Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Coffee Talk Thursday: Stand By Your Vows

As the daughter of divorced parents, and the daughter-in-law of divorced and remarried parents, my husband and I continue to experience, first-hand, the devastating effects divorce has upon families for generations. It divides and fractures relationships, not just at the immediate time of the divorce but for years to come. 

When we stand upon the altar, we commit before God and man to take our spouse, to "have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part" (See more traditional vows here)

Yet somehow, somewhere down the road, many forget that the vow is to hold--for better, for worse. In the English language, "hold" is the modifying verb. Hold for richer, hold for poorer, hold in sickness, hold in health. Where many couples fall apart is that instead of holding each other during the hard times, as they've vowed, they pull away and become distant. They fail to hold, and the union falls apart.
I think many people assume they are supposed to hold each other when something external happens to their relationship. Their union is still strong, and they're standing together through a house fire, or something like that. But I think what the "for worse" really means is when you're not getting along. When you're divided because you're having money issues or family squabbles, or trouble seeing eye-to-eye on child-rearing, housekeeping, whatever. Those times are all part of the "for worse" you vowed to hold each other through 'til death do you part. Somehow many couples are letting the "for worse" do them part.

Research shows if couples just stick it out, through the "for worse," many times they are amazed at the turn-around in their relationship with the passage of time. In fact, in a recent Focus on the Family article, couples who rated their marriages a "one" on the happiness scale (meaning the most unhappy) rated their marriage a "seven" after five years. "Was there, the article asks, "some breakthrough therapy involved?" No. In fact, many did relatively little – they just 'stuck it out' and things got better."

The article states, "To have good marriages, we need to ride out the 'lows' and learn from those times so that the relationship can be strengthened. If your relationship is at a low point and you wonder what happened to the spark, there is good news. It's not too late to revitalize your relationship."

Seeing marriages fall apart breaks my heart. I wish I could save every single one, but obviously I can't. What I can do, though, is share my experience in hopes that it changes one person's mind and saves even just one marriage.

When I was in second grade, my parents filed for a divorce. It wasn't finalized until I was in fifth grade. My previously stay-at-home mother now had to go back to school and find a job to support my sisters and I. She did her best, but our finances were tight to say the least, and many nights, I went to sleep worrying that we may end up living in a cardboard box (kids don't really know about social services to help prevent that; they just know their mother is worried about feeding them and making ends meet).   My adolescent and teen years were difficult, mainly because of all the ramifications my parents' divorce caused.

My husband's parents stuck it out until he turned 18, but delaying divorce doesn't make it better. Now that we have children, relationships with grandparents on all sides suffer as a result of divorce. My dad commits to flying out to see us quite regularly, my mom--without the financial support of my dad--cannot afford to visit but once a year (or every two years). When we visit them, we have to split the time, and feelings get hurt. On my husband's side, my father-in-law lives several states away with his wife. My mother-in-law lives several hours away with her husband on his family's ranch. While our boys' step-grandparents like--and even love--them, they are not their biological grandparents and do not feel the same pull to them that biological grandparents may. Consequently, it's not as simple as, "Honey, let's go see the grandkids next weekend." Whose grandchildren do they visit? His or hers? The grandchildren (and the grandparents) miss out, and my husband and I are both saddened that our kids are lacking close grandparent relationships.

Furthermore, research suggests that children whose parents are not married may be:

  • less likely to have academic success and attend college
  • less emotionally and physically healthy 
  • more likely to attempt or commit suicide
  • more likely to be a victim of physical or sexual abuse
  • more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • more likely to have delinquent or behavioral problems
  • more likely to divorce when they get married
  • more likely to be a teen parent
  • more likely to be sexually active or contract an STD
  • more likely to live in poverty

 Certainly, there are conditions when divorce is permissible--when your life or the lives of your children are in danger, or in the case of adultery. But even if there was an affair, perhaps for the sake of the children, you could keep your family in tact. I would be willing to bet that, through the passage of time, trust will be rebuilt and love will grow again. Dr. Laura once said on her radio show that water and sunlight can bring a dead-looking plant back to life. Nurture and love.  As Jesus Himself taught, divorce is not God's design. His plan was that man and woman would leave their families and be joined together. "Haven’t you read,” he [said], “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

So if you're at a low point, what makes marriages get better?
Going back to the Focus on the Family article:
"Researchers followed up on those couples who rated their marriages as unhappy at first and happy five years later. Here's what the couples told them were the reasons for the dramatic turnaround:

Waiting. Since many couples have unhappy marriages due to outside pressures (like a job loss or the demands of young children), the passage of time changed those circumstances. Things just naturally got better again.

