Sunday, June 07, 2009

Long term marriage.... Should we reverence it?

Jon and I are working through some of the deepest waters we've ever faced. I talked to him about whether or not to blog these journeys. He consented... nothing to hide, the motto. We got to talking about our situation - where we are today after about six months of separation (mixed up with some non-separation too). He made a bold statement that echoed something I had just written in an email to a fried: "I'm not impressed with longterm marriages." I blinked and responded, "Me either! I just told a friend that 60 years of marriage doesn't mean much to me, unless that marriage is healthy. I'm all about healthy first marriages or healthy second ones, healthy one year marriages or healthy 60 year ones. But length, by itself, doesn't impress me any more."

I remember last year someone announced on their facebook page that they'd celebrated 24 years of marriage. A commenter wrote: "Good for you, defying the odds." The moment I read it, I thought, "Don't ever let me stay married to beat odds." I don't care about statistics or the status quo or avoiding stigmas. I care about family health, which starts with a healthy marriage.

As Jon and I hashed through the muck, in that early tentative way you have to when separated, he made another startling comment. "I'm so glad divorce is 'no fault' in most of this country and that it's available to everyone. Divorce really may be the best chance for happiness and personal well-being for a lot of people. I wonder if more marriages need to confront their fears and face it down... or get one!" Then he said, "If we can't be happy together, I want us to be happy apart."

It was a moment for me. My parents are divorced. Divorce has loomed as the spectre to avoid in my adult life. Yet in that rigid fear of divorce, neither of us addressed in that radical, no-holds-barred way, the issues that kept our marriage handicapped. We're doing that now. And strangely, neither of us is afraid of divorce any more.

I want to close by sending a shout out to my courageous friends who have contended for healthy lives and have used divorce as the tool for getting there. I admire you.


kimmy said...

In addition, I think that if we could truly value happiness in a marriage and be open about it, then we could find healthy ways of honoring what was and transistioning out of unhappy marriages...hopefully making it less painful for the adults and children involved.

It was a devastating moment for me at the age of 8 when myparents told me they were separating. I had NEVER seen them fight. It was a blow that , unfortunately, manifested itself as an inability to trust for a long long time....but I've worked through that now :)
Thanks for sharing Julie and Jon!

Leslie said...

When I teach contemplation, I quote someone whose name eludes me. I say that contemplation is a "long, loving look at the Real." Always refreshing to see someone looking at what's real. I see a lot of long term marriages which hide from so much reality that the sphere acceptable conversation is a sliver.

Bilbo said...

Sounds like you have your priorities straight in wanting a healthy marriage over a long term one. Best wishes for you and Jon as you two continue to wade through the deep waters that most fear to face.

Daniela said...

May I add my best wishes too.

It takes courage to get free of spectres, to severe bonds.

Good luck (and glad I have met you on DCF)


julieunplugged said...

I love my DCF friends. :) You all have been a part of my awakening.

Kansas Bob said...

I so agree with you about being in a happily healthy marriage Julie. I do wonder sometimes about the way that folks define happy and healthy though.

When I was 22 my first wife went blind.. a friend of hers offered an interesting comment to her that I still remember.. she opined that she was glad that Bob didn't leave her when she went blind.

I think that comment is a bit reflective of how many folks view marriage.. stay married as long as it doesn't cost me my happiness.

As you know, I am going through another trial these days with my wife Ann.. many days I am sad and depressed about her new life in a motorized wheelchair.

I am rambling a bit.. sorry.. guess I am trying to balance out the discussion.. don't feel that I am doing a good job at it.. I really don't want to offend anyone.. just want to say that sometimes marriage is more than just happiness.. sometimes it is about loving even when you are not happy.

I am hesitating.. not sure that I am wanting to publish this comment.. I will do hoping that it will be sifted, keeping what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blowing the rest away.

Your friend Bob

julieunplugged said...

Bob, I think what you are doing is what commitment in marriage is all about. "For better or worse" means when things beyond our control assail us, we will bind together and stand with each other and not give up.

What I'm talking about is when "worse" is the abusive mistreatment of one spouse to the other - where unhappiness is generated through the behaviors and attitudes and practices of an unhealthy self that marginalize the spouse's ability to find peace and security in the relationship.

Happiness - not as in "feeling bubbly" - but as in, contentment that you are living alongside someone who is for you and you are for them, and you have the resources to meet the challenges of life together without destroying each other's spirits.

Your example is one that moves me every day.

Kansas Bob said...

Interesting that you should say that Julie.. I am 100% with you.. told Ann after I commented that I was not speaking to the issue of abuse.

To me abuse is more than an unhealthy marriage.. but of course it is unhealthy in the same way that adultery and drug addiction are unhealthy. The difference IMO is that the unhealthy part falls mainly on the abuser/adulterer/addict.

I guess I think that many times there are victims in a marriage.. sometimes they are dragged into the dysfunction and are blamed for the "unhealth" of the marriage.

