Carrie and I go waaaay back online, like to the dark ages before yahoo groups and bulletin boards. We've walked through so many deep waters together, we had to buy scuba suits to hang out. She and I haven't agreed on everything (understatement of the new millenia) yet her friendship (loyal as Paul Newman to Joanne Woodward) has been a challenging and nurturing one for me. She's also been through a few things and somehow, that seems to render any one of us a little more humble, self-aware and compassionate.
So her comments on marriage, health and relationships jumped out at me today (in italics):
I've been thinking about this discussion a lot today and I realized what my answer is. Should we reverence long term marriage? No. That doesn't sound healthy at all. We shouldn't reverence any marriage. What I do think we should do is support and encourage healthy relationships.
I like how you tackled the thorny term "reverence." Well done. When I think about the term, it really does seem that we are elevating the institution (something I criticize in my talk about Religionless Christianity) over the people within the institution.
People are meant to be relational. It's built into us. I don't think many of us can, or want to, escape the desire to belong in some way to another person or group of people: family, community, group of friends, etc. I know we flow in and out of those situation, but losing connections always comes at a cost, even when the relationship(s) has to be, or needs to be, over.
This is a really critical point. It's what drives us to work on our marriages, our relationships with our parents or children, even at times when they stop being within our reach, or good for us. Still, cashing in history shared with your family is an enormously costly choice, as any child of divorce can attest.
Because of the pain of letting go, I think most people hope for long term, committed relationships. In most human societies that includes the family unit and marriage. The history of marriage is probably fascinating, and full or wonderful and terrible things, but right now we'll just accept that it is the "gold standard" when it comes to a committed relationship (at least in modern, western society, which is pretty much all I know). When you add children in the mix, the legality of the institution, at least in theory (and I believe often in practice) does allow some form of safety net for children and mothers (and fathers, too, but usually mothers).
This is an excellent point. I was talking to a friend going through a painful divorce right now about how disillusioned I am about marriage. She quickly reminded me that right now, marriage is saving her. Having made the legal commitment, she is entitled to half of what they've built together over their 25+ years. If they hadn't married, she wouldn't have that legal leverage. In domestic violence literature, women are sometimes cautioned against "living with a man" simply because there is no protection legally should he turn violent or attempt to harm your assets. Marriage does provide (in a backwards kind of way) protection when you are getting out of a longterm relationship.
Maybe it's my E-extrovert personality, but a marriage is what I wanted, and I believe needed, to be content. It's what most people still want. We shouldn't revere it, because then we think the marriage is the only thing worth saving. The people involved become of secondary importance. What we do need is to help, encourage, respect, and support marriages and the people involved. When the relationship isn't healthy, we respect the people and then support them as they work through whatever has to happen.
This was my favorite paragraph.
I'm still a starry-eyed optimist sometimes. I know marriage can work, and that it's an incredible blessing. Working to get there is worth it. But faking it to pretend to be there isn't. I remember how painful that was.
I read once that marriages die two ways: the hot way (arguments, passionate make-up sessions, volatility and drama that eventually exhaust one or both partners) and the cold way (gradual distancing from each other with little connection over time that slowly moves the partners into their own self-protecting cells). Healthy marriages keep an empathic connection alive and avoid the pitfalls of hot and cold.
So no, marriages of any length should not be reverenced. The people involved should be supported and respected. The choice to be married should be respected, the choice not to be should be, too. Perhaps if we knew how to really incorporate our singles in this society, we'd have people who made better choices in relationships because they would already have relational support in community.
I totally agree with this. One interesting discovery of separation is how hard being single is, in this very married culture (particularly in the midwest). I'm not even all the way single, and yet I still feel it. Marriage is a badge of social respectability. Yet even last night, my son told me that one of his friends has parents who have already said they would divorce when their youngest child was finished with high school. This declaration was made when that child was 8 years old. For me, that's an example of thinking marriage itself is the thing, rather than the relationship.