I’m intrigued with Edward Burns’ film “Newlyweds”. I’ve viewed it several times now and each time I make a new connection. The main storyline is a comment on marriage and the dynamics around new marriages. For most people who watch it, they won’t necessarily find magnificent revelations; however, there are some witty observations. In the beginning of the film one of the main characters—one half of the newly wedded couple—makes a comment to his sister-in-law about her failing marriage: “You’ve been married for eighteen years . . . if it ended today you could probably call it a success, right?”
In American society it’s an undeniable fact that a great number of marriages end in divorce. While I am interested in exploring divorce at some point, in this moment I’m most curious about the idea of success in marriages and what defines this success for different people. I’m not placing judgement on any specific attitude or standard, but I would like to know if most couples take stock throughout their marriages in order to maintain healthy, loving, unions. Or, does this tend to happen only when the relationship is coming to an end? And if a marriage is terminated, is the measure of its success based on how long it lasted? I imagine for many, this is a guiding principle. Like with a marathon, there is a finish line for every couple and those lines will be at different points along the race. Maybe this perspective is truly what this society needs right now in order to weather the “failure”.
The experience of failure can lead to shame and even trauma, and I don’t mean to make the focus simply a psychological dilemma. However, the idea of divorce leads me to wonder if people are choosing to not get married because they can’t imagine being in a marriage that will make it to the “finish line”, whatever that means for them. Recently, a friend and I were talking about a trend we’ve been observing among the non-married people we know. My friend shared that many of her single associates and friends want to remain single because they believe there is potentially more to lose—financial, emotional, and personal power—by getting married than if they fly solo. They see marriage as too high of a risk and they’d rather just live their lives and do the best they can to be happy.
While there are marriages that travel through horrific trials and arduous tribulations, not all marriages are as exasperating, right? Through the ups and downs, there are many points of achievement and joy. However, it seems like many people are walking on shaky ground in their marriage. I’ve heard people say, “We’ve been married for ____ years. I hope that we can ‘make it’, but you never know.” Does this apprehension come from real challenges that a couple may be facing or for some people, do they enter into their marriages expecting the worst?
In the end, regardless of the successes, it seems that the failure of marriages is taking the lead. I can appreciate that this reality is daunting. I want to have a healthy marriage someday, and I genuinely want people to be happy and to thrive in their lives and relationships. But, there is a real loss of hope and a lack of confidence in the prospect of success in marriage. And this may be what is keeping many people out of the race.
I think that for many people, the fact that the marriage has ended trumps anything else in the marriage that may be counted as a success. Failures tend to stick with us much longer than the momentary joy of a success.
I know that, before I met my husband and decided to get married, my opinion was that I was no better a person than all the people I saw in my parents’ generation who I saw with either detrimental marriages or divorces. My thought was why try to do the very thing that they all failed at when the odds were so clearly not in my favor? Wouldn’t it just be blind optimism to try to be successful when, what, at least 60% of marriages end in divorce? Ick.
There are, of course, other reasons to avoid marriage: financial responsibility (can’t be part of a family if I have debt) or moral issues with the history of the institution and religious organizations, etc.
I imagine that your thought about the failure of a marriage trumping any successful moments/achievements holds true for many. The end is the end and why try to focus on any single moments of joy from the past?
In terms of reasons to avoid marriage, I hadn’t considered issues with religious organizations. That’s an interesting one.