There's this couple I remember from my childhood. We'll call them Nick and Robin. Now, I knew Robin from the time I was born. When I was about ten years old, she started going out with Nick. The two of them used to come over to my parents' house sometimes for dinner, or on the holidays. They were going together for a few years, and although I was too young to think about or realize it, they were probably living together to one degree or another. One year, as the holidays approached - I think I was about fourteen - I asked my mother if Nick and Robin would be joining us. She sighed and said, "Nick and Robin aren't together anymore."
I was stunned.
"What?! Are you serious? What happened?!" I asked (as if it were any of my business). My mother sighed again and answered, "If they would have been married, they would have worked it out. But it doesn't matter anymore now, Kate." We were busy in the kitchen, with my siblings coming in and out constantly, so it wasn't the time for a heart-to-heart. But I filed my mother's answer away, to be continued at another time. A few nights later, another time came. My mother was sitting at the desk in her room, and the house was (for a change) quiet. Now was my chance.
"Mom, can I ask you a question?"
I sat down in the easy chair next to the desk.
"What's bothering you, Kate?"
"Nothing's really bothering me. But...well, you remember the other day when I asked you about Nick and Robin, and you told me that they broke up?"
"Well, what did you mean when you said that if they'd been married, they would have worked it out? What's the difference?" My mother put down the papers she was working on, and came to sit on the easy chair opposite mine. "What you mean to ask is, what is it about marriage that would have enabled them to work things out rather than break up? That's what you're asking?"
"Because the value of a marriage is that you're stuck."
Seeing my puzzled look, my mother continued. "Katie, the whole idea behind marriage is commitment. When a couple gets married, they've made a concrete commitment to each other, not only emotionally but legally and, depending on the couple's faith, religiously as well. There is something external that holds them together. They can't just walk away. They can't run home to Mommy or Daddy, they can't run to the office. Because no matter where they go, they will still be married." I was confused. "But if two people have made that commitment, and it's so strong, why would they ever want to run away?" My mother smiled at me and took my hand. "Because, sweetie, every relationship has its ups and downs. Every couple has times that are smooth and times that are rough. But a married couple has a much stronger motivation to make it through the rough times, because they know that the alternative - divorce - is so terrible. Couples that aren't married have a much bigger tendency to throw their hands up and walk away when things get rough, because there's nothing that obligates them to stay together. Do you understand?"
My mother tried again. "Do you remember your favorite book when you were a little girl?"
"You mean Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?"
"Yup, that's the one."
"What about it?"
"The author of that book, Judith Viorst, once said something very wise. She said that one of the advantages of marriage is that when one member of the couple falls out of love with the other, the marriage keeps them together until they fall in again. What she was saying is that any couple will come up against strain and tension in their relationship. But a married couple will stick it out, because they're married."
I thought about that for a moment. "In a way it's like kids and parents, isn't it?" "Exactly. There are times that kids and parents do things that anger or upset one another. But they don't drop each other because of it, do they?" My mom grinned at me. I grinned back. "Nope."
"Cuz we're stuck with each other."
"You got it. Marriage works the same way. That's why I said that, had Nick and Robin been married - something I urged them to do way back - they would have worked out their differences. But because there was no commitment holding them together, the relationship fell apart."
"So if marriage is what holds the relationship together, why do people go for ages without getting married?" "You're quite the philosopher tonight, aren't you," she chuckled. "There are a lot of reasons, not all of which I can explain to you right now. But the biggest reason - I think - is that in today's world, people have lost their view of marriage as a virtue, as something worth sacrificing and letting go of themselves for. People go into a relationship thinking, 'What is this going to do for me' instead of 'what can I do for this other person?' As a result, they're afraid to commit, because they ask, 'What's going to happen if I find that I'm no longer satisfied in this relationship? Then I'll be stuck.' But the truth is that they're making a tragic mistake." "What's their mistake?" "Their mistake is that they're totally missing out on what gives life to a relationship, on what makes it work. The only way to be happy in a relationship, to be truly satisfied, is to commit through marriage. Any other way of relating is really saying, 'I'll love you meanwhile. I'll give to you meanwhile.' Marriage, on the other hand, forces you to see the other person, to give to them. And the irony of it all is that the more you give, the more you let go of your selfish needs, the more self-satisfied you'll be." My mother paused for a minute and then frowned. "Now, Katie, obviously that doesn't mean that all married couples live happily ever after. You and I both know that couples divorce. But most of those divorces occur because people lose sight of what I just told you. Of course, there are cases where divorce is inevitable. But most of the time, if people would really give it their all, divorce could be avoided. Do you understand now?"
I thought for a minute, and, lo and behold, it all made sense to me. I nodded.
"Is the issue clearer for you?"
"Yeah. But Mom?"
"I can't help but think...it's too bad that Robin never had this conversation when she was growing up. It could have saved her a lot of pain."
Reframing Your Marriage | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work - Part 2 | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part III | The 3 Main Challenges in Marriage - Part II | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part I | See More »