Some marriages work better than others in the same way that some people are "naturals" at sports or computers. Some marriages just "click" and aside from sickness or accidents, the relationship is a smooth and effortless thing that just goes on and on, year after year. Like anything else, these types of marriages exist but are in the minority, the majority of marriages go through various stages that are not always so smooth.
The stages of a marriage have been documented and go something like this:
1. Romantic stage
In this stage each partner says to the other, "I commit myself to you. You are exactly what I want, you are perfect. You have no faults that are a problem to me. You are ideal." Humbly the spouse answers, "Yes, I know. I feel the same about you." It is this romantic stage that drives us forward to be with that person all the time, to make promises and commitments. Some people enjoy this stage so much that they go through life searching to repeat the experience of this stage over and over again.
Most romantic movies and novels describe this stage of a relationship. We get the impression that this stage is the only stage we should experience and when we get married, this romantic stage will simply go on uninterrupted.
2. Bargaining stage
In this stage you wake up one morning and say, "Boy, you sure are not perfect. I'll tell you what… I will change if you will!"… and so the marital tug of war begins. This is where we feel frightened, disappointed and wonder if we have made a mistake. We realize that marriage is give-and-take so we take a deep breath and begin to negotiate changes that will "keep the romance alive." At this stage the mask begins to come off and the real person begins to emerge: not just bad things become visible, but things you did not know or forgot to ask. Now the intensity of feeling is perceived (i.e. "I didn't know my mother bothered you that much").
3. Coercive stage
If the gentle bargaining, "You know I don't like it when you smoke in the house," does not work, the real hard-ball game begins. Now the partner says, "Boy do you have faults! I am going to change you and if I cannot then I am going to get God to change you." At this point all kinds of prayers go up to God, "Please God, do something about that slob/witch I am living with."
The coercive stage arrives when one spouse realizes that they do not have the ability to change their partner. At this point they go out and enlist the help of others (God, mom, friends, the preacher) in order to change them.
4. Desperation stage
In the desperation stage you say and think things like, "You are useless and hopeless. You are a rock that I cannot lift, even God cannot change you. There is no use trying anymore, I want out (if not in reality, in my head). I give up because you cannot change." Hopefully by this point you get help and you may reach the next stage.
5. Acceptance stage
At this point your attitude should be, "Well, I realize that we both have faults. I will try to accept yours if you will be patient with mine." Accepting is realizing that the romantic stage was a stage built on less than all the information or all the accurate information about the other. The interesting thing about this process is that if a couple gets to the acceptance stage, much of the romance returns to their relationship but without the idealism. Romantic realism, a romance based on what is real, not what is made up or idealized.
As couples go through the stages and these types of emotions, this question always surfaces, "Marriage or Divorce?" If we think we have made a mistake, think the other will not change, begin to believe that they are impossible, then the divorce option seems like an easy and effective solution.
Those who have experienced divorce and those who work with people who are going through or on the other side of divorce will tell you that divorce is never an easy solution for several reasons:
- Divorce creates as many new problems and situations as it solves old ones. Custody arrangements for the kids; hassles over money and property; the list goes on and on.
- Divorce hurts financially. Only movie stars get rich with divorce. The rest of us are worse off financially because the same pool of money now has to support more houses, people and lawyers.
- Divorce hurts emotionally. Divorce gets them out of your house but not out of your life. They are there emotionally through memories and family. They are there financially. They are there socially through friends, at weddings, funerals, etc. They bring their new partners with them into your life and sometimes you have to deal with these as well.
- Divorce hurts spiritually. Because divorce is a sin, it creates guilt and guilt is a heavy burden on the soul. Unlike other sins, divorce is the type of sin that is not easily remedied, and the guilt (even after one asks and receives forgiveness) is still felt long afterwards. Even those who are victims in divorce (innocent spouses and children) feel guilty about the experience and are often unable to shake the feeling of low self-esteem, anger and sorrow.
- Divorce hurts socially. The movies show divorce in a glamorous light at times: First Wives Club getting even and the girls having a good time. Divorced guys getting back into the single scene with plenty of women and fun. Divorce parties.
Reality shows a different picture however. Women, struggling alone with children to care for and having little energy to date or find another mate. Immature men, repeating the cycle of shallow relationships and regretting the loss of their families.
Divorced spouses, bitter, hurt, angry and isolated because they are no longer "a couple."
There is no social advantage or business advantage in divorce. Even if you did your best, people consider divorce a failure and many times the victim suffers as much or more than the guilty party.
I do not mean to paint a picture that suggests that divorce is inevitable, only that it is an option that more people are taking advantage of without realizing the difficult consequences.
Marriage as an option
Of course the other option as one goes through the various stages of marriage is to stay married. The question that arises when one is faced with the choice, marriage or divorce, is "why?" Why stay married? It is hard; I do not like it; she will not change; I am not happy, etc. In answer to the question why, I offer the following answers:
1. Consider the other option
People divorce because they think that the sum total of what they will gain will be greater than what they have. This is not the case in most instances. In French we say, "Ça change le mal de place," you change the location of the pain (you don't eliminate the pain). Obviously for some, divorce has turned out to be good. An unfaithful or abusive mate has left and after the pain you have been able to start over. But divorce is not always this clean or easy. Many times it is better to heal the pain altogether rather than shifting it around.
2. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16)
Sexual sin and divorce are condemned by God (Hebrews 13:4). Those who have no faith, no fear of God or no desire to please the Lord do not consider this idea, but they will be judged because of it and their conscience secretly suffers. Counseling offices are full of people who are dealing with guilt and do not understand why.
Jesus condemns those who divorce unrighteously in Matthew 19 and Mark 10:11-13. We will deal with these passages and these issues in our next chapter but for now suffice to say that one major reason not to divorce is because God forbids it and will punish those who are guilty of divorcing without just cause. God hates divorce because of the broken promise and what it causes: sorrow, guilt and sadness.
3. You made a covenant
Marriage is not sex or living together or having children, all these come and go in life. The basis of a marriage is a covenant between two people to remain husband and wife no matter what, and the covenant gives us permission to be "one."
God's experience with Israel is the model for covenant. He made a covenant with them for better or for worse, that He would be their God and they His people. Historically we saw that Israel had both good and bad times with the Lord (David and Solomon, good. Ahab and Jezebel, bad). Throughout these times God remained faithful because of the covenant, not the condition of the people.
When we take our wedding vows, what we are promising is to relate to each other just as God related to Israel. The wedding vows would be more realistic if they were stated thus: "I take you as my lawfully wedded spouse with the full knowledge that you are weak and sinful as I am weak and sinful in many ways, but despite all of this I commit myself to loving you and being faithful to only you till death do us part."
When the covenant is the basis of marriage and there are problems, the couple has a way to work out these problems. They can strip the relationship down to its basic covenant in order to rebuild and repair what needs to be fixed in their marriage. Without a covenant based marriage, there is no reason to remain married when things go wrong so divorce seems like a good option. The answer to "why not" when contemplating divorce is "…because of the covenant, that's why not."
Take the time to write up a Covenant of Marriage with your spouse based on what you have learned so far in this book. Let this be a project that you work on together. Once completed, use it as a basis to renew your marriage vows. Once done, store the document with your important papers such as your will or passport. At each wedding anniversary read this document in order to remind yourselves of the basis upon which your marriage has been sealed.