By Dr. Phillip J. Ladd, LCPC, Co-President of Christian Psychological Associates (John R. Day & Associates, Ltd.)
Ideally, marriage is intended to be both permanent and exclusive. However, because humanity rarely lives up to the ideal, failure often happens.
Statistically, we used to say that more than 50 percent of all marriages performed in a given year will end in divorce. We now see that those figures are often misleading, if not completely wrong. The demographics of divorce are routinely reported incorrectly, calculated incorrectly, or misinterpreted. It seems that the divorce rate is more like 40 percent and probably going down which is a good trend (Divorcesource.com).
Divorce, usually a sad and painful event, is a reality that must be faced. However, divorce must not be seen by any of us as total defeat. Sometimes divorce is even the best answer, especially in abusive, unfaithful, and other troubling relationships. However, it does not have to be the end of the search for the ideal. It is, rather, a setback. All of us experience setbacks and even failures of various types in the search for the ideal. Divorce can be a very painful experience, but with the help of supporting friends and professionals, people can make it through their setbacks and failures. Acknowledging and dealing with our setbacks is often a first step in getting on toward the ideal.
If marriage is to avoid divorce, the partners need to work at it faithfully, seeking enrichment opportunities often. Unfortunately, this need for enrichment often goes unrecognized by many couples. The lack of it can, and often does, lead to the development or growth of interpersonal dysfunction in the marriage. This deterioration is often gradual and unrealized until crisis occurs within the relationship.
At other times, failure occurs because one partner or the other has not discovered who they are before the marriage. Sometimes, we incorrectly interpret the concept of “oneness” (Genesis 2:24) in a marriage. Oneness is not meant to destroy our identity or our individuality. Sometimes our pursuit of the wrong type of oneness hinders the healthy development of self.
In his book, Marriage and Family Enrichment, Herbert Otto states, “It is very possible that a significant proportion of extramarital affairs are more a desperation as the individual unconsciously seeks for ways to achieve personal growth and actualize more of his (or her) potential through a new relationship.”
Such affairs, as well as other failures in marriage, could be avoided if we encouraged the development of “self” before and during marriage. One must not lose one’s identity in the marriage relationship. Only by maintaining our own identity can we experience “oneness” with another in its true meaning. One wedding ceremony that I like states, “I will respect your individuality” (Covenant Book of Worship, p. 153). Respect for individuality will help safeguard one’s identity. A healthy relationship must maintain a healthy balance between separateness and togetherness. This balance will enhance the possibility of true “oneness” in a more complete way.
Work also needs to be done by couples and those supporting the couples in the area of prevention. Counseling services, churches, and other supportive groups need to include more of a preventive, wholistic approach to the services they provide to couples. Through premarital testing, counseling, enrichment opportunities, family systems coaching, and so on, we can attempt to help individual and couples have a better understanding of both their separateness and what it means to belong to each other.
Hopefully, if we all can begin to take marriages and families more seriously in all that we do, the search for the ideal will be more successful, and future generations will be blessed.
For more information, contact John R. Day & Associates, Christian Psychological Associates, located at 3716 West Brighton Avenue, Peoria or at their locations in Normal, Canton, Pekin, Princeton, or Eureka. Call us at 309-692-7755 or visit us online: christianpsychological.org.