another.
4. DO be honest with one another but DON’T hang on to “deep talks” as a measurement of your relational depth. Relationships with depth don’t manufacture “deep” moments. They occur naturally with mutual focus and concern. If things are going well, then celebrate that. A relationship pressure cooker with loads of passion and intensity but no frivolity will eventually explode.
5. DO think of the daily, small things. DON’T try to create the big events. Many relationships survive from vacation to vacation or “date night” to “date night”. This is ridiculous. You may one day be in a spot where neither is financially feasible. You can be poor with no vacation in sight and still be deliriously happy. Your life does not consist of the beaches you visit, but the beaches you intentionally create.