A couple years ago, Palladia was showing a biography of George Harrison, who just happens to have been my favorite Beatle. They were interviewing his second wife Olivia. They were married for 23 years, until his death. She was acknowledging some of the less-than-savory aspects of being married to a major rock star. He gallivanted, he was on tour, he drank and abused drugs. He had affairs. She wanted to split up many times. The interviewer asked her: what is the secret to your long marriage?
George and Olivia Harrison
Now, my failed marriage of not-quite-five years makes me absolutely no expert in the secrets of long and successful unions. I do know that Jeff and I did have our share of challenges. We continue to share some very important core values (faith, shared experience, political vision, sense of humor, parenting style), but we had lots of personality and operational differences that made life sticky in the day-to-day. Sometimes I think I chose someone who is so different than I because I really, really like a challenge.
I also get the privilege of joining many people in matrimony as a pastor. One of the benefits of being in ministry at a young age is that I get to marry lots of my friends (to one another)! And my family members (not to one another - to other people). It is sort of neverendingly joyful. From last October to next August, I've got four weddings of very dear people on my calendar.
As a responsible clergyperson, I need to counsel these couples on the joys and travails of marriage before using my authority to join them. I almost always bring up this example of Olivia Harrison discussing the secret to a long marriage, because it resounded so deeply for me. It's almost like a Zen koan.
The secret to a long marriage, she said, is not getting divorced.
I had to stop and just chew on that for awhile. And the brilliance of her statement washed over me.
We give up too easily. "Marriage is hard work," blah blah blah. We have been sold a vision that says we will find perfect fulfillment in a "good" marriage (hint: you won't). We know all this to be true, but at the end of the day, you have to be willing to come back from the worst fight, the nastiest situation, one foot out the door, and say, "This was awful, but I'm not giving up."
Now hear me out: everyone has their limits to this. There are clearly situations of abuse (physical, mental, emotional, financial, or substance) that make divorcing not only a good idea, but a mandate. I am not one of these Christians that thinks divorcing is a horrid sin. I will say that, in my experiencing in counseling couples, cheating by itself is not a deal-breaker. You can come back from that.
But you will know inside yourself. You will know if the reason you are pondering divorce is flimsy or not. And sometimes all it takes is a week or two and things will look better than they did. But I hate to tell you - sometimes it's a hard five or ten years in there. Find your inner stubbornness. Cling to this idea of life together even when things seem absolutely dismal.
The secret to a long marriage is not getting divorced.