Monday, May 11, 2009

The Epidemic

I found out about another one today. And it makes me angry.

Another friend of mine called today to tell me about her impending divorce. 16 years of marriage, two kids, nice house, good careers, church membership - and now a broken home.

This comes less than a month after another marriage between good friends who are my age has dissolved. I was in that wedding.

Perhaps it is a fad of this generation. Maybe it was a fad of our parents' generation, and since so many born in the 60s had such a poor role model of marriage, it is that much easier for us post-boomers to hang it up when it comes to marriage. Maybe it is just that as my friends and I enter middle age, we are all hitting the time when marriages find the most stress. Maybe it is that our more permissive society is just making divorce that much easier.

As I think of the seven or eight close friends of mine who are divorced or are divorcing, I know that the problems are myriad. For every case of sexual infidelity - and there certainly are those - there are just as many cases of one spouse or the other simply giving up on the marriage, of "wanting out." Too often, the marriage has dissolved because all semblance of trust has vanished. Of course, I do not know all of the reasons for any of these breakups.

Some of these friends are very conservative. Some of them are liberal. Most of them are in a church, but some are not. Some are ending a second marriage. None of them is a bad person. None of these marriages is ending because of rampant abuse, addiction, or criminal behavior.

I am not throwing stones. There but for the grace of God and my incredibly patient wife go I. No marriage is easy.

I watched Elizabeth Edwards interviewed on The Today Show this morning. She sat patiently as Matt Lauer incredulously asked how she could possibly stay married to John Edwards, a man who had an affair while running for president. Her answer was that "for better of for worse" meant something to her when she said it, and while this was much worse than she could have imagined, her husband was her husband.

I remember the quiet admiration I felt for Hillary Clinton during her husband's well-publicized dalliances as she fended off the cries for her to leave him. Yes, I know that some of you cynics assign all sorts of political machinations to her staying married, but somewhere in me is the understanding that she felt a need - moral, spiritual, personal - to stick with her marriage.

My admiration for Edwards and Clinton, for two wronged spouses who are sticking it out, does not mean that I fault my friends who are not sticking it out. I mention them only because they are noticeably unusual in today's world.

I understand that unfaithfulness by one spouse can justify drastic actions by the other; and I believe that we have a better and more expansive understanding of what constitutes marital unfaithfulness than did those a couple of generations before. There are more options now, particularly for women, and unfaithful spouses are not able to get away with all they once did.

The world - and the church - are more tolerant of divorce now, and I am not always sure that is a good thing. Of course it is good to forgive people, but I wonder if some are a little less hesitant about making that move because they know that they will be more quickly accepted.

Fortunately, I have more examples of lasting marriages around me than I do of failing ones. My own parents approach their 48th anniversary this year. Gena and I have many, many friends who are making marriage work. Sacrifice, hard work, forgiveness, commitment, and a lot of love go into it.

I don't know the answers. All I know is that marriages all around me are breaking up, and it makes me sad, and it makes me mad - not at my friends, but at this epidemic that is infecting so many lives. I wish it were not so. I don't have a sermon, a prescription, a cure-all, or a lecture to give. Only a lament.

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