I woke up this morning to a Pokemon transaction taking place on my right, a pocket-money negotiation on my left, and a nappy-clad wriggly bottom right. in. my. face.
It’s not glamourous, this parenting-of-small-children. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it is (is there such a person? I can’t imagine so.)
Just in that moment, though, surrounded as I was by all my special little people and flanked on the left by my one scruffy big one, I was perfectly content. This is my life, I thought, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Married life, when you’ve got kids, is so often not wine and roses. It is so often waking up at an unearthly hour next to a chronically unshaven spouse (prickly legs or prickly face – equally uninviting), to the indescribable noise and chaos of some cranky early risers doing battle in the next room. So often it’s leaping out of bed into the cold when you’d rather snuggle into the duvet and curl closer to your hubby or wife; it’s rushing to stop the six-year-old from flooding the kitchen as he pours milk from the giant containers that take up too much space in your always-too-small fridge; it’s stepping into the shower to find that your ten-year-old has used up all the hot water; it’s tripping on toys or sliding on a book left on the floor and having nobody there to help you up because everyone’s busy and it’s not like in the movies when your other half is there to lift you lightly to your feet or mop your brow or rescue you.
It’s tough. It’s gritty. It is not romantic.
So many couples find, in fact, that as the dust settles after raising small kids – whether it be the slight release from the constant exhaustion of the parenting-babies stage or the final emptying of the nest as grown children set up their own homes – they are left depleted, scraped-out, and devoid of any semblance of the romance that first drew them together.
Others wake up, in the midst of a mundanity that they’d never imagined in their most pessimistic dreams, and discover that they’ve drifted into complacency about their relationship and it has grown stale. Life as they know it has become Boring.
And it is at this point that the cheerleaders of the world start to offer their tuppenceworth, with the ‘wisdom’ of modern philosophy (i.e.. if it’s broken then throw it out):
You deserve better.
You deserve to be happy.
You need romance.
Couples whose relationship has become Boring realize that changes need to be made. They decide that they deserve better. They decide that they deserve to be happy. They decide that they need romance. And so these couples make a big decision – to call it quits.
What’s important, says the world, is that you do what you need to do to make sure that you are happy.
As long as you end it first before starting another relationship, it’s just fine.
Kids are better off with happy single parents than unhappy married parents.
People change. It’s not fair to expect someone to stay married to a spouse that’s so different from the one they married.
You’ve heard all those before, right? Sometimes you’ll even hear celebrities marketing these philosophies. Undoubtedly you’ve heard friends or relatives speaking in this way about a marriage that has gone sour.
We throw away a life together with the same careless abandon we’d display in tossing a carton of milk that is past its Use By date.
It is a throw-away society that we live in. We are a society that applauds people for walking away from mistakes and failures instead of teaching them how to fix and restore.
We forget that when we get married we take on the responsibility for another person’s happiness as well as our own.
We should be willing to work to meet that other person’s needs, to go the extra mile to answer the question, What can I do to be the husband/wife that my spouse needs?
We should be willing to fight hard for our marriages. We should be willing to claw our way back to togetherness when we find we’ve drifted apart. And, more than that, we should be alert to the signs that our marriage is eroding in some way, and act with great effort and intent to repair damage – with the clear goal of restoring the relationship – before things get to a point where the problems feel irreparable.
Of course I understand that there are marriages in which abuse and serial infidelity have so marred the trust that the relationship cannot be salvaged without both a complete change of heart by the offending partner (such change is possible) and the wronged spouse’s courage to forgive.
We live in a broken world, and broken people can break the things and the people around them if they do not look to the Restorer of Life for the strength to heal. But these are the rare exceptions to the rule of ‘til death do us part – and we are kidding ourselves if we think that these particular separations are any less painful and damaging than those in which a decision to divorce is taken more lightly.
Bless you, friends who have been hurt and harmed by the ones you should be able to trust the most. Bless you if you have watched, helpless, while your spouse has walked away. God sees your pain, and I do not judge it. It is not your story to which I direct my critique; you know all too well the damage that is done when a marriage relationship is ruptured. You know all too well how it can bleed you dry to cut off a part of yourself –and you weren’t even given a choice.
We used to refer to divorced couples as having had a ‘failed marriage’. But in treading lightly out of care for the feelings of divorced people we now do them the disservice of championing their decision to call it quits. Instead, we say that couples have ‘split up’ or that they’re just ‘not together anymore’ – as if marriage were just a casual arrangement that has just as casually been undone. We no longer speak the truth about divorce – that it is, indeed, the result of a ‘failed’ marriage. It does, indeed, damage people – and not only does it damage the couple at the epicentre of this severance but also their family and friends. Their children – those poor innocent bystanders in the whole messy operation – are damaged, too. These children’s marriages may suffer because of the trust their parents broke with one another. How do you just stop loving someone like that? And on it goes, through the generations, like a curse.
We need to see divorce clearly for what it is. It is an amputation. It is a severing of a part of you – it will leave scars. We need to return to the ideology that marriage is for life, and anything less than that is a failure and a denial of sacred vows.
Married people, we all need to evaluate ourselves regularly: Am I doing what it takes to nurture this relationship? Am I giving my best to my spouse?
So – you deserve better? Do better.
You deserve to be happy? Invest in keeping your spouse happy.
You need romance? Instigate it – make a date, plan for romance. Make it happen.
We need to cultivate a good relationship. We need to cultivate feelings, actions, and attitudes to have a successful marriage.
We need to be invested in our relationships; to perform check-ups and tune-ups on our marriages. We need to be willing to work on ourselves instead of pointing the finger at our spouse. We need to avoid the trap of vanity; the presumption that the person we married should look better, be better, act better, ‘because we deserve better’… Instead, we need to be working to better ourselves.
‘Til death do us part should be a thrill and a privilege. And Boring?
A marriage is what you make it.
At the end of the day, it boils down to the choices we make:
What’s easier: taking time out each week to connect with your spouse or watching the one you said ‘I do’ to walk out of your life?
What’s worse: having to work at keeping the romance alive or accepting the status-quo of a relationship that feels boring and unfulfilling because you have done nothing to bring enrichment or satisfaction to your marriage?
What’s better: seeking opportunities to grow as a couple through attending marriage events and courses or allowing your spouse to become a distant stranger?