Every week couples come into my office facing a crisis in their marriage. They are typically at the end of their rope with each other and are often ready to separate. They are asking the question would I be better off if I were not with this person. They are wondering if their life would be more full to have their partner out of their life, to no longer be joined and responsible for being with their mate. The marital relationship has become something to avoid and get away from; it has become a place of pain. Marriage counseling is often a last gasp effort that hardly seems worth the trouble. It is hard work and requires the facing of our failures, another place of pain. For any couple to go through this there has to be the hope of a good marriage.
Most of us have an idea of what marriage is supposed to be like and many have a marriage that is full of love, commitment, safety and companionship. The good marriage is that picture of two people facing the challenges of life together and enjoying each other physically and emotionally. We see that picture in romantic movies, novels, and love songs. For those distressed couples sitting in my office this picture does not match their experience. I regularly hear them say that they are ready to give up on the idea of marriage believing that they have somehow been duped into entering into it in the first place: "If I had known how bad this would be I never would have gotten married and I will not make the same mistake again." I believe many people have had a similar thought even if never acted upon.
According to recent research conducted by the George Barna Group (www.barna.org) four out of five adults have been married; that is 78% of adults have been married and only 22% have never been married. Also, of those who have been married, one third or 33% have experienced at least one divorce. In spite of this rate of divorced individuals, marriage is a choice most make, even a second or third time. Marriage is obviously something people regularly do. So is divorce. As George Barna says: "There no longer seems to be much of a stigma attached to divorce; it is now seen as an unavoidable rite of passage… Interviews with young adults suggest that they want their initial marriage to last, but are not particularly optimistic about that possibility. There is also evidence that many young people are moving toward embracing the idea of serial marriage, in which a person gets married two or three times, seeking a different partner for each phase of their adult life."
The "idea of serial marriage" is a scary thought. Serial marriage means serial divorce and that brings to mind "serial murder". If you have ever been divorced or witnessed divorce as a child of a divorced couple, images of murder are not far off the mark. The emotional and material consequences of divorce have been well documented. Few divorces end amicably and they all involve, at the very least loss, a painful experience. No divorced person I know has ever denied that ending their marriage was painful.
It is ironic that couples who divorce are attempting to get out of a place of pain only to most likely enter into a more painful experience of divorce. Of course, pain can be all consuming and the present experience of pain is not dulled by a future promise of greater pain. We want the pain to stop now and getting away from a marriage that has become a place of pain dominates our motivation. If George Barna is right that there is a trend toward serial marriage (and divorce) it raises several questions, not the least of which is how well you are able to tolerate emotional pain. Maybe this trend of serial marriage is a dysfunctional way of coping with pain? Maybe many of us have don't know how to tolerate emotional pain so we run from one painful situation to the next.
What kind of pain are you willing to tolerate; the pain of a distressed marriage or the pain of separation and loss? Do you really think running from one marriage and divorce to the next marriage and divorce will solve your pain? Why not consider tolerating the pain, the frustration and the challenge of repairing a distressed marriage? Marriages can be repaired and restored. It is hard work and it does involve pain. A good marriage is not a false hope; you have not been duped into believing in and hoping for a good marriage. Your marriage can be good.