Over the past several weeks I’ve learned that two dear couple friends of ours have decided to go their separate ways and divorce. I shared this with my mom yesterday and she reminded me that I’m at the age where lots of people divorce after many years of marriage. When I was a young adult I always wondered why on earth a couple would decide to break up after twenty or more years. “What is there to stress about? The kids are grown, they’re getting ready to retire in a few years,” I thought. But being married for 25 years myself, I get it now. (No, honey, I’m not hinting at anything!) It’s so easy to use the business of life and children as a barrier when there’s a dispute of some kind. I’ve done it many times. I don’t want to deal with what is being said to me, so I quickly tend to a child who supposedly needs me immediately or leave the conversation to fold laundry or answer the phone. The problem goes unresolved and festers only to return. The same fight over and over. I’ve sat in the same room as my husband and had nothing to say once the schedules were coordinated and the bank account has been reconciled. Other than work and kids, what else is there to talk about?
Who’s running the show?
It seems to me that my generation, the one of the helicopter parent, has pushed the needs of the marriage to the background and made the needs of the children the center of the family. I remember hearing my grandfather (who was married to my grandmother for over 60 years) say that the marriage should come before the children. Being a teenager at the time, I thought that was ridiculous. What do you mean, “Put the marriage first?” How is that going to create well-rounded, well-fed, happy, productive children? Of course now I get it, I realize he didn’t mean to ignore the children, of course not. He meant that you cannot let the kids demand every second of every day, time must be set aside for the two of you. A marriage is not something that happens one beautiful day in June when everybody is gorgeous and comes bearing gifts. A marriage is a living organism and has to be fed. And it can’t be fed just once. It has to be fed over and over and over. Sometimes only one person is doing the feeding for a little while, then the other can pick it up. But it is a constant process. A process we are still working on.
I think that we as a society are allowing our children to run the show, when it should be the other way around. I was talking with a lady at the hair salon today (honey, you might not want to look at the checking account until you’re sitting down) about the vacation that my husband and I just took to Europe for our anniversary. Her children are in high school now and she said that she and her husband never went anywhere without their kids while they were little. She said that since her husband travels she wanted him to spend as much time with the kids as possible while he was home. I get that. I’m in the same boat. I want my husband to hang out with his boys when he’s home, plus finding a sitter is a pain in the behind. But what is going to happen when you find yourself in an empty house with a complete stranger that you’ve lived with for 25 years? The kids are going to be just fine if you let a sitter play with them for an hour before bedtime and then put them to bed once a week or even once a month so you can get away for a while. Trust me. There must be some time to reconnect with the person you agreed to spend the rest of your life with. There’s a reason you fell in love and even though your relationship changes with stresses of work – money – kids – and responsibility, you must work to remember what it was.
Think it’s hard to find something to talk about on a first date? Try coming up with something fresh to say after 25 years!
I hate it when I go to a restaurant and I see a couple eating without speaking or sometimes even looking at each other (or at those blasted phones). To be honest, I find it frightening. My husband and I have found ourselves similarly strapped for conversation. I mean, what else is there to say that you haven’t already said in the past 25 years? So, we’ve made a rule. We talk about work – house – kids – schedule – or money (ugh) for the first 30 minutes or so of our date night. Then, no more talking about it. It takes practice to figure out what else to talk about. Sometimes we have to play a game. We try to carry on a conversation using only movie quotes, try it sometime, it’s tough. This usually ends up with us laughing so hard we can’t finish. Good ice breaker. It really is hard to keep things fresh and interesting. I mean how many surprises can you have with someone you’ve lived with longer than you haven’t? Think about that one – how old were you when you got married? How long have you been married? I remember calling my mother-in-law on our 20th anniversary saying, “Well, I can’t blame you any more, I’ve had him just as long as you did now.” It’s hard to keep it interesting for sure.
What is your marriage teaching your children?
It’s a very interesting thing to watch when your kids get older and start to date. Their expectations of love are based on what’s been modeled in the home. My middle son recently started dating a young lady he met in college. Throughout the summer, he sent her flowers to places he knew she would be. I can hear it now, the collective “awwwwws” across the internet. He learned that from his dad. That isn’t something that can be taught. Boys learn how to treat a girl from how his dad treats his mom. Girls learn how they should be treated from how their dads treat their moms as well. So what is your marriage teaching your children? Are you teaching them to resolve conflicts with avoidance? Are you allowing them to run the show? Do you want your son to grow up and treat his wife like a stepping stone or like a princess? Do you want your daughter to be with a man who ignores her or adores her? Like it or not, you are teaching your children what marriage means each and every day.
I wish I knew the magic words to keep people from getting to the point that they’re willing to walk away from two decades of life together. Unfortunately, I don’t. My husband and I have been through more than I ever thought we would when we stood in front of my grandfather in 1988 and lit that unity candle. And even though there were times when I wondered if it was worth the sacrifice it has taken to keep this union afloat, I am very glad that I’ve stuck it out this long with him. Who knows what the next 25 years will be like, but I hope we keep laughing because we’re a team. Grandpa was right after all, the kids are going to be fine.