Friday, November 7, 2008

Unpopular opinion

Just this week, a friend of mine told me that she's leaving her husband because she's not happy being married to him. They got married a month after Mr. Darling and I did (two years ago), and they're already calling it quits. In the past two years alone, five couples I know have divorced after less than three years of marriage. In two cases, one person was unfaithful, so you certainly can't blame the injured party for wanting a divorce. But in the other three marriages, one (or both) spouse(s) just decided that they weren't particularly happy being married, and they decided to get a divorce.

Now, I realize that what I'm about to say is not a popular opinion to express in today's society, especially for someone of my generation. And I'm hoping that it doesn't offend any of you. If it does, I genuinely apologize for hurting anyone's feelings.

I can certainly sympathize with people who get divorced because of infidelity or abuse or because one spouse is secretly a serial killer. To me, those are all understandable reasons to divorce. But (here comes the unpopular part), I don't think that not being "happy" is a valid reason to divorce. In fact, I think it's a really, really crappy reason to divorce someone. I can't speak for anyone else, but my wedding vows did not end with the words " long as you make me happy," or "...until I no longer feel like being married to you." Mine ended with "...until death parts us." They also contained the words "...for better or for worse, in good times and in bad..." In other words, my (and most other people's) wedding vows made a point of saying that there are going to be bad times, there are definitely going to be times when one or both of us is unhappy, but I am promising, in front of God, and our families, and our friends, that I will still love, honor, and cherish you, even when I don't particularly feel like it, until I am dead. Those words are the most significant, meaningful, important promises that have ever left my mouth, and I don't think that fleeting feelings should have any bearing on them whatsoever.

I think Dr. Laura sums it up best in her blog when she says:

"That’s why we have such chaos in our whole society - because you think “happy” at any one moment is the highest value. I think honor, sacrifice, and commitment are a higher honor than taking your daily “happiness” temperature, because a man staying true to his wife, who has terminal colon cancer, instead of dating is not happy. Is he happy? Then that can’t be the highest quotient!

If you want the world to deal on “happiness,” then you have to understand that your man will leave you any day you don’t make him happy, and will not honor you or any vow, because he doesn’t have to! You’ve already taught him that if you’re “happy,” that’s the only thing that matters.

I don’t think firemen are happy to run into burning buildings. I don’t think they’re “happy” doing that. I don’t think police are “happy” to surround a building where somebody says he’s going to shoot everybody. I don’t think they lay awake in the morning and go “Gee, that makes me happy!” They have honor and sacrifice and duty and commitment to something higher than “feeling good” in and of themselves. Don’t have children if you’re going to teach them about “happiness.” We have enough chaos in our society because people are doing what they “feel” like when it has no meaning and no projection into the future." Amen, sister.

And I know that the inevitable question I'll get is: "So, do you think your friend should just stay in a miserable marriage for the next 50 years?" and the short answer to that question is: Yes. Yes, I think she should keep her promises. Yes, I think she should honor the most important vow that she ever made in her life. Yes, I think that respecting a lifetime commitment is more important than allowing temporary and fickle feelings to dictate your major life decisions. I think she should work on her marriage, I think she should seek counseling, I think she should aggressively and proactively try to make her marriage better, I don't think she should be resigned to being unhappy forever but rather take decisive steps to help herself have a great marriage, but yes - I think she should stick it out.

The funny thing about the fact that this particular opinion is so unpopular is that it's totally normal in every other aspect of society. If a mom stops feeding and caring for her infant child because doing so no longer makes her happy, we call it child abuse, and she'll end up in prison. If the police suddenly decide that they are no longer happy enforcing laws, society will succumb to utter chaos. If a member of our armed forces decides he's no longer happy being in the military so he just up and quits, he'll be court-marshaled and probably do jail time. If in the middle of performing open-heart surgery on you, your surgeon decides he's not happy with his profession and leaves to become an astronaut, you're dead, and he's going to be facing a major medical malpractice suit. If you decide that you're not happy paying taxes, or showing up to work, or paying your mortgage, or driving on the right side of the road, or doing any one of the other thousands of things that make society run smoothly, you can expect major consequences if you act according to that "unhappiness." Heck, you can't even cancel your cell phone contract if you're unhappy with it without paying hundreds of dollars to the cell phone company. In NO other area of society is being unhappy considered to be a good excuse to just up and abandon your responsibilities or renege on your promises. In every other societal arena, you are expected to fulfill your obligations regardless of whether or not you're happy about it. But for some strange reason, our society thinks that being unhappy is a totally acceptable reason to break the most important vow that most of us will ever make in our lives.

This is one of the reasons that I think people should be very, very sure about their choice of spouse before they get married. 99% sure is not good enough. It's important that you know your future spouse well enough that you have a very realistic idea of what the "for worse" is that you're agreeing to when you say "for better or for worse." Because those words aren't just something you say because they sound poetic. They mean something. And once you've said them, simply changing your mind isn't a good enough reason to break your promises.

Agree with me? Disagree? Think I'm a raving lunatic? Want to nominate me for sainthood? Bring on your opinions! Niceness preferred, but not mandatory.

