Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!
Recently I was chatting with a woman who’s walking through a bleak time in her marriage. She’s not sure if it can survive, though she desperately wants it to. But one of the things that breaks her heart the most is that her children, who are in their twenties, have told her, “why would we get married when we see how awful marriage has been for you and Dad?”
Excuse me while I get a little worked up here, but I find that conclusion, while understandable, completely illogical. I hear variations of it all the time: “Mom and Dad were such bad parents, how I could bring a child into the world? I might do what they did!” Or, “Mom and Dad just hated each other; why would I get married? I’ll end up hating my spouse, too!”
So let’s deconstruct this for a minute. If you believe these things, you obviously have plenty of negative feelings towards your parents. You did not have the kind of childhood that you deserved. And so you’re angry. And your anger is directed first and foremost at your parents. Yet who are you taking it out on? Yourself. You’re saying: they did me wrong, and so I am going to punish myself by making sure I never have a family of my own. Despite the fact that marriage is one of the best routes to happiness, I’m not going to participate. Sounds kind of backwards to me.
Or let’s look at it from another angle: you obviously think they were not good parents, or even good people. But do you have the same opinion of yourself? Are you simultaneously saying, “I think Dad was cruel and distant, and so I’m not going to get married because I’m cruel and distant, too?” If the things that bother you most about them are simultaneously in you, then what right do you have to feel cheated of your childhood?
Now, of course, you may not necessarily believe that your parents’ marriage failed because they were wrong; it may have failed because marriage itself is a bad institution. That’s a pretty commonly held belief, but it’s not supported by evidence. Instead, studies show that those who are most likely to be happy, least likely to be depressed, more likely to live longer, healthier, and wealthier lives, and more likely to raise well-adjusted children are the married. We may think marriage is dead because that’s loudly proclaimed on the covers of magazines, but outside of freaky Hollywood it isn’t. Marriage is good for you, and it’s good for society. And here’s another tidbit: the majority of first marriages still succeed.
Does that mean every marriage will be good? Of course not. But marriage is not the problem; people who get married are the problem.Divorce is not like the flu that you suddenly catch for no reason; if you work at a marriage, in most cases it will thrive. And if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you can choose not to continue that pattern. Read books about how to have a great marriage. Go to a parenting class. Talk to people who have a great marriage. Figure out what makes it work. I grew up without a dad, but I married a man who is an awesome dad. I figured my childhood was lonely; why should my adulthood be lonely, too?
If you are blessed enough to find someone you love spending time with, whom you can truly be yourself with, and who shares your values, then cling to that person for life. You are not your parents, and if they messed up with you, you don’t deserve to punish yourself for it. Break the cycle by committing to love someone over a lifetime. Then you won’t be that hurting child all your days.
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