When Marriage Isn’t What You Expect

September 30, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment


Marriage 1From the pages of the New York Times comes this startling statistic:

A half-century ago, only 2.8 percent of Americans older than 50 were divorced. By 2000, 11.8 percent were. In 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 15.4 percent were divorced and another 2.1 percent were separated. Some 13.5 percent were widowed.[1]

It turns out that for the first time in American history, more people over 50 are divorced than widowed.  Sam Roberts, the deliverer of this sobering statistic, puts the situation curtly:  “So much for ‘till death do us part.’”

Unsurprisingly, the reasons more and more couples are divorcing after they pass into their golden years are manifold and varied, but Stephanie Coontz’s analysis in this article of one of the reasons for the increasing divorce rate is especially insightful:

It’s still true that in general the longer you are married, the lower your chance of divorce, but it’s sure no guarantee anymore … Staying together until death do us part is a bigger challenge than it used to be because we expect so much more of marriage than we did in the past, and we have so many more options when a marriage doesn’t live up to those expectations.

Coontz’s analysis is sadly brilliant because it not only identifies a reason for marital breakdown – that people’s expectations from marriage are not being met – it also offers insight into what many believe about marital makeup.  People increasingly view marriage as a commodity to be consumed rather than a commitment to be kept.  This is why if the commodity of marriage does not live up to whatever arbitrary standards a particular spouse sets for the relationship, that spouse is willing to search elsewhere for a commodity that better meets their expectations.

Certainly there are – and should be – expectations for marriage.  The Bible itself lays out certain expectations, including faithfulness (cf. Matthew 19:4-9) and gentleness (cf. Colossians 3:19).  But a crassly consumer oriented view of marriage rooted in arbitrarily prescribed criteria is destined for failure.  One person cannot meet the wants – or, for that matter, even the needs – of another person all the time.  It is for these times, when disappointment with your spouse sets in, that commitment is needed.  It is for these times that God’s wisdom on marriage is necessary:  “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  Marriage means holding fast to your spouse in spite of disappointments, frustrations, and hurts along the way.  This is what makes a marriage work.  This is what makes a marriage last.

Your spouse will not always meet all your wants and needs.  But your spouse can be devoted to you in love – even when you’re not all that fulfilling to be around.  And you can be devoted to your spouse in love – even when they’re not all that fulfilling to be around.  And such devotion can, in and of itself, be fulfilling.


[1] Sam Roberts, “Divorce After 50 Grows More Common,” New York Times (9.20.2013).

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. irene  |  September 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

    While initially reading this I got that same feeling: a spouse is expected to meet your wants and needs. It makes them sound more like a washing machine, just someone to be used.

    After seeing my mother’s track record with men (not good) I went into marriage with no expectations. I knew marriage wasn’t easy, all roses and white picket fence. But I loved Dad, he loved me and we would do our best for each other. And the “D” word was never an option, never used the word as a threat. We agreed on that from the beginning. So we struggled and worked things out and grew together. Now we feel like the most blessed couple on the planet. I think this is what God intended.

    Reply

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