Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Marriage and Divorce

I am not an expert on marriage or divorce; although I have been married, and I am divorced.

I am simply an observer of both now.

I have officiated at hundreds of weddings over the years. And I have to tell you, even though I am not too crazy about the idea of marriage anymore, I still love weddings. I’m really kind of shallow about all of that, I guess. I like all of the ritual and symbols and happy celebration that weddings create. Obviously, the hard work begins after everyone has left the dance floor and had their last glass of champagne.

The institution of marriage has been in trouble for a long time. Statistics indicate more couples are getting married these days. But nearly half of all marriages still don’t survive.

I have advocated for a long time the idea of term limits on marriage. Three years sounds about right to me. Maybe five. You get married for the first term, whatever it is, and at the end of that term if you want to keep going you just sign up for another one. Renew your license, so to speak.

I have no idea what the legal implications of all of that would be. Maybe complicated. But probably not nearly as financially disastrous as divorce. It’s just a thought. Most people think I’m nuts when I talk about this. But there are a few, married of course, who like the idea. A lot.

Being asked by the church, by the court, by society, to be married to one person for a lifetime is a pretty enormous request when you think about it. Especially if there is no real compatibility, no shared interests, no growing together going on; little or no emotional and physical intimacy—and I’m not just talking about sex but about touching, holding one another, enjoying each other’s company—no joy or laughter taking place, no mutual support, no cheerleading of one another, and simply no love left, just a stale and tedious toleration of an ambiguous relationship.

I saw online the other day a new young adult book by Jess Rothenberg. Its title might describe a lot of marriages: “The Catastrophic History of You and Me.”

That of course could apply to unmarried couples as well.

The hard truth is, all relationships between people in love, whether married or not, are just tough to maintain over the long haul. There are so many things that can go wrong. People grow away from one another. Careers fail. Finances never stretch far enough to provide the security that some need. Affairs happen. Tragedy strikes. Family interferes. Childhood hurts or teenage traumas finally unravel in adulthood in devastating ways. Health is lost. Addictions take over. We stop listening to one another. We stop caring.

The list is endless of things and people and circumstances that take their toll on marriages and on all loving relationships. It borders on miraculous that any of them survive at all.

There is a Stanley Kunitz poem that touches something deep and wounded in me. It reminds me of the loves I have lost. It speaks to me of friends, whose lives too were crushed, damaged, by years of a marriage not working, by divorce, by rejection, by a failed relationship. And it calls to me in a voice of experience, a voice that has known love and still holds on to its fragile and complex design, and says this is how it works:

“Summer is late, my heart.”
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
And it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

© 2012 Timothy Moody


  1. Tim,this really helps. And something that people will react to long before they'll think about: term limits. Interesting suggestion, and even if the concept could never be put into practice, the implications of the suggestion are important to think about. Thanks.

  2. Thank you, A-not-Ansel, for your good affirming comment. Marriage has its power and its grace. But it requires serious work if it is to last. Taking it in managable doses would not have to be an easy out but rather a thoughtful, even loving option. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  3. Tim, you probably know that several religious orders do something like "term limits". The candidate for religious life as a monk or sister (nun) will make a vow for a specific number of years (1, 3, or 5, generally). At the end of that solemn promise, the candidate may make another solemn promise or may choose to leave the community. And that's making a vow to a group, rather than to a single individual. Generally, then, after doing this a few times, the candidate would need to make a life profession, but would have had these several years to consider before doing so (and might choose not to make the life profession).

  4. I did not know that, Dale. Very interesting. And it has the same kind of thoughtful, deep consideration that I think marriage needs. Thanks for such a good comment!