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February 2, 2013

You Weren't Warned

What would it be like if people came with warning labels? Imagine that before your first date with someone, you could see what the future holds:
  • He will lose his job and not look for another, spending his days watching TV and drinking while you support the family and do all the housework.
  • Her low interest will eventually result in a sexless marriage.
  • She is a shopaholic who will deplete all your savings and put you on the brink of foreclosure.
  • He will have a long-term affair with a woman he met on a business trip.
  • Her mismanagement will run the family business into the ground.
  • He will withdraw half the money from the children's college fund and buy himself a boat.

With this advance information, most people would simply walk away. Who needs that kind of pain? Find someone whose label promises stability, fidelity, and good times.

Unfortunately, potential mates don't come with warnings. Many people find themselves married to spouses who unexpectedly disappoint, hurt, and betray. When that happens, many decide to call it quits. This isn't what they signed up for, and they deserve a chance at a better life, so they leave. But some people stay. Why stay? If this behavior would have been a deal-breaker then, why isn't it a deal-breaker now?

Because that was then, and this is now. Deciding whether or not to get involved is one thing, but all these years later, they are involved, and the situation is much more complicated. Here are some of the things that keep marriages together even when they look like they are coming apart.
  • Both people have invested a lot of time, money, and emotion in this relationship. There is a meaningful history that includes the happiness and hope they shared at the beginning, the good times they had, the challenges they overcame together. They own a house, a retirement account, a couple of dogs, a time-share, and some bronze sculptures they bought on their honeymoon. They have secret jokes, special nicknames, and memories that no one else has. Ending the marriage will mean losing many things that can never be regained.
  • If they have dependent children, they may want to repair the marriage so they can continue to provide a stable, happy environment for the kids rather than subjecting them to the chaos and insecurity that separation will likely cause.
  • There are still no warning labels. They don't know whether being alone would be better or worse than staying together, or whether some new relationship would work out any better than this one. At least in this marriage they know what they are dealing with; working with the familiar seems preferable to facing all those unknowns.
  • Divorce is expensive. It may make more sense to spend money on a marriage counselor rather than lawyers.
  • They believe the good outweighs the bad. Whatever went wrong doesn't seem to matter as much as all the other things that are still going right.
  • They still love each other. Where there is love, there is hope. Remembering the reasons they got married in the first place, they can see at least a glimpse of the people they once were and the joy they once shared. They recall the promises they made and hope to rebuild the marriage so they can have another chance together.

Marriage is never simple. There is rarely a single element that makes or breaks a relationship. What tears people apart or holds them together is the complex interaction of everything they do and everything they are.

5 fabulous comments:

  1. Well said Rosemary. People can and do change over time but its also part of what married life is about. It would be boring otherwise especially if you knew how life would pan out. I love all the new hobbies and things we've tried out together over time. It's been a fun evolution. Whilst I would be devastated if one of your above examples played out I know that with the time and love invested to date I could not just throw it away. I would have to work through it and do my best to forgive if not forget.

    Have a great weekend

  2. Now you tell me. Why couldn't you have written this three months ago before I proposed to my fiance? Now I know I am heading to my impending doom. Do kids come with instruction manuals?

  3. I love this, Rosemary. I'm so glad neither CJ or I came with such labels! Some of the labels that we may have had in our mid 20s are no longer a part of who we are, and we have grown in ways we could not have imagined. It has not all been pretty, but it is ours and we own it. Love is worth it!

  4. I LOVE this idea! I sure do wish that people came with warning labels! Although, there are ways to tell if a person is "safe" or not, but many people don't know what those signs are. Great thoughts here and the way you play this against ways to keep marriages together is so helpful as well. I'd love to have you join me over at my place for Wedded Wednesday. My readers would love this post, Rosemary!

  5. Beth, yes, there are some effective ways to judge whether or not it's a good idea to get involved with a particular person. In fact, I have an upcoming post on trust that will discuss this. But even a "safe" person can make mistakes, change over time, have a character flaw that asserts itself unexpectedly, etc. Maintaining the marriage and being aware of early warning signs can help avoid disaster. If the time comes that there is a marriage crisis, then it's important to step back, evaluate the situation, and decide how to proceed.


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