It seems that many of my peers still fall into this trap of comparing their own marriages to those of their parents or grandparents, and somehow if the marriage isn’t picture perfect, or worse ends up in a divorce, they feel like it is a huge failure that will reflect poorly on them. But to think this way makes NO sense whatsoever, and here are 3 simple reasons why:
1. Life expectancy- It was much easier to stay married to someone for life when you only lived to be 41 back in the day. However, it’s a heck of a lot harder to put up with someone for double that amount of time now that we are expected to live into our 80’s or longer.
2. More options for women- Thanks to tremendous advances in technology, medicine, and in the academic world, women in the 21st century are far better educated, better paid, and better able to manage their family-life choices than they were just 40 years ago. As a result, we have the ability to take care of ourselves and make our own families, without the need for a man to stick around.
3. Social changes- The increased acceptance of varying family structures has enriched our lives while significantly decreasing the stigma of not being part of an “intact family.” Indeed, we now have gay marriages recognized in 17 U.S. states and over a dozen countries around the world, and the rate of live births to unwed mothers is now above 40% in our country. Blended families are much more common now, and with over 50% of married couples splitting, “divorce” is thankfully no longer a dirty word.
All these forces have combined to create a more fluid world, which I find to be quite forgiving and beautiful. The fact is we all make mistakes– especially those of us that marry young. That doesn’t mean that our children, the product of those marriages, are a mistake or that they need to suffer for the sins of their parents. We need to do our best to minimize the negative impact of divorce for their sake, but at the same time we need to cut ourselves some slack. Too many parents seem to carry the guilt of a divorce for far longer than is healthy or necessary– and I do feel your pain, I was once there myself. But if you want to move forward and help everyone get to a better place fast, then you have to let go of this notion that you somehow failed at anything. Instead, you have to believe that there was a major lesson your family needed to learn here, and hopefully this will prevent an even larger mistake from occurring in the future.
To move forward, you need to forgive and let the past go, which I know is easier said then done. It may take a long time for you to rebuild your own financial safety net, social life, and identity (typically 2-5 years), but at least the point is that it can be done. And while you are trying to dig yourself out from under, don’t allow negative thoughts to creep in, for they will just hold you back. Let’s be real– no one will really miss celebrating your 25th or 50th wedding anniversary, in fact now we all tend to question those that actually last that long.
The reality is that while our grandparents may have set a beautiful gold standard, these are drastically different times with an incredibly mobile society filled with temptations beyond anyone’s imagination 50 years ago. Like it or not, there is a new world order, and in our times, things will continue to change at a rapid pace, including our definition of successful marriages and what we consider acceptable family structures. Personally, I see a successful marriage as not one that necessarily lasts forever, but one that at least ended in a dignified manner, and where parents can put their differences aside to co-parent in the best interest of their children. Does this sound too good to be true? Not by a long shot– I see it and live it every day.
So, comparing apples with apples, look less at what your ancestors’ marriages were like and look more to how your peers handle their successful relationships. We cannot be expected to replicate what our grandparents had during their lifetimes, but we can certainly aspire to make them proud by being decent human beings and doing our best to bring honor to our families, in whatever way we choose to structure them.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.