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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Marriage's Higher Purpose

Alright, it’s time to stop bemoaning the societal forces at play in gray divorce and start looking for solutions. 

Before I get to that, however, I want to start with a bit of clarification on my last post. I have received some responses that lead me to believe some may have received what I wrote as accusation.  That was not my intention.

The focus of my post was on the fact that self-centeredness is a significant societal force that damages marriages. It’s an epidemic unto itself, if you will. What I was NOT saying is that anyone who gets divorced late in life is doing it because they are selfish. I support doing all you can to save your marriage, but I am not saying “stay married at all costs.”

I also believe that selfishness is one of the most destructive forces coming against marriage today, and that gets to the heart of today’s post.

Building and Sustaining Intimacy

Many of the articles on gray divorce identify such causes as more financial empowerment and independence of women, growing societal acceptance of divorce and the increase in multiple marriages. While these facts contribute to people’s willingness to leave a bad marriage, the real root is that so many marriages reach the later years as little more than an empty shell.

People don’t leave a great marriage!

The real issue with gray divorce is that so many marriages are left untended for years on end.  For many it’s a total focus on the kids and childrearing, so when the nest is empty, so is the marriage.  For others it’s becoming absorbed in career(s) and the quest for success, only to find that worldly success has costs them their marriage. For some it may be an inability or an unwillingness to deal constructively with the problems that arise in every relationship, allowing frustration and resentment to fester for years. 

In all these cases, the root of the issue is that passion and intimacy have been allowed to die.  But it doesn’t have to be that way!

To be honest, this is why I do what I do. I believe that if people will wake up and continually be watchful over their marriages, they can arrive at the threshold of their later years with a marriage that is better and stronger than it’s ever been.

We have to fight the presumption of marital decline.  We have to believe that our best years are always still ahead of us, regardless of the season of life. I have a couple of ideas on how to help make that happen, which I'll be sharing over the next few posts.

Today, for part 1, I'll be addressing:

An Unhealthy Focus Happiness

In my last post I was openly critical of baby boomers, a generation to which I belong, decrying the reality that ours was the first generation to believe that marriage is mostly about our own personal degree of happiness. While I do believe marriage can and should bring you absolute joy and delight, I don’t necessarily think that is its primary purpose or that it should be the goal we strive for.

The problem is that people tend to look at happiness as being “out there” somewhere.  If only I marry the right person.  If only my spouse would do X or would stop doing Y.  One day when I can [fill in the blank], then I’ll be happy.  We even fall into the trap of thinking that if we work diligently enough to "fix" our marriage, then maybe someday we can be happy. 

The truth is that rather than looking at happiness as something solely external and only for your future, it’s much better to instead find delight in your marriage and your spouse right where you are, in whatever season you happen to find yourself.  Sure, there are hardships, problems and real issues in every relationship, but we can choose not to let these things steal our joy and refuse to let them define our relationship.

I said the following in a past post, “Own Your Own Happiness.”
To me happiness is still best viewed as a by-product rather than a goal. A relationship that has personal happiness as its main goal is going to miss some deeper things that underlie a long-lasting marriage. Selflessness, surrender, intimacy, joy, peace and holiness all come to mind as worthy goals, but are things that also tend produce happiness as a result.  
I’ll conclude this post the same way I concluded that one, by pointing out that if you choose happiness instead of waiting for it to happen to you some day, you actually have a greater chance of finding it, both now and in the future.

So learn to find joy in the here and now. Seek out the good stuff in your marriage and focus on it rather than on the deficiencies. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Remind yourself of the reasons you fell in love with your husband or wife. Be kind and generous regardless of your circumstances.

What do you think of my first proposed remedy for gray divorce? Do you think it would make a difference if more people focused less on their personal happiness but at the same time simply decided to "be happy?"

Next Up: Dealing with the unhealthy focus on self


Anonymous said...

You have obviously never had to deal with being ignored in your marriage...emotionally, sexually and just plain companionship. It takes two people to make a marriage work. Simply saying I am going to accept the way things are and be happy is truly living with rose colored glasses! Marriage should be about wanting your spouse to be happy, but you need to be happy as well. If your spouse refuses to work on issues you have discussed, eventually there is no happiness. Unless you have lived it, you probably can't understand it.

Tim B said...

When trust has been eroded on every level how can one rebuild any desire for a Partner who says they will do anything to save the marriage but continues to act the same as before. It is difficult to be intimate when there is not basic trust. Treat your Partner like a Queen or King but is it not critical to believe that will be returned?

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous to a point. It is a challenge when only one person is working on the marriage. Prayer is hard work, but builds your marriage one brick at a time. Speak your spouse's love language. Send him/her a love card in the mail. Wear a red dress. Send him roses. Visit I love you.

Scott said...

Tim B and Anonymous, thanks for sharing openly about the pain of your situations.

The truth is I have always had a great marriage and am blessed with a wife who gets the "two become one" thing. I believe this is always God's plan A. But marriages involve people, and people make their own choices, sadly not all of which will be for the good of the marriage.

I may not fully understand the pain of a spouse that has stopped trying and stopped investing in the relationship, but I believe the truths I talk about here are still true.

By saying "choose to be happy" I am not in any way saying sit back and just accept whatever your spouse does or to live with a less than fulfilling relationship. Not at all. What I am saying is that you stand a much better chance of turning things around if you choose to focus on the good stuff, to love your spouse unconditionally and to press into the peace of God, than if you use choose to display anger, frustration and malice. It's not a guarantee. It's a principle. It is true.

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