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If you combined the articulation and factual knowledge of a news anchor, the sarcasm and one-liners of your old crotchety neighbor, and the sass of a thirteen year old female into one, you would get my friend Anna. And that was just my first impression of her when we met at age 18. She got up in front of our freshman leadership class and gave a presentation with no trace of nerves, or reserve, for that matter. I was like, “who is this girl?! I like her.”
Years later she’s still bringing her knowledge and sass to the world and to the web.
Please welcome, my friend Anna, to the Illumination Project.
I come from a long line of happy second marriages.
Most of my relatives are happily married and have been for most of my life, but exactly zero of them are married to their first spouse. My parents recently celebrated 35 years of wedded bliss, and they also recently celebrated their other anniversary – the one where they married the wrong mates before they met each other (their first weddings actually took place on the exact same day).
The term “starter marriage” isn’t just a funny quip in my family, it’s apparently part of the game.
Let me be clear about this next part: I consider all of these twice married relatives of mine to be loving, intelligent, hard-working people whose legacy I feel fortunate to be a part of. Growing up, divorce didn’t seem like a big taboo and I certainly wouldn’t have identified it as a “sin” – my family didn’t begin attending church until I was about 8 years old, so the concept of “sin” wasn’t really on my radar until after my understanding of divorce was already framed by my family history. Divorce didn’t seem like an ailment that affected only selfish, uneducated, unloving or unresourceful people;
…it seemed evident to me that divorce could happen to anyone.
When I fell in love with my college sweetheart at the ripe age of 20, he brought a totally different framework to the table. His conservative Christian family included not only a long line of happy first marriages, but also a long line of happy first marriages that began when the bride and groom were in their early twenties. Can you see where this is going? We were young and in love and Christian, so according to his family history we were qualified to get married and we would probably stay married forever.
Obviously none of that made sense to me. Not only did I have my own family history to prove his theory wrong, I had also by that time come across some statistics about marrying before age 25 being one of the most reliable predictors of divorce. I didn’t know how to reconcile my feelings: ‘I love this guy and the idea of marrying him is super exciting,’ with my knowledge: ‘Half of marriages end in divorce, most marriage that happen at our age end in divorce, and everyone in my family gets divorced from their first spouse.’
Long story short, he eventually won me over and we were married in 2003 at the ages of 21 and 23, the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I was totally in love, and totally terrified. Our relationship was overflowing with goodness;
…it literally felt like we were playing house most of time.
But at the edge of all that goodness I always felt this looming sense of fear: What if it goes bad? What if we stop liking each other? What if our next fight is the fight that changes everything? What if we grow apart? What if we really are destined for divorce and there’s nothing we can do about it?
It wasn’t until well after our first anniversary that I felt myself relax a bit. We had some momentum, there were no visible red flags, and it seemed plausible that our marriage could carry on like this forever. As I thought further about the state of our ‘happily married’ status, I searched for an explanation.
If so many people – including people that I love and respect – had fallen victim to divorce, what made us different?
The answer was suddenly simple: I didn’t know why other people got divorced, but I know that one way or the other,
…they chose to.
Divorce didn’t just happen to them. I know that might sound obvious or trite or both, but as a somewhat newly married 22 year old from a long line of divorce, it was revolutionary. Of course the important part of the revelation was in the implied converse truth,
…that we had the power to choose not to get divorced.
It was a brand new idea that I didn’t have to fear divorce as something that would knock on my door one day, in some form or another, and ruin my marriage.
Now nearly a decade into marriage, I know that the most important lesson is that the choice to not get divorced is really a million little choices that we make every day. If the end goal is to avoid divorce and stay happily married til death do us part, we have to work towards that goal in the every day ways that I was too dramatic to notice at the beginning. When we disagree, will I say the thing that makes me feel good in that moment, or will I say something that works towards the goal? Will I seek attention from others to feel good about myself, or will I hold the attention of my husband in the highest regard? Will I make showing my love and respect for my husband a priority at all times, or only when I stand to gain something in return? When he blows it will I truly forgive him, or will I store his shortcomings to use against him later?
Will I choose me, or will I choose us?
We chose each other as 20 year olds. We chose to get married a few years after that. And we keep choosing each other, every day. In that choice lies all the power and all that freedom that we need to keep going, til death do us part.
Have you known a couple who chose to ‘make it work’ despite difficult circumstance?
Do you believe you can break the cycle of divorce in your family?
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Very interesting, and I agree. One of my cousins married a girl whose parents were divorced. They (my cousin and his wife) started dating as teenagers and were in their early twenties when they got married. I remember her saying that, having been through a divorce with her parents and knowing how it affects a family, divorce was not an option in her marriage.
1) Adorable baby.
