My son recently came back after spending the day with one of his closest friends. He had this look in his eyes that said, "I have something interesting to say."
"Hey, Mom, do you know why my friend has two homes in the city?" he asked with genuine curiosity.
So I came up with one plausible theory, "Maybe one apartment belongs to his grandparents and now the family bought this new apartment for themselves?"
My son always seems to be interested in life's stories, so the conversation up until this point wasn't so unusual.
Then he made this great reveal, "No, that's not it! I know why. It's because his parents are separating. They're no longer living together!"
I responded with great surprise, "Are you sure? Don't spread rumors that aren't true!" I obviously was in denial over this news. I don't tend to believe unsubstantiated rumors, but I have to admit, I was more then a little shocked. As psychotherapist specializing in relationships, I'm the first to understand that you never know what is really going on in other people's marriages, but this couple looked so happy and well suited for each other. Although I didn't know the couple as a couple intimately, they always looked so together. When you walked into their apartment, a huge wedding photo of the two of them hung prominently in the foyer. The husband was a very handsome and successful professional; he was also a great dad. He's the type of man people find appealing. His wife was equally as impressive and attractive and always a lot of fun to be around. She's successful in her own right, holding down a cool, high powered job in TV. Their two children were as adorable as they were well behaved. I found myself thinking, WOW! Is this really it for them? The thought truly saddened me.
Now it's my sad response that caught me by surprise. I had no right to feel sad for this couple. For all I know, this is the best decision for everyone involved, but I guess the romantic in me wasn't so sure this was the best decision for them. I had this gnawing feeling that maybe this decision was a bit premature. Could it be that we as a culture give up on marriage and each other too easily? We are a society who likes convenience, ease, and expediency. When things stop being easy, we find ourselves wanting more or wanting out. We want to move on to the next best thing. After all, aren't we entitled to be happy and to have the best life has to offer? Do we feel we are settling for less when our relationships stop offering us this sexy or gratifying experience?
What happens in marriage that some of us so quickly want to give up on them verses work on them? Is it our notion about love and what love should feel or look like that confuse things? It was clear to those who knew this couple that they really did love each other once. Is it the discovery about who we really marry verses the fantasy of who we thought we were marrying that gets us in the end? If we're being honest with ourselves, do we really work hard enough to sort through our marital issues to get through them and reach the other side of unsatisfied? When you ask couples who have been together a long time and have experienced the natural vicissitudes of marriage, they often say how happy they are to have stuck it out and how worth it was for them to work through the tough times. Maybe my reaction was simply a matter of me not being ready for this couple to go their separate ways? I wanted them to give it another try, because they still seemed to have so much promise.
I have no idea what the future holds for these two people. Maybe they will both find other partners and be happy they made the choice to go their separate ways. But it still leaves me with the question, are we a culture that gives up on our life partners too soon? Do we peter out along the way and tell ourselves we married the wrong person and a better partner has got to be out there somewhere, hopefully not too far away. Clearly, there are no right answers here, really just more questions than anything else. But it's certainly worth some serious consideration. Perhaps our notions of love and marriage cause us to give up prematurely on relationships that with a little more faith, effort, and reason could really stand the test of time.
Follow Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drrobiludwig