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marriage's meaning has changed

Marriage is hard

My heart feels a little heavy just now. I'm thinking of a friend–call him Andy (not his real name)–and the heartbreak he's enduring because his wife wants a divorce. This I learned about only a few days after learning that another friend, Bonnie (not her real name), has left her husband Stu (not his real name), taken out a restraining order against him, and filed for divorce. Stu also is heartbroken.

Marriage is hard, isn't it? For two people to meld their lives, to learn the back-and-forth, the give-and-take, of a shared life. It's hard in the best of circumstances. But in a culture that devalues marriage, it's infinitely harder.

marriage is hard
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

In this 21st century, it seems marriage literally means something different than it once did. Even setting aside the legal redefinition to include same-sex unions. It once was a covenant, a binding contract, a lifetime promise–in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, until death parts us.

But no more. Now it's a temporary arrangement based on feelings. Movies and TV, even books, have created this vision of romance that people think their relationships should live up to, and Hollywood has taught us that if we “fall out of love” or “grow apart,” we can, should, must move on.

But romance novels (and Hollywood rom-coms) typically stop at the “I do.” They seldom, if ever, show the routine day-to-day or how we can continue to love when the heat of passion cools. Movies teach us that attraction is irresistible and sex is the first way we show love. And if the passion wanes, something is wrong.

Marriages end on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. But what that term really means is neither person is willing to change. Two people, each expecting the other to bend to his or her will. And when neither will give, they reach a stalemate. And in anger or frustration or resignation, they quit, they give up, they pack it in and walk away.1

So sad. And sadder still when one person wants to keep trying and the other refuses. As is the case with my friend Andy and his wife, and with our dear friends Bonnie and Stu.

Marriage is hard. No doubt about that. I'm just so sad for them all.

Footnotes

  1. I'm by no means intending to disregard or minimize the situations where a marriage ends due to physical abuse, infidelity, addiction, or other serious issues. My thoughts in this post only pertain to the many, many marriages that end for far less serious reasons.

Romance and Reality

I don't disapprove of romance novels. I have friends who write them, and I've read plenty of them over the years. For the most part, they're simply a bit of escapist fun for the women who read them.

But they can have a negative impact on women who are in a vulnerable position. They can create an image of romantic love that's unattainable, or at least unsustainable, in real life. They can create a longing for, or an expectation of, a perfect man. Romance novel heroes (and the heroines, for that matter) are idealized. They're nearly always very good looking, very attentive, successful, creatively romantic when pursuing the woman of their dreams.

© Taiga | Dreamstime.com

© Taiga | Dreamstime.com

If a marriage is in trouble anyway, a constant diet of novels featuring these sigh-inducing heroes and love-for-the-ages relationships can exacerbate dissatisfaction with the man you already have. The “real” man who leaves his dirty socks on the floor or enjoys a TV football game more than candlelit dinners can't compete with the standard romance novel hero. But here's the thing . . . those romance novel heroes aren't real.

So much of a marriage's tone is based on the attitudes of the spouses. I've sadly watched marriages fall apart because one or both spouses reached a point where they could no longer see the good things that drew them together in the first place. Our culture–movies, television, and yes, romance novels–creates an image of “love” that depends almost entirely on feelings, and when those feelings dissipate, resentment sets in and the relationship breaks.

Feelings come and go. Love is a choice. That choice has to be made every day, every moment. You can choose to focus on the things your husband is not doing right. Or you can look for something to be thankful for. If he goes to work every day, be thankful. If he comes home at the end of the day, be thankful. (Some men don't.) You can choose to look for his good qualities, rather than focusing on the ways he's not like the hero of some novel or movie. Nobody's perfect, but everybody has good qualities. Look for them. Focus on them, rather than on the things you perceive as shortcomings.

I'm not saying that you should stay and put up with abuse. If he hits you, leave. But most broken relationships fail for reasons far less serious than this.

Maybe you're reading this thinking, “Why is she even talking about this? I read romance novels and they don't make me dissatisfied with my wonderful husband.” Good. I'm glad. I feel the same. Understand that I'm not suggesting that reading romance novels can ruin a good relationship. But for those who are already struggling, whose relationships are already in trouble, the impact might be different. And I guess I'm asking those women to remember that in marriage, as in life in general, you can choose.

Choose wisely.

What do you think? Do you read romance novels? Do you think they have any impact on your perception of love and romance?
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Greenville, Texas
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