We live on a cul de sac in a ‘safe’ city in Southern California. Our neighbors are polite and friendly. We all share vegetables from our gardens. Nobody speeds. We are all conscious of the nine children living in the four houses at the end of the circle.
We are middle class with middle class values and life styles. There are few dramas in this small world that is also known as an ‘urban rural reserve.’
Yet, two out of the four families recently started divorce proceedings. That’s 50% and right in line with the national average. Last night I took a short walk and felt immense sadness. One house is already abandoned and the lack of light coming from that house made me think about all our marriages.
A healthy marriage is a beacon of light to those around it. A failed marriage feels like a bombed out bunker. The children are quiet and sad and then rarely around. There is no bbq smoke, no meat roasting smells drifting over our yards on Sunday afternoon. There are no shrieks coming from the swimming pools either. The marriages are over.
If you ask a person who is getting a divorce you will find them focused on the shortcomings of their partner. You will find them talking about attorney fees. You will find them making cynical jokes about women or about men. Lots of heat. Little light.
What is not so common is hearing someone talk about their own contribution to the failure of the marriage. This is common: “well we both feel like quitting. We both feel like this is just too much work. We’re both afraid our love for each other is gone. We don’t want to be stupid. The kids see us fighting all the time and that can’t be good for them…”
What is uncommon is this: “but, we made a promise to each other long ago. We promised these children that regardless of what happened we’d find a way to work it out. We know our fighting all the time isn’t good for them, but the alternative of split homes, new ‘step’ parents, financial hardship, lives turned upside down – that certainly can’t be good for them either.” I am not suggesting that anyone reading this ‘grind it out’ for the ‘good of the children.’
I am suggesting that considering the good of the children is worth your time. And I don’t believe that most couples divorcing have given it their best. I don’t see people taking 100% responsibility for their contributions to the failures in the relationship. Many divorces are a promise aborted. None of us has ever attended a wedding where the bride or groom said “I can’t wait for our divorce.” Yet the language divorcing couples often use sounds, to me at least, like a difficult project abandoned because it was hard.
The philosopher Descartes said this “I think. Therefore I am.” I say this: “we love therefore we are.” Love is not confined to a hormone rush. And, it is not ‘over’ when the hormone rush disappears. Love and the capacity to develop and deepen your own love is at the very heart of human dignity, honor and, yes, self esteem.
It may be that one thing that drives us to marry is it offers the opportunity to develop our own loving. We may have thought it was about ‘being loved.’ But that is a consequence of loving not an end in itself.
Loving means I learn to go beyond my personal wounds, it means that I focus on becoming a loving human being as I leave behind my own narcissism and self indulgence. And, it means I honor the act of having children by giving them the greatest gift I can give them – a slowly unfolding, gradually deepening man who is capable of loving their mother. Her task is most likely the same.
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