There are two opposing trends flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds at the moment. One is the lobbying for equal marriage rights for all and the other is that marriage is an old fashioned, broken institution, best left in the dark ages.
Recently, on the “marriage is for idiots” side, Catherine Deveny shared this article about the evolution of marriage over the centuries, titled, “Why the idea of traditional marriage is total bulsh*t”. I’m not sure that it necessarily served her purposes, as it doesn’t debunk marriage as an obsolete institution, but merely describes how it has changed. It takes umbrage with the phrase “traditional marriage” rather than marriage itself.
I find it interesting Catherine feels so strongly about marriage and I keep following her conversations, trying to find a reason to agree with her.
And yet, I find that I can’t.
Despite spending 18 years in an emotionally abusive relationship, 7 of those married, I never lost my faith in marriage. Yes, I obviously married the wrong person, but my idea of marriage hasn’t faltered and I would do it again should the right person come along.
I have seen plenty of examples of bad marriages and few of good ones, but that doesn’t tell me that marriage is broken, it tells me that the wrong people marry each other, stay together or have conflicting ideas of what marriage is all about.
I have a very strong concept of what marriage is – a supportive and nurturing partnership between equals. I believe that a ceremony to exchange vows in front of people you love and respect is an important milestone in a relationship that signifies a deeper level of commitment. I certainly felt differently about my relationship and about my partner after I was married and it was a good feeling.
I took my marriage vows seriously and was shocked when I realised my ex didn’t. When he left me for the first time after 15 months of marriage, I honestly could not understand what was happening. Did we not say the same things to each other on our wedding day? When he left again after 7 years, I felt the same disbelief, as if it hadn’t happened before.
I applied for a divorce not because I no longer believed in marriage, but because I finally lost faith in the man I married. Being lied to and cheated on was not part of the marriage vows. Choosing me over all others was.
Our high divorce rate could serve as prominent evidence that marriage doesn’t work. But that would just be too simplistic. What doesn’t work is our choice of partners, our lack of communication and shared understanding of what marriage is all about and mostly, women’s lack of self-esteem.
It still surprises me by how many couples take on the traditional division of labour in marriage where the man goes out to work and the woman does all the child rearing and house-keeping activities with no help from her partner, all the while loudly complaining about her lot in life. I guess that’s not my idea of equality, especially when the husband becomes another person she needs to look after, with no-one looking after her. I wouldn’t wish this type of marriage on any couple, gay or straight.
It doesn’t surprise me to see huge numbers of women in emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships. Many don’t even know it. I didn’t know I was in one until several people pointed it out to me – I thought I was so progressive in how my marriage worked.
Emotional abuse is invisible and insidious and it eats you up like a cancer until death seems like the only way out. This kind of marriage is not to be recommended.
I don’t believe marriage is broken. I do believe we are not very good at it and don’t have a good understanding of what it’s all about. I don’t believe giving all couples $200 towards marriage counselling is the answer. I do believe teaching children and young people to value themselves and not be at the mercy of a romantic partner will help all relationships thrive.