Working at it. Many of the problems in marriage are a result of poor communication. Some couples told the researchers they simply learned to take small steps – like listening to each other – which resulted in happier marriages. For example, husbands learned to compliment wives, and wives learned to encourage husbands.

Personal happiness/perspective change in one spouse. Sometimes, one spouse simply decided not to base all of his or her happiness on the mood of the other spouse. Instead, one spouse took up a hobby or simply made an attitude adjustment that allowed him or her to be more patient and accepting of the other.
Credible threat of consequences for bad behavior. Some of the marriages were initially very unhappy because the husbands were engaged in "bad behaviors" – out late drinking with the boys, infidelity or even occasional abuse.4 Just as Dr. James Dobson advises in his book Love Must Be Tough, these wives took firm action and let their husbands know they would not tolerate such behavior. The husbands changed.

So wherever your at today, for your sake, your children's sakes, and the sake of your future grandchildren, work at making your marriage work. Stand by your vows. Remember, the vow is to hold....'til death do us part. Have you held your spouse lately? If you're feeling there's an iceberg between you, holding him may just melt it.

(If you're already divorced, please know this article is not a condemnation against you. Again, as the child of divorced parents, I know how difficult it is. This post is meant to encourage couples who are still married to fight for their marriage to prevent the devastation of divorce).


  1. Great post! I really enjoyed it! It is important to remember to stick together no matter what!

  2. This was great and so true! I am a daughter of divorce and grew up pretty much the same way that you described. I hated it and still do and I am 40 years old. It can still be a tug of war with feelings and time for all involved. And even when my husband and I have struggled my mom reminds me about the alternative. Which I know she would change if she could.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. I am from a family that stuck it out. My dad had a drinking and anger management problem and things were pretty bad for a number of years. As a child and teenager I never understood why my mom stayed with him but they have come out the other side and now have a great relationship.

    I have taken this attitude with me into my own marriage and made sure that my husband knew this before agreeing to marry him.

  4. This is so true and I wish more of us had this attitude/belief. Thankfully, I grew up in a family with no divorce. My husband, on the other hand.... His parents divorced when he was around 11. His Dad remarried and is still married. His Mom remarried and later divorced again. His maternal grandmother and grandfather divorced. So, he grew up pretty much surrounded by divorce. However, he thankfully is a believer of the "stick-it-out" mentality! We just celebrated our 16th anniversary on New Year's Eve and are looking forward to many more.

  5. My parents had an issue of adultery in their marriage. Although they seperated for a few months. They decided to come back together and work though it. They honored their vows til death parted them. They where happy once they worked thru that time. I feel so blessed to have/had parents to really show me what marriage is the good and the bad.

  6. Wow, it is so nice to read this article which i support totally 100% and the wonderful comments to it. I am so grateful to the Lord for opening my eyes to my His covenant about marriage for life as i am from a broken home. Struggling with many of the issues invovled. All my parents are deceased now and much is still a mystery why my parents divorced. My mom would not talk about it. Unfortunately, she made sure my dad and my sisters had very little to do with him. we did get to see him once a year, but, he died when i was 14. I am 43 now with 7 childern and a wonderful marriage. It has not been easy, but, we have chosen "to have and to hold" with GOD's grace and mercy on each other. Thanks for letting me share. PJ

  7. Ps: I wish i could FaceBook this article! PJ

  8. Hi PJ--Thanks! Glad to hear your marriage is going strong :)
    I will have to look into adding the share feature. For now, though, you're totally welcome to share a link to the post and an excerpt from it on FB, if you want. Blessings,

  9. I am divorced and remarried.... stuck it out for 13 years - spouse was bipolar and was violent and I got punched more than once. I stayed far too long as I believed marriage was forever and thought my family would condemn me if we split. When the end came, my parents said it should have happened years ago! In hindsight, I'd say take care before saying I Do and know the person longer than 6 months!! Remarried to my neighbour - will be 2 yrs on Monday (4 years together) -- and I've found the marriage I thought I had for 13 yrs wasn't a marriage at all. Finally have communication! No, not advocating divorce but there has to be a balance and there is a way of escape if you have absolutely tried everything and it is still not working!


  10. Totally agree with your article. There is no divorce in my family, but my husband's parents split when he was 13. We don't see his dad anymore. :-( All we know is that he still lives in the area & that he & his second wife divorced (due to her manipulating his drinking so she could have an affair). I just don't get divorce, especially when you've been married a decade or more. I can think of at least 5 divorces, on top of my in-laws, since I was in high school, where they split after being married for at least that long. My own pastor even. :-( It just baffles me.