Related questions are: Is it worth it to work so hard to save a relationship? Aren’t some beyond help? Might it be better to scrap it and start over somewhere else? What if you sacrifice everything to save your relationship, admit your faults, learn to listen, start therapy, quit all your bad habits and change into the person your partner wants you to be, and he doesn’t make his own changes? Will it be worth it or would you have become a better person for nothing?
Yes, it would be worth it, but let’s go on.
You say all your friends are telling you to leave. He’s a loser. There’re plenty of fish in the sea. Your parents claim they never liked him anyway. You regret ever getting involved with him. Wouldn’t it be easier to give up on relationships entirely and live out your life single and celibate?
Then, in the next breath, you say something I’ve heard time and time again, even in the most dysfunctional situations. You say it,
“But I still love him.”
I ask, but you are not sure what you mean.
What should you do? Can your marriage be saved?
I believe it can, in a manner of speaking. Any marriage can be saved, depending on what you mean by marriage.
The boundaries of the legal institution of marriage do not correspond directly to the concerns of the heart. There are plenty of people deeply in love who are not married and plenty of people married who are not and never have been in love. Furthermore, the language of the heart does not even correspond directly with the feelings of the heart.
The institution of marriage has changed greatly through history. In our own time, in much of the United States, we’ve seen it expand to include gay marriage. In the last two generations, women have risen to have equal rights within marriage. There is more cohabitating; more marriages between members of different races, ethnic groups, and religions; more divorces freely given; and more remarriages and shuffling and re-shuffling of child custody. Wives are almost as likely to earn as much as their husbands as the other way around. Guys are taking care of children and doing the laundry, although, perhaps not as much as they should to be equitable.
You would have had to have been living under a rock not to have noticed the revolution. The pace of this social change is probably accelerated, but the changes have gone on for centuries. Go back a couple hundred years and arranged marriage was the norm, as it often is in some countries today. Go back a couple thousand years and many men had more than one wife. Clearly, the human institution of marriage has many, many manifestations. Give us some more time, I think we will think of many more.
So, on one hand, you have the legal institution of marriage, codified and circumscribed by family, tradition, and religious authorities, like property lines in the middle of the sea. Then, on the other hand, you have the spiritual, or if you prefer, emotional, side. One is the map, the other is the territory. The one is in constant need of revision, it’s always out of date; the other is eternal, inviolable, and holy.
Spiritual people have, forever, testified to the sacred bonds of marriage. I don’t think they were referring to the forms of marriage that civil authorities legislate, or even the proclamations that lovers make. I think they’re talking about this other side, the part that is beyond words and defies explanation.
Stay tuned to the next post as I try to explain it.