Making the Marriage Important

I just read one of the best stories of people NOT getting divorced I have ever read. “Those Aren’t Fighting Words” was published in the New York Times on July 31, but I’m just now seeing it.

The husband came home to his wife of decades who thought that their family and relationship and living situation was top-notch. He said those dreaded words: “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t think I ever did. I’m moving out.”

We know all the usual responses: anger, tears, blame, begging him to stay, arguments. She felt some of those things, but her response came from a very different place. Somehow, she knew that this was not about the marriage or the family, but something within himself – but that the family she loved could be destroyed if she accepted his feelings as real.

When relationships were less disposable and more difficult to end, people had a variety of ways for coping and getting through the tough spots. They were passed down from one generation to the next, and around circles of friends – both in guy-talk and in girl-talk.

My generation pretty much dropped the ball. We were the ones who declared that marriage was just a piece of paper, and promoted the philosophy that, if a relationship isn’t working for you any more – marriage vows or no – you should leave it and find another one that works.  It didn’t often occur to us that “the relationship” was not some external object, but something created between two people that might require some maintenance  and effort.

The current generation is struggling, in its own way, to rediscover both the joys of solid committed relationships – real marriages – and the methods of maintaining them.  I’m going to file this New York Times story away for my Family and Society course.  We need to re-invent a new kind of social technology: one that provides the tools and methods for holding a family together through the bad times so that it’s still there for the good ones.

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