Some time ago, I wrote an article titled “Twenty-Four-Seven” about marriage. Everything I said in it was correct except for one thing which I realized after some thought. The statement that needs to be corrected is the following:
“My wife and I are in year 47. Her family has very little divorce. Mine has very little success at marriage.”
The last bit of that is where I misspoke. I had in mind my mother’s side of the family which has commanded most of my attention. My mother was divorced twice. She was in the process of getting a divorce from her third husband when he died. Some years later, she became engaged to the ex-husband of her sister. He died before they got married. That sister had two children with this man when they were married. Her daughter has been married seven times. Her son has been married three times. Both have been married for some time to their most recent spouses. Something has been learned.
Two of my sisters have each been married twice. My oldest half-brother has been married 3 times and my youngest half-brother has been married twice. My half-sister on my mother’s side has had success. My mother’s sister (mentioned just above) was married twice, the second husband for a long time.
I don’t lay all this out in shame or judgment, just to show what I had in mind when I made the “Twenty-Four-Seven” observation about my family’s experiences with marriage. But then something struck me. I SHOULD be looking at my father’s side of the equation. I did them a gross disservice with my careless comment.
My grandfather and grandmother, who brought me to this magic forest, were married for fifty-plus years. The counting stopped when death did them part. My grandfather passed in 1995. They had their problems. They dealt with them without breaking the three-fold matrimonial cord. My dad’s second marriage lasted until his second wife died. My cousin Carol and her husband have been married 63 years. Her brother was married 50 years. He died 13 years ago and that is the only reason his anniversaries are less than those of his sister who married the same year. My dad’s second wife had a daughter with her first husband, who had died, and they had a daughter together. They were married almost twenty years when my dad became a widower. Both of the girls of my dad’s second marriage have married once and long enough ago that I can’t remember the dates. I could go on. The marriages of those on my father’s side of the family did. Go on. And on.
No one is immune to the assault on marriage in this world but I cannot keep claiming defective family marital history to trumpet my own success in marriage. It has never been “poor me”. I am carrying the genes of successful people. (I don’t really believe it is genetic.) As I said in my earlier article, it is just not that difficult. There are a couple rules you mustn’t break. Vows. There are examples all around us. Good and bad. We’re all taught from very young ages what is right. And what is wrong. If the teachings are good and the examples are good, bad examples and influences, even when they SEEM to lead to success, can be successfully avoided. Navigated.
People make mistakes and I suspect there are no divorces that can be laid TOTALLY on one doorstep. It takes two people giving 100% (NOT 50% each), and a twenty-four-seven effort, but we have training. We are made in the image of God. Doing wrong is not a ‘one thing led to another’ situation. There are clearly drawn lines we know not to cross. That we have vowed not to cross. Crossing those lines is not an accident. It is a result of regular tiptoeing ever closer to those lines. The actual crossing is a final willful action made ever smaller by regular approach. Once crossed, I’m sure it is easier to cross again. I believe it works like that for all line crossing, not just marriage. People’s hearts want what they want and those hearts dance up to and finally over the lines. Kind of willful “accidents”.
For a country noisily embracing Christianity, there are sure a lot of allowances for conduct I would have thought unbecoming. I’m not trying to sit in judgment, but I notice how allowances are made for some shortcomings because ends are seen to justify means. Especially in politics. Ed Muskie withdrew from his presidential race in 1972 when a false news story claimed he wept over a story maligning his wife. Can you imagine that? A man showing empathy for his wife. His “sin” was shedding tears for an insult to his wife. These days even two divorces, serial adultery, etc. are not enough to disqualify a political candidate in the hearts of many in a noisily Christian nation. Allowances. And a devout exercise of religion and long faithful marriage is no shield from slings and arrows from those whose ends can’t accommodate devotion of someone of a different political viewpoint. I can’t judge but I have my own perception of which path more closely mirrors what I think Jesus would do.
Marriage is hard to nurture and maintain when happy endings seem to come just as easily and surely to some who seem less devoted to marriage. Crime pays. Or at least it doesn’t seem to cost much. Cheaters win. With no apparent here-and-now cost. I’m human. Subject to the same frailties and temptations as everyone else. I stumble and fall like everyone. I do try not to get so close to the lines that must not be crossed that little stumbles carry me over them. I’m working on year 48 of marriage. As it happens, I have many examples to look up to in my own family and I can’t imagine why it took me so long to take note of that. There is a streak of failure in my family. There is also a wonderful record of success. I wanted to set the record straight.