Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Work of Marriage

“Dad, why do people get divorced?” asked one of my younger children recently. The question was particularly poignant in light of news we lately received of the dissolution of a family member’s multi-decade marriage. I pondered whether to give the simple answer or to delve into the complexities of marital relationships. “How much can this child handle?” I thought to myself.

I was reminded of a friend who was asked by his young son where babies came from. The nervous young father dove into a somewhat complex biological explanation. When he was finished, his son looked more confused than ever. The boy said, “I mean do babies come from home or from the hospital? You and Mom said that I was born at the hospital, but a friend at school said that he was born at home.”

Answering my child too simplistically might convey the perception that everything can be neatly divided between good and bad. It might also suggest that all divorced people are bad, which is clearly not true. But a parent also needs to remember that the brains of children are not yet developed to the point that they can comprehend many of life’s intricacies.

I uttered a brief silent prayer for help and forged ahead. I started simply and then gently probed for understanding. In general, divorce is bad. It often stems from selfishness on the part of one or both partners, I explained. Every marriage takes a lot of hard work by both partners. If one partner at some point becomes unwilling to do what it takes to maintain the marriage, it is unlikely that the other partner will be able to do enough work to keep the couple together.

This turned into a discussion about what kind of work is entailed. I explained some of the rituals that my wife and I go through, including continued courting and dating, dividing up family duties, looking for the good in each other, and stepping in to help whenever needed.

My wife has been very patient with me for many years. She has strongly supported me through thick and thin (literally), health and sickness (also literally), ups and downs, triumphs and disasters. She has been my greatest fan. She has helped me believe in myself in the face of challenges. She has helped me venture outside of my comfort zone to achieve goals that would otherwise not have been realized. I would be a very different person without my wife, and it wouldn’t be a ‘good’ different.

All marriages are subject to many stresses. Both partners must be strongly devoted to the marriage to survive the storms through which each marital relationship must pass. Personally, I maintain that making God an integral part of the marital relationship helps the couple weather these storms.

My child expressed understanding of what I was talking about. The discussion then went into why anyone would choose to go through all of the challenges inherent in marriage. What is it about marriage that makes it worth the effort?

I was able to express my conviction that life’s greatest joys come through success in family relationships. Other accomplishments might be wonderful. But I am absolutely certain that none is as fulfilling as familial joy. My own experience tells me that all efforts made to build, strengthen, and maintain healthy family relationships are repaid many times over in “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). In other words, I believe that you will be repaid many times over for investments you make in your family relationships.

My child seemed satisfied with our discussion. I thought about our relation whose marriage had ended in divorce. It has been clear to me that there have been some challenges in that marriage for years. But having held it together this long, I had assumed that they would continue doing so. I take this news as a stark warning that even those that believe they have good marital relationships need to continually be working to strengthen their marriage.

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