2) Thanks for this! I appreciate how Anna reframes divorce from being this inevitable, inescapable “destiny” to a choice, just like “falling in love” largely involves choice, and committing adultery largely involves choice. We’re not passive victims of our feelings- we have a major degree of control over them!
3) I also appreciated that the blogger had been married beyond the typical “first failed marriage” length. It gives her words heft! Great job, ladies.
I understand where you are coming from in posting this. I agree couples should go into marriage saying it is never an option. To be dedicated to working it out no matter what. However, Unless YOU yourself go through a divorce you really can’t write about it. Guessing or assuming what others have went through can not truly be done. I am a 32 year old who was married pretty young. After 10 years of marriage my husband decided to walk out and leave me. It WAS NOT my choice. It only takes ONE person in the marriage to say divorce.I always say it takes two people to get married but only one to get a divorce. My ex-husband was a pastor. We were actively involved in Church. I never once wanted divorce and fought it til the day it was over. Just because YOU make that choice does not always mean the other person won’t wake up one day and say it is over. I think the view of Christians in the church who are still married tend to be condemning to those of us who have been divorced. I am often treated differently with people assuming it was “my choice” as you say in this post. I just think the church needs to understand that most of what happens with couples behind closed doors is normally never seen. The true reason people’s marriage end is from things no one will ever see or hear. When I married I it was to someone I thought was a strong believer. Someone who shared the same goal to reach people for Christ. Over time he changed and the fell into the temptation of the enemy. I just don’t think you can blanket assume that it is only a choice. Divorce is so much more complicated than a couple of paragraphs in a blog. I also feel that unless you have walked this journey you really don’t have a place to write about it. Having family go through it is not the same as walking through it yourself.
Hey Tiffany, I do appreciate your sharing your story and I was 110% confident someone in your situation or a situation of abuse would write. That is why I added my “side note” at the end.
“Let’s not read into what’s being said in light of what is not being said.”
As my father says, “my response is my responsibility.” And I believe that is what Anna is saying that she has decided by making a choice. She also knows this is Shane’s choice because he has made it and they have discussed it, but does that mean Shane could change is mind? Yes. He would be making a different choice. But sometimes we have to put a stake in the ground about what we will do knowing we can’t control what others will do. So I agree with you. Even when we are making a choice, we can’t control others choice.
But I also disagree with you and think Anna has every right to share her experience and what she has chosen to do on the heels of what she has experienced. Are divorced people the only ones who can say divorce is not an option? Or can no one ever take a stand against divorce as because of the chance that it might happen?
Should I not be writing about relationships because I’m not married? Can I not say that I want to save sex until I get married because I might get raped while out on a run?
Just some thoughts for you…but I want you to know, and I can speak for both Anna and myself that we empathize with people who have gone through what you have because we have seen it so much in our extended families. We have seen people like you hurt and thats why we want to challenge others to stop hurting each other. We know sometimes it’s out of ones control though, no matter what your choice is, and we are sorry.
I never said that only divorced people are the only ones who can say it is not an option. However, I don’t think someone should write something as “advice” when they have not yet experienced something so traumatic. Divorce is a very touchy topic. It has a lot of hurt behind it. I don’t think this writer has enough experience to write on the topic. Does she have some great points on marriage? Sure! Divorce no! I think she is right about waking up everyday and making that choice to work at the marriage. The slanted view that that is what it takes to avoid divorce is not totally true. I think if she wanted to write on this topic she needed to be more considerate to readers who have walked the journey of divorce or abuse. I am also not sure how you connect saying you want to wait to have sex and not saying it fear of being raped with this topic? Does not seem like a good reference. Yes, Someone can say they do not want to get a divorce. You can not give a blanket statement of this is what it takes to not get a divorce when you are dealing with two people with free will!
Tiffany – I hope you see Anna’s comment to you below so you can hear more of her heart.
The thing I think we can all agree on is that divorce is painful and probably not anyones first choice!! I have another great friend who is participating in this series and will be sharing in the coming months about her very painful divorce. I also think the link I posted in the “side note” would encourage you as well as you work to hear from your traumatic experience.
I LOVE this post. Thanks for sharing- I am engaged and don’t think I even realized that this was an unknown fear for me. My parent’s marriage is my dad’s second, and my fiancé is divorced (similar to Tiffany’s story). I am so grateful for you reminding us that with God’s grace we can always choose our spouses, choose to remain faithful, and choose to stay committed. 🙂 Our God is powerful- powerful enough to even help two broken people love each other and stay together.