Sorry this is so long. If you actually read all the way to the end, you deserve a cookie. Go buy yourself one!


Piece o' Coconut Cake said...

Congratulations, Tova, and welcome to adulthood. Something that your friend has obviously not reached yet.

Maki said...

You are so right about everything you said! Marriage is not just about being happy; it includes hardships, but you have to work at it to get through it.

Great post!

pj said...

Your friend took the easy way out. It really is a shame that more ppl divorce than stay married. I hope they didn't have kids. 2 years is a blink of an eye. I am sad after reading this post.nobody said dedication and commitment are easy. And I am an old married man (3 years), so I know!

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Tova, well said. You know my position on marriage and it's vows. I love your use of the word happy. My ex said he left because he wasn't happy...hmmm. Maybe he wasn't happy because he was worried about getting caught cheating. Scum.(oops, sorry) I often found myself wondering if my views on commitment were archaic. It's so refreshing to hear a twenty-something believe passionately in commitment. As you say, Amen sister!

I will leave you with this. It was relayed to me by my cousin who works in physical therapy with the elderly: She asked an elderly couple what they thought the key to a long and successful marriage was-
They replied: Don't ever fall out of love at the same time. When one falls out of love, the other one always has enough love to hold the bond together. Prophetic, isn't it?

Cora said...

You are absolutely 100% right, Tova! I've already told you about my cheating exhusband, so I won't repeat it here, but I will say that I at least attempted to work it out - I tried to get him to go to couples therapy, but he decided he wasn't happy (probably because sneaking around cheating is hard work, and not being trusted by your wife feels cruddy) so he left. He's remarried now. And he isn't any happier in that marriage either, yet he seems to be sticking that one out, so maybe he's learned something. And, good! I do know he regrets what he did in our marriage though - and he regrets leaving. He sometimes shows up on my doorstep out of the blue crying his eyes out apologizing for it all and saying he wishes he could take it all back. I hope your friend rethinks her decision. She's most likely making a mistake she'll regret one day. Therapy is probably a great idea.

And now I'm gonna go get me a big ol' cookie!! Woo-hoo!! :-)

Bon Don said...

I hear by nominate you for "Saint Tova Darling"!

But really though...this is one of the best post I have ever read! I have the same opinion towards marriage and LOVE that you wrote it all down. Thank you.

Laura said...

Say it again Sam! Tova my darling, our society uses divorce as an easy way out. We have accepted divorce as a tool. In extreme cases, I totally believe in divorce or if you are leading separate lives and the children are affected. In better or worse means to me in the good times and bad. A partner in life. I wish we could have tougher rules to divorce. If you are divorcing because of unhappiness then maybe there should be a wait period. Thank you for your candid thoughts.

Former Fat Chick said...

I agree, HAPPY is a big crock of Shit that is sold to us by stupid movies, and romance novels..this is my philosophy, why dump the one you got, then re-invest all the time and energy in training a new one to end up with the same hunk o' POO...hate to say it...99% of all men are the same...

Marie said...

Well stated! Anyone who has been married any length of time knows that eventually the person you are married to will make you really really angry at times and that there will be unhappy moments. You just have to stick it out!

I just wish I had a dime for evey time my husband made me mad. Why didn't they write something about that into the marriage vows?

Fancy Schmancy said...

I also agree with you. Marriage is a contract that you agree with until death do you part. Which is the reason I have never entered into that contract. The death part only made me see that I would have to kill that person to ever be free. At least I know that about myself.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Marriage has become so disposable anymore. It makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

I completely and utterly agree with you. Every relationship has its ups and downs and that is what makes a relationship. I love my hubby and we have our ups and downs but I have never never thought of leaving him because I am unhappy. I want my marriage to work and last and I don't want anyone else so that means I have to get through the unhappy times to get back to the good happy times.

The only good reason for leaving someone is cheating and the reasons you mentioned. Some people need to grow up and start having an adult relationship.

Agent Elle said...

I both agree and disagree, and will explain why - and I think that this was a great blog post.

I know I'm going to get slated for this but I'll voice my opinion anyway.

I left my husband in March/April because I wasn't happy. He didn't cheat. I didn't cheat. I just didn't love him any more. I no longer found him physically attractive. He had become like a friend to me. Granted he was only my second boyfriend and I was young when I married.

It was nobody's 'fault' I guess. But it was over for me. I tried, but there was nothing I could do to make me love the guy.

It's easy to say that you have to work at it. But when the love has gone completely, there's nothing you can do about it. I'm glad I left when I did, rather than making myself miserable for a number of years. I'm 24 and have my whole life ahead of me.

That said, I will not even THINK about marriage again until I am fully certain that it is going to be for life. Let's just say I learnt from it. Next time I will remain married until the day I fall down dead. Unless he cheats, in which case HE will fall down dead.

But in all seriousness, I do agree - though some of us do make mistakes, and even though my ex and I never fought, it just came to an end. I'd moved on. You can't force yourself to love someone i the love is no longer there, however hard you try.

laura said...

are you surprised that everyone agreed with you? I do too. C.S. Lewis has a lot of great things to say on this topic too.

