My divorce was granted on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017; one year, eight months and 12 days after we got married. I know - what lessons could I have possibly gleaned in my extensive experience? The first is a freebie - there is no safe way to get married, only a better way. The next 5 come from someone who thought she did everything right, only to realize "right" doesn't necessarily mean things end well.
I think the one question I've asked more than any other question, is some variation of "what could I have done different/better/wiser to have seen this coming or prevented it?" While I'd like to believe marriage is possible for me in the future, I'm more presently interested in knowing how I can help some other woman getting ready to say the two most important words of her life: "I do."
Here are some black and white statistics:
-- More than 60 percent of marriages today are preceded by some form of cohabitation, and 50 to 80 percent of those relationships end in divorce.
-- Couples who are ACTIVE in their faith are much less likely to divorce... Protestant couples were 35% less likely than non-active protestant couples.
-- Esteemed Harvard social researcher and best-selling author Shaunti Feldhan, in her latest book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, discovered 53% of Very Happy Couples agree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage" (compared to 7% of Struggling Couples).
Statistically proven truth: doing it God's way leads to a more likely successful outcome. I know, these days it seems few people are willing to stick with what the Bible deems the "right" way to do anything and are taking the moral compass into their own hands - especially with marriage and relationships.
Here's what I can tell you from personal experience: my marriage didn't fail because we did things God's way - they failed because we didn't. So here's what I've learned, and what I would have done different:
1. No sex before marriage - ANY kind of sex (1 Corinthians 6:12). My husband and I saved our first kiss for the altar and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, even with my history of extensive sexual trauma, it was worth waiting. All this talk about "test driving" and "making sure we're a good fit" is ridiculous. You learn together, and that can make it all the more wonderful.
-- What I would have done different: I would have asked a lot more questions about his sexual history. I would have talked to more of his friends than taken his word for it. There were red flags that could have alerted me to his sexual addiction before we got married, but I chose to ignore them because I wanted to believe the best. Believe the best, but do your due diligence. Sexual addiction doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but it is an enormous thing for a couple to have to work through.
2. Don't say "I love you" right away (Matthew 7:6). My husband said 'I love you' the moment he asked me to be his girlfriend and I was shocked. He'd spent a total of 11 days in my presence and six months of e-mails. How could he love me? He didn't even really know me... but what girl doesn't want to be loved immediately and without reservation? Especially when woo'd with roses, candles, a song on a beach at sunset on Valentine's Day? I said it back, because I didn't have the security to hold onto those precious words until I was sure. If he loved me, I better give him something back to keep him loving me...
-- What I would have done different: Not said it back until I was ready to say it. "Ready" meaning I'd seen him angry, upset, frustrated, and successful. By saying the words "I love you" too early it led to me makie decisions I may not have made so quickly if I hadn't said those words. Those three words are a commitment in and of themselves and raise expectations enormously. By waiting until you see a good portion of who that person is - the good, bad and ugly - you can have a better idea of what it means to love someone through all those sides and whether or not you want to. Love is work - and the work looks great when things are going well. Let your actions show your love before you toss the words out there like confetti.
3. Get the ones who know you best involved (Proverbs 11:14) - and get to know his/her loved ones intimately. I'll just say it - I didn't do this one.
-- What I would have done different: I would made this a huge priority! There wasn't a single person in my life, family or friend, who even met my husband before we got married. I told them everything I could think to tell them, but no one who knew me intimately had a chance to meet him before we said our I do's. There was no one around to point out red flags or issues in my blind spots. All of us have blind spots and we need our loved ones to say, "Hey, I love you, and this doesn't seem right to me." And they need to be involved long enough to get a chance to see those things. The week before you get married doesn't count. My husband had a couple of friends who lived in different countries in the Middle East whom he said knew him really well, but he hadn't spent any time with them in the three years prior to my meeting him. RED FLAG. The men who knew him at present didn't spend a lot of time with him outside of church meetings once or twice a week for 90 minutes. ANOTHER RED FLAG. Girls - if men don't have other men in their lives, intimately involved in their lives, teaching them and having fun with them in some kind of hobby, run.
4. Actions need to match the words (James 2:20). This ties into my previous lesson a bit. Both parties are on their best behavior before they get married. I asked every question I could think to ask while we were engaged. My husband and I read about six different marriage books and had long conversations about our ideal marriage and what we aimed to make happen in our marriage before we even said "I do." We had a lot of talk - and I think I actually saw maybe 10% of that lived out in him before we got married. I blamed it on lack of opportunities to see it.
-- What I would have done different: I would have had my close friends/family help me see it, and I would have either created opportunities or waited longer for those opportunities to see it. Is he really open to counseling if all hell breaks loose in your marriage? How does he do getting advice right now about your relationship and then actually applying it? Is he really all about things being "ours" when you get married? How does he handle your involvement in making decisions about where to eat, how much to spend on Christmas gifts for others, etc.?
5. You are not, nor will you ever be, the exception - be humble (Colossians 3:12). I had what many called a "fairy tale" beginning. We met overseas, he flew me to Dubai for ten days to woo me before asking me to be his girlfriend in an extravagant display of affection and romance on a tropical beach surrounded by music, roses, candles - I'm not kidding. I thought, maybe, God was giving me this awesome present of a man to show me one way he was going to make up for all of the abuse and horrible things men had done to me in the past. Today I decide to see what happened on that beach as a pale comparison to the way God has and will continue to woo me until the day of our wedding feast in heaven.
-- What I would have done different: I would have sobered up. Next time, I won't be whisked away by such extravagant displays. I'll take humble integrity and an intimate knowledge of my heart over fireworks. There is no fairy tale, and to think "well, we're different" is one of the most dangerous thoughts to have before marriage. No one is exempt from trials, tragedy and heartbreak (Romans 3:23). Be willing to consider what happens when the fireworks dissipate and nights get cold.
I'll say it again - I'm far from perfect. I made a lot of mistakes in my marriage and a lot of mistakes prior to marriage. I write this to help anyone else who feels like they're doing everything "just right." I'm working through the shame of having a marriage crumble so quickly despite my best efforts to do things the right way. I can tell you that while we did some things well, there were a couple of key factors we hadn't included in our vows. Namely, humility.
Marriage isn't meant to make you happy. For the Christian it's meant to make you holy, and happiness is a wonderful byproduct of that. Holiness, however, isn't achieved through smooth sailing, but a willingness to learn how to sail in the storm. With a partner committed to learning with you, it could be one amazing adventure. Be prayerful as you choose your partner.