By Wendy Anne Clark
A college student in one of my English classes wrote a paper explaining why people don’t get married any more. According to this student the main reason for not marrying is in order to have a “stronger commitment” to each other. You stay together, not because you have promised to or because you have to, but because you choose to every day. The commitment is more fresh and “real” that way.
A friend of mine who teaches at a Christian school recounted a conversation he had with a believing student who explained how he and his girlfriend planned to live together and have children together, but never to get married. This student couldn’t see any point in getting married. To him marriage is simply a “structure of the state.”
I see great irony that we have come to a place where the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/ Transgendered community is fighting to be married, and the heterosexual community doesn’t really care about marriage at all. I feel like Alice did when she fell down the rabbit hole and discovered a world where all of reality was altered and almost unrecognizable.
So in light of the way our society has shifted, it seems important to state that parents can do a lot for their children by getting married, staying married, and cultivating a healthy marriage. Getting married and staying married is not enough, and in fact, many parents have scarred their children by getting married and staying married but doing little to invest in having a healthy marriage.
I think back to a friend of mine. As we were entering college, he was entering therapy to deal with the mixed emotions that sprang out of growing up in a home where his parents stayed together “for the children” but lived like a divorced couple. It may have been even more damaging to my friend’s understanding and perspective on marriage than if his parents had divorced as they made clear they really wanted to do. That kind of “commitment” isn’t really a commitment at all. As soon as the kids graduated from high school, the parents went running for the door, and the kids were devastated all the same and left wondering what marriage was all about and if there was even any point to getting married at all.
But cultivating a healthy marriage is foreign to our culture where people “fall” in and out of love as if against their will. They see themselves as powerless to fight the force that draws them in and out of their relationships. The pull and power of this force is an illusion really, a lie that our culture has perpetrated and that too many parents have marketed to their kids: You see, kids, your mommy and daddy have just fallen out of love, but we will always love you.
I talked to a young mother who was struggling with this “love” that she had fallen into—like a pit. Her husband was in the military and serving overseas, and she had met a young father—whose wife was also away on active duty—and the two of them had a powerful “connection” right away. She didn’t know what to do because she was “in love” with this “wonderful father” and “kind, sweet man” and had “fallen out of love” with her husband, the father of her children. She didn’t want to hurt him, of course, but what really could she do? People just fall in and out of love don’t they? It’s not really anyone’s fault is it?
All of this reasoning is of course false—a big LIE, but sadly many people live their lives believing all of the things this young woman believed. But here’s the truth and what I told this young woman:
The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it and feed it and tend to it. The grass dies on the side of the fence where it is neglected and ignored.
If you want to fall out of love with this other man and fall back in love with your husband, there are two things you must do: First of all, stop investing in the relationship with the man who is not your husband. Say these words out loud to him and to anyone who will listen: “I will never leave my husband or be unfaithful to him.” Then cut off all ties with this man, and don’t look back.
Second, begin to re-invest in your marriage. Think back to all the things you liked to do for him when you were first falling in love, and start doing those things again. Write him love letters, send him a care package, make plans for the future with him, dream with him, spend time thinking about him, list everything you love about him, pray for him, focus on all the things about him that made you choose him in the first place.
Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV1984). What you need to do is to take your treasure and re-invest it in your marriage—the treasure of your money, yes, but also the treasure of your time, your talents, your energy, and your passion. Starve the “love” you want to die, and feed the love you want to live.
If parents will get married, stay married, and invest in their marriages, then their children will benefit greatly. A healthy marriage results in children who feel safe, secure, and loved. These children grow up to look for and cultivate healthy relationships with healthy people. They are far less likely to settle for falling into the hole of an unhealthy relationship, because they are better able to see what it lacks and to more clearly identify what a healthy relationship looks like.
Yes, children can still get off track, but their parents’ healthy marriage is a strong foundation for children to build on as they make choices about their relationships and their future.
How your children view and approach relationships will be a huge force in the quality of their lives. And how you, as parents, demonstrate what it is to live in relationship to others, through your work relationships, relationships with neighbors, your friendships, relationships at church, and yes, your marriage—will be a huge factor in how your children will view and approach relationships in their lives.
So parents, do your kids a big favor by lovingly tending to the grass on your own side of the fence.