IMO the issue is not an unhealthy marriage but the unhealthy abuser/adulterer/addict and until that person gets healthy they will hold control in the marriage.

All that said I need to say that I am just speaking in generalities and am in no way commenting on any specifics.

julieunplugged said...

Totally agree with you about the problems being brought into the marriage (not that the marriage is the issue). Often marriage counseling doesn't even help because MC is based on the idea that two basically healthy people need support in negotiating big differences of opinion or lifestyle. If there is someone who can sabotage that progress through his or her brokenness, then MC can actually become a zone of re-injury!

So yes, bringing our healthiest selves to a marriage is what gives a marriage its best chance. I'm all for figuring that out, and the earlier the better.

sugarandmedicine said...

I have always viewed marriage as something foreign, that is in a language I don't understand. To contract yourself out to someone for life has just been too abstract for me to really consider.

Love, on the other hand, is something I've been intimately involved with, studied, wrote about, sang about etc., all along.

Freedom plays a big part too. The state of mind - do you 'feel' free? The circumstances of life tend to get in the way of the perception of freedom, the mind closes, creativity's elixir dries up, marriage is like a little blue pill that one wakes and swallows each day, blame forms... there's a lot of potential for negative experiences in there.

I'm a believer in visioning the future in a way - just going into the self and letting the universe flow and you can flow with it. I believe the answer is within, and when there is relationship problems, perhaps it is more important for the individuals to consider the relationship they have with their inner self etc...

I think that I know that, yet the 'maybe' is a familiar place these days.

Good luck on your quest - I like the VW image and that you feel some 'free spirit' in yourself.. that's always beautiful. I mean, what's more beautiful than a spirit that is free!!

Kansas Bob said...

Amen to that last thought Julie.

brian said...

I feel like commenting on this is a bit like tip-toeing through a minefield. But, I'll take a couple of steps.

I have friends right now going through a horrible dysfunctional marriage. One of them thinks "hanging in there is the best thing", no matter what. As long as the other doesn't leave he is committed to staying. That is what i would consider an example of an unhealthy marriage and if they "make it" for another decade this way, that is certainly nothing to celebrate.

So, while I agree that a healthy divorced is certainly more desirable than an unhealthy marriage, I think that revering long term healthy marriages is certainly something that is worthwhile. To answer the title question of the post, the answer is a qualified "Yes". We should revere long term healthy marriages which can be a great source of fulfillment and which require a skill, commitment and some luck to accomplish.

julieunplugged said...

"To answer the title question of the post, the answer is a qualified "Yes". We should revere long term healthy marriages which can be a great source of fulfillment and which require a skill, commitment and some luck to accomplish."

Totally agree with this.

AmpersandPrime said...

Jules, I love this in your comment to KB:

"Happiness - not as in "feeling bubbly" - but as in, contentment that you are living alongside someone who is for you and you are for them, and you have the resources to meet the challenges of life together without destroying each other's spirits."

Wow how I love those words and how I love living them.

Great, insightful, honest post.

brian said...


I agree with your comment to Bob concerning abuse and what commitment means. Commitment does not mean committing to being abused or to be a doormat. For me, itt means being committed to working together and keeping each other's interests in mind- building each other's spirits.

Great post and great discussion (again).


julieunplugged said...

Brian, you bring up a point I would like to address in another entry - protocols for dealing with the hardest cases. Sometimes working toward a future together means taking a "time out" from each other in order to recover, heal and become whole.

carrie said...

Thought provoking post and discussion. You know I am no opponent of divorce when needed. If I was, I'd still be locked in a dysfunctional, verbally abusive marriage.

I just wonder how the presence of children changes or affects the discussion of marriage/divorce? I didn't have any children during my abusive marriage, and my present marriage is healthy, so don't have any first-hand experience with this situation. I know it must surely complicate the decisions. Our needs do not always parallel what is best for them.

shelshine said...

My first blog...
My mother stayed with my father in an abusive marriage. She lost the opportunity to be become, she was almost killed, she alienated one of her children by staying and we all were tramatized by the violence we witnessed. Certainly a marriage not to be reverenced. I separated from my husband of then 18 years when our children, all girls were 11,13 and 15. Good times...not!!! But, my girls have expressed their admiration for courage to leave. The message I hoped to send to them was: "you are never stuck in a bad matter how hard it is to leave." Each of my girls took turns having hard times. But, IMO, they are all more responsible, humble, compassionate and aware young women because of it. And, after 6 years, they are experiencing healing with their's their journey, too.

Drew Tatusko said...

Just a brief sociological comment. It is no mystery that divorce is more common these days than in the past. One hypothesis that makes sense is that because we live longer and because life-cycles have changed for this and other reasons, people get divorced more because we do not know how to handle being married that long.