Glad you are working to create a different legacy for your life Laura! Kristin mentioned the same thing in the comments as well and I talked about how my parents chose to do the same thing. This video of my dad might encourage you! https://loveandrespectnow.com/2012/04/cycle-stopper-be-a-wounded-healer/
Thanks for all the feedback! I’m so honored to share my story here 🙂
Tiffany – I apologize if you felt hurt by anything that I said, that was certainly never my intention. I can assure you that I don’t hold any judgement towards you or any other divorcees (including my parents and most of my other family members whom I love so dearly). This post isn’t intended as “advice,” but just my own personal story about growing up around divorce, and how that’s played out in my own marriage. Most of the divorce that I witnessed was more of the “this isn’t working out” variety (as opposed to one spouse leaving, despite the other’s attempts to save the marriage), and the realization that I can make countless mundane choices to keep my marriage in happy working order was really helpful for me in letting go of the fear that I might just be “destined” for divorce. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on divorce – or marriage, for that matter – but I do think there’s value in sharing our personal stories with others who might benefit from them, or at least find them interesting. Thanks for being a part of the conversation 🙂
Happy Anniversary! I don’t actually know when you got married, but as a Wife and mother of three young children, I am encouraged and I celebrate individuals who are taking a stand on commitment and living out “Till death do us part”. As Joy’s Grammie JJ said to me, “Keep on keeping on!”
I think this is a really interesting article and I totally agree that divorce is a choice. Marriage doesn’t just happen…two people choose to marry each other…and if people don’t know the meaning of commitment, then it’s easy to just say the word “divorce” I just know that from all of my married friends who are still married, they all say it takes work…and when the tidal wave of love is over and the water is still, you sometimes just have to paddle…because love is not just a feeling but it’s also a verb. In any case, I really enjoyed reading your article very much. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂
What marriage is like in the 20’s and 30’s is very different in the 40’s, 50’s and thereafter because marriage is dynamic and ever-changing. There’s no set formula for it. Nor is there a formula for how or why divorce occurs and whether it is the right decision or not. We know what works to make a marriage successful, that’s not in question. The impossible call to make for those other than the couple itself is the one that judges whether divorce is warranted or acceptable. Marriage is a very private enterprise, not fully known by even the children growing up in the household. The pain of divorce is searing, and I believe our task as friends and family is to assume the couple involved got married with the best of intentions to stay together for life. How things unraveled has many causes, all of which are hidden from those outside the marriage and often from the spouses themselves to a degree. So we need to give an abundance of grace all around, and give extra care to those who end up divorced when it wasn’t their choice. There are people in your orbit everyday who are in that category.
Totally agree Janice. People and/or churches who lack grace and understanding for the nuances that happen in the midst of painful and messy divorces are generally not the ones involved in those peoples lives. The reason Anna’s post is powerful for this generation, is not to give shame to those who have been through divorce, but because there are so many people who feel bound to what they have seen all around them. So many have no hope for marriage to begin with because they think they are destined to be what they have seen or known. I want to encourage people to believe that God can redeem patterns of brokenness that we’ve seen around us or painfully experienced in a marriage.
What I love about this post is the emphasis on breaking the “inevitability” of family patterns. I love that!
Echoing what several people have said in the comments: my boyfriend, who is divorced because his wife left, would definitely say that it can be one person who makes the choice to end a marriage. He did not choose to be divorced–his ex-wife made that choice for both of them.
But certainly we all choose, every day, whether to accept Christ’s love and healing work in us–no matter what our most intimate friends or mates choose to do. I hope no one feels hurt by this blog, because I think the heart is really, really beautiful and reflects an amazing piece of God’s character. He really can heal us from the actions of others, including a spouse who abandons and divorces.
So glad we’re talking about divorce, btw. We need to talk about it more! It affects so very many of us.
I must say I agree with Tiffany. In spite of prayer and counseling it only takes one person to leave. We all have the intention of marrying for a lifetime. Your thoughts on this are eloquently written and well intentioned but unfortunately it adds to the stigma that we divorcees must deal with on a daily basis. Not all of us divorced because we did not try on a daily basis to improve our marriage or were not mindful of the commitment and hard work it takes to make a lifelong commitment. Divorce unfortunately is NOT always a choice.
Joy, at first, I got anxiety stirring in my stomach when you said you were thinking about getting married so young because I assumed you were going to say, ‘I was too young and it was a mistake.’ But you said it was a great decision and it takes work to stay married. I fear divorce so much. My boyfriend wants to get married and I always dreamed of marriage. However, when he brought up this idea, my anxiety kicked in. I am so scared of making a mistake. I am scared of the same marital statistics that you mentioned. I know once I am married, I would not give up. But up to the point of marriage, I am scared. My fear gets in the way so much that it makes me question my feelings for him and I begin picking him to shreds.. It makes me feel horrible. I go through these feelings of anxiety to these overwhelming feelings that he is going to be the one I marry. Anyways, I know I am ranting on. I am just happy I found this article because it shows me I do not have to fear divorce because I have the power to prevent it. Thank you!