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.