It's almost like with each new stage of growth every marriage should pause, take inventory, and go deep to see if the assumption that your partner is on the same page as you anymore is actually true. I think we assume that it's true because ideally it should be. But I am not an idealist and like to get to the core of reality since that's what we have to live with day in and day out. If you are an idealist, it is important to see if reality and your ideals actually match. If they do not and you are assuming they do, your relationship will strain under a tension point that slowly will get worse over time if not attended to honestly.

Steve said...


First, thanks for the honesty. Second, keep working, figure out your respective "stuff", and go from there. You know that I would love to see you two kids stick in there.

Grace and Peace

julieunplugged said...

Shel, thanks so much for posting your story. I admire you greatly.

Drew, my aunt (a theologian) likes to say that idealists are shocked in life a lot. :) I think she's right. I think there are many kinds of marital dysfunctions. The incompatibility of outlooks is a serious one. It isn't mine and Jon's. We are amazingly in sync and have always been (even as we've evolved and changed directions). We have extraordinary relational chemistry too. We're dealing with issues that have plagued us since the beginning and they everything to do with dynsfunctional upbringings and unhealthy coping strategies that take a toll on the relationship.

Steve, I have the same hope... and amazingly, feel it strongly this week. Which encourages me a lot!

julieunplugged said...

Carrie, your concerns about kids are spot on. They impact every choice. They also help to diffuse problems, particularly when you have small demanding children. :) Lots of unhealthy patterns get set then, I think.

I'm to the point where like the airplane advice, I've got to get my mask on first, then help the kids. That's how Jon and I have decided to do it. Fix the parents, help the kids.

Mike said...

...a special thanks to Jon for agreeing to this discussion on the web. If I were in his place I don't know that I would have made the same decision, but I am glad he did.

Good post Julie and a lot of great comments as well. I wonder how much of your marriage journey is also tied to your spritual journey and the awakenings you have had there. Do you see parallels?

Agree with you about long-term marriages. They can be incredibly healthy...or not.

carrie said...

I've been thinking about his 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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

julieunplugged said...

Carrie, what an incredible comment. I'm going to steal it and post it as a new blog entry. (You may be done with blogging on your own blog, but that doesn't mean I can't get you to blog on mine! lol)

Writer said...

I do respect long-term marriages. I have no examples of bitter, unhealthy ones to color my perspective. The ones I know of have gone through terrible, terrible times, experiences that I thought surely they couldn't weather. But I was young, had never been in any long-term relationship before, and so had no understanding of what it entailed and required. Those marriages endured because both parties were committed to fixing their problems, putting in the hard work, and growing old together. And the pay-off, what I see of those relationships today, some 25 years later, warms my heart and reinforces my faith.

I have been through very difficult times--times I thought for sure meant the end of my marriage. But my husband and I fought for us and we came out the other side, stronger and more intensely bonded.

I'm not speaking to anyone else's perspective or marriage, just my own. I am thrilled I stuck with it--because I feel like I understand marriage in a way I couldn't have before--product of divorced parents and and all. My understanding of relationships has changed.

Bottom line--the good outweighs the bad. And it is a measurement that we continuously take. I came from a bad family, bad parents. I was controlled and stifled and taught the worst ways to live. When I met my husband, for the first time in my life, I could unfurl, spread out, and reach all of my potential. He has given me the unconditional love and complete acceptance to become the woman I was meant to be. He has the clarity of thought, the steadiness, the rock-solidness that I craved. He is honorable and ethical and moral--in complete contrast to the home I grew up in. His faults--oy. He's a very difficult man to live with, believe me, and there have been phases when I thought they surely outweighed the good stuff. But I stayed with him, I fought with him. He is resistant to change, for sure. But out of love for me, he does change. He has changed dramatically. Those parts of his character that are immutable are still difficult for me to handle, but he is what he is. And that has been my biggest life lesson--not having had such great lessons as a child--to accept the good with the bad, appreciate the good in spite of the bad. To know that love endures even when the other person does bad things. We give each other chances all the time--what a gorgeous lesson to learn. You can be bad, you can be your very worst, and your spouse will still love you (though, obviously, require accountability and change).

I don't look at couples who've been married 60 years through an idealistic lens. I know what they've endured--and I know that some of it was so bad that if we wrote it down on paper and reviewed it we would say, she never should've tolerated that. She should've left him. Yet one or the other did tolerate it. And they got through it. And they both become better human beings, better parents, better spouses. And their bond is deeper and wider and tighter than I can imagine after my mewling 20 year marriage.

I aspire to that marriage because I love the bond I share with my husband, love the companionship we offer each other, love having known someone through all this hardship, love knowing that no one on this earth knows me better than he and he still loves me, wants me, needs me. I just can't imagine anything more deeply satisfying than long-term relationships.

julieunplugged said...

This is really the key, isn't it?

"Those marriages endured because both parties were committed to fixing their problems, putting in the hard work, and growing old together. And the pay-off, what I see of those relationships today, some 25 years later, warms my heart and reinforces my faith."

I agree with it. It takes two to make a marriage.