(A seagull on Santa Monica pier – Linda’s favorite bird.)
Linda and I are still married. Our wedding was August 11, 1973. I have done, I estimate, a few hundred weddings (at least) as a pastor. My all-time favorite was my own.
I wrote my own vows to say to Linda. I knew I would never, ever be unfaithful to her. Nor she to me. For us both, it was “until death do us part.” That’s the way it is for all the couples I have ever married. But all the outcomes have not been the same.
As a pastor I have counseled many in both premarital and marital situations. I’ve also counseled many who have been divorced, and I’ve met with a lot of children of divorce. I have seen my share of marital unfaithfulness out there, and the devastating emotional rubble left behind. (By the way, it’s a myth that, in divorce, “the children are going to be OK.” If you doubt this then you must read this book.) I see many unfaithful, dis-integrated people who, apparently, did not really mean it when they stood before God and one another and their families and friends and “promised” to stay together “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” (For divorce statistics see here.)
I find this sad. In nearly all divorce situations I have been personally acquainted with there is not really a good reason to divorce. Few, if any, differences are actually irreconcilable. The God-perspective on marriage is that, when “irreconcilable differences” happen, instead of this being a signal that “we weren’t made for each other” the reality is that it’s growth time for the couple. In my own marriage Linda and I have found that we are two very imperfect people who have been broken, stretched, taken apart and put back together by not our own talents but by the mercy and grace of God. The breaking process has shown us that a long-term monogamous relationship between two not-so-together people is a wonderful thing. One has to learn humility and other-centeredness or the whole thing will break down. Marriage not simply helps a person do that, it forces one to do it or die. Unfortunately, a lot of people get out before the real marital stuff happens.
The serial monogamist who goes questing for the perfect soul mate will remain forever stunted in their character. Character is mostly forged through conflict. A long marriage in itself does not guarantee this. But a long marriage where husband and wife grow in their love for one another is always a sign that a whole lot of personal brokenness has happened along the way. You can’t find that in a series of short-term noncommittal relationships that split when the disagreements start to happen.
Finally, if you are a divorced person I am not writing this to condemn you. I have found that divorced people can relate to what I am saying and are often willing to take responsibility for their own part of the marital failure. They want to hear a voice that goes counter-cultural to the local village wisdom that says, “It’s not working out – so you have to divorce.” Often, such words come from the mouths of people who have themselves failed maritally. If we give our children that message, guess what may happen when, in marriage, they have their first real fight? I have met many divorcees over the years whom I believe could have made it in marriage if only they had someone to disagree with such cultural pessimism and who could guide them, mentor-like, through the conflicts and on to greater character growth.