Island Girl said...

I fact I dealt with a situation today (it would take far too long to explain) that fits into your post perfectly!

Also, I've given you an award!

Tobey said...

just stumbled on your blog...

i totally agree with you. i take marriage very seriously (which is one reason why i am not married), and it's good to read your insightful comments about it. but i also often forget that my partner can't make me happy all by himself and that happiness is not constantly sustainable or even the most valuable thing in life. it's strange to put it in those terms, but true, i think...

Megan said...

Just found you today...

I totally agree with you! Marriage is not to be taken lightly and so many people do. It's actually really sad that people marry until they're not "happy" any longer.

2 thumbs up for you!!

A. said...

Great post Tova!

Cassie said...

i could say sooo much but i'll just stick with, amen girl.

ÄsK AliCë said...

I have always told people that I never want to get divorced. If that means I'll never get married, well so be it.

I think there are far too many people who don't take the commitment seriously but I also think the biggest problem is people marrying too young who don't know what they're getting themselves into.

I have a lot of friends who are divorced (some with kids) who are 30, 27, even 25.

I've worked at a wedding where the bride and groom were JUST out of High School. To me that is far too young to know what you want out of life, love and a marriage.

That being said, I won't judge anyone for divorcing their significant other. No one knows what happens in a relationship, behind closed doors.

I do think that the problem lies with people not being mature enough when they get married to understand the consequences of that action.

There are young people who can have great relationships and marriages, it's not really about age - it's maturity level.

Rambling on again here...anyway my point is that I agree that people should stay in a marriage and try to make it work as best they can. There's only so much you can do though.

My parents are getting divorced this year and they've been married for 27 years. If that's not trying, I don't know what is.

Desert Rat said...

I agree with you and the Doctor 100%. As it is happiness is a choice...if you are not happy you need to make yourself happy if that is what you want is to be happy and if you are not happy with your spouse then it is time to do things to make each other happy such as do something you did when you were only dating. Spice up your life and ladies (and men) I want to say one week but for sure NEVER allow two weeks to go by without have time make the time.

I also don't understand why we have all the license and classes to get certificates to do something but you don't need a class to have kids...totally different subject but I also think people should have to take classes before getting married. (not just the religious) and people should really not get married to young if you can't drink at your wedding you should not be getting married you haven't even enjoyed your self yet. Great post.

Moi said...

I agree with your words here-
my mother called me on my honeymoon and told me she was getting a divorce. I wasnt surprised but it kind of shook me up to hear something like that after I had just said my vows. Lets just say my Mom and I have different definitions of marriage.
It wont be her first. I want to print this out and anonymously drop it in the mail to her.
I won't do that...or maybe I will...
thanks for your thoughts. more blurb here:

The biggest problem I see is that people are getting married for the wrong reasons. For security or because the time is right and you've been together for a while...etc. there are lots of reasons.
I tell my Mom this when she and her new boyfriend are considering marriage b/c she wants to feel secure in their relationship -(aka she wants him to take care or her and she wants a rock)
This is what I say:
Mom- I never wanted to get married b/c of what I have seen in my life of people getting divorced. The reason I am married is for no reason other than that I fell in love and I want to share my life with him - my whole life. I dont need anything from him but the same vows said back to me.

Oh geez..I am so that long commenting soap box girl.
I clearly have issues.

thanks for the post -

Cathy said...

I love this post! I agree with you 100%.

But instead of a cookie, I think I'll go with some fattening lardy Mexican food for lunch.

Namine said...

Very well written. Refreshing to hear a good opinion for once

mindor said...

I don't know.

I agree that a divorcing couple probably got married for the wrong reasons. I agree that simple 'happiness' should not be a conditional for staying in the marriage. (and you pulled a very interesting quote!)

but it seems to me that "I just wasn't happy" can a euphemism for something deeper, more complex, difficult to explain.

But if it comes down to it, marriage should be more than an endurance test.

divorce is not a haircut. it's not easy, it's not quick. unlike a las vegas wedding, the decision is never so arbitrary. regardless of the reason given, it should not be regarded or derided as such.

Anonymous said...

Divorce at will is legal in this country because most people think couples should only stay married if they want to. All your analogies are inappropriate. If someone had to stay at the same job for the rest of their life no matter what that would be considered slavery. People are free to move to a new city, sell their house, quit their job, change their religion. Why shouldn't they be able to divorce? Going through a long divorce process is hardly analogous to a heart surgeon walking away in the middle of surgery.

Just because you take your marriage vows super-seriously doesn't mean everyone looks at them that way. "Till death do us part," etc. are poetic flourishes, not actual legal, contractual statements. Many people get married for tax benefits or to secure health insurance, or because they think it's the best, most romantic thing FOR NOW, not necessarily for all time. Your views seem largely grounded in religion but not everyone shares your religious views. Many people don't even get married by a religious official, but rather by someone in the county government.

I'm not married yet but if I get married it will be with the understanding that either of us can proceed through with a divorce if we want to be done with the relationship.

Stace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
In my opinion, we don't devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks. ~ Calvin & Hobbes