It’s a big day! Everyone, please meet Jen’s mom Terri, our special guest blogger. She has been married to Ted for almost 46 years, and together they raised Jen and her two brothers, which was no small adventure. Now there are 8 grandkids begging her to retire from her impressive health care career.
We are so proud to have her here today, with such an important message about marriage.
I ran into you at church and asked, “So where is Dave today?” You said, nonchalantly, “He is not here. We are getting a divorce and he is going to another church now. ” Trying to discern your mood I said, “Oh Beth, I am so sorry. “ You looked me in the eye and said, “No big deal. It doesn’t matter.” Then you walked back towards your car and left.
I stood there shocked and pondered your announcement and your response. As a believer in marriage, committed to my husband for over 45 years, I felt so sad. Sad that your marriage was ending but just as sad because you think it doesn’t matter. Every marriage that fails impacts those of us who are married.
I remember when the first of our friends announced that they were splitting up. We had been married about 10 years. We got caught up in their battle and started arguing ourselves. We each felt that there was this little voice saying “Whoa, if it can happen to them, maybe it can happen to us.” We finally shared that fear and realized that our relationship required increased vigilance and constant attention and that we were NOT going to let that happen to us.
So your broken relationship does matter very much to those of us who are committed to loving and living together for the long haul. It is a little bit of failure for all of us.
I have thought about you so many times since that day. And I have thought about my own children, all of whom have been together with their spouses about 10 years. What issues are they facing and what could I say to help them understand the value of their married relationship?
Some critical things came to mind.
Every married couple needs to remember that they are the primary relationship. Their family started with just the two of them. The children will grow up and fly away, as children are meant to do. And the couple needs to be sure that they have nurtured their marriage. There will be crazy, busy times: crying hungry babies, work deadlines, PTA meetings, running from practice to scouts to dance recitals. But when things get too hectic or too distant, one of them needs to say “Stop. I miss you and need your time and attention“ There is nothing like hearing that from the person you love most.
The marriage also matters to the children. It is hard for them to overhear the arguments but it really hurts trying to tell their friends that their parents are divorcing. It is painful to hear their parents talking poorly about each other, to live in two homes, carrying precious belongings back and forth. And it is even worse to feel like a prize in a carnival game, where the winner gets the most and best days.
When I was 28, a married mother of 2, my Dad left my mom. I was devastated! I cried and cried and raged at him for hurting my mom, for not being willing to stay the course, for separating himself from me and my family, for giving up. Over time they resolved their issues after long and intense counseling but it was a painful and difficult time for all of us and I was an adult, beyond depending on them for food, shelter and support anymore.
So separate is not necessarily better for your kids unless the living situation is riddled with fear or abuse. They just want to feel safe, happy and together, not drawn into your “stuff”. They want peace in a unified home.
And marriage matters to your married family and friends. It impacts those who love you, watch your life splatter and feel your pain. It hurts those who thought it was a relationship to emulate and are shocked to find that it was not. And what about your unmarried friends and relatives who still have hope that there is a great person out there for them? They lose a bit more of their hope and anticipation. They want the marriage, the long term relationship but become fearful about making a commitment because they see your pain and are disenchanted.
What could you have done?
I don’t know much about your relationship and my perceptions may be all wrong. I have only seen you in our church setting. But you two seemed to have so much going for you. And if there has been substance abuse or physical or mental abuse, these words do not apply. But if you have just drifted apart I would like to tell you some things I noticed. When you spoke about him to others you often did so without respect. You poked fun at him when you told stories about the things he did. I know, I know, a lot of people do that—it helps to be able to unload on someone uninvolved and he laughed, too. But when you talk disdainfully about someone often enough, eventually you start believing that they really are stupid and worthless. Instead of affirming him, you ridiculed him and no one can take that for very long.
I also noticed that you both seemed to choose activities with your friends over activities with your spouse. I heard you talking after church about activities and trips with friends, not spouses. I saw pictures of you on Facebook and it always seemed that you had an entourage of girlfriends and family. Where was your attention? Who was prime in your life?
Your commitment to your children is obvious but you made a vow to commit to your marriage. If you don’t pay attention, your partner becomes a stranger. You cannot put “spouse-ing” on hold while you do 20 years of parenting and expect to find a happy spouse waiting with open arms. Not too many people thrive when they feel second or third in your life all the time. And it is so true that the best gift you can give your children is to love and honor your spouse.
I think you are a caring woman, an amazing mother and a committed friend to many. I care about you and pray for you to have whatever you want in life. I will support you in everything that I can. But I want you to know that the demise of your marriage does matter to many of us more than you may ever understand.
Terri and Ted have done Marriage Preparation and Marriage Enrichment classes for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for twenty years. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org