Written by Chris Gersten
I have a friend, we’ll call him Marty, whose marriage has been struggling. Marty has been married for over 30 years. His children are grown, married, and out of the house. Marty also has run a successful business so he is not hurting financially. Marty’s wife, Ann, left him to live in Italy this past winter. Over their marriage, Marty and Ann didn’t travel much. Now that the children were grown, however, Ann told Marty there was more to life than she was getting in their relationship and wanted to explore Europe on her own and possibly settle there.
Marty and I have been friends for many years, and I kept in close touch with him after Ann left. He often confided in me and asked for my advice. He was committed to doing everything possible to save his marriage. He kept in close contact with Ann, sending her email notes daily and even flew to Florence for a long weekend to spend time with her. Marty agreed to work on problems in his marriage. He enlisted the support of their two married daughters to encourage Ann to give the marriage another chance.
Sometimes when I chatted with Marty I got the impression that he had established a decent life for himself apart from his wife. He saw his children and grandchildren frequently, had an active social life and enough money to live comfortably on his own.
So I asked him why he was working so hard to save his marriage. His first answer was that he loved his wife and that she was his best friend. When I pushed him a little, he acknowledged that living single had its benefits. Marty works with women and lives in a community with lots of single, eligible women. Divorce would, in many ways, make life easier for Marty. No behavioral changes required. Hall Pass every week. No compromises necessary.
Pushing Marty some more, I received a very interesting and unique answer in this day and age.
Marty, at age 60, told me he felt he had to preserve the institution of his own marriage. He wanted to stay married whether or not he enjoyed being married at any given point in time. He felt it was very important to set an example for his daughters that marriage is for better or for worse—for a lifetime. He thought it critical that he live his entire married life with one woman.
The commitment to the institution of marriage is rarely given as an explanation for why people work hard to stay together through difficult times. Marty told me that he felt, as part of a community, he also needed to set an example for others, not just his own children.
And he did. Ann returned to the States and moved back in with Marty. Things aren’t perfect, as they never are, but they are improving and both Marty and Ann appear to be committed to saving their marriage.
This commitment to the institution of marriage is sorely missing in today’s culture. We are taught that we should do whatever is necessary to be happy in the moment. Government supports make divorce easier than ever and the culture gives us a pass whenever we want out. How much stronger our marriages and communities would be if we could find the strength to follow Marty’s — and Ann’s — example and fight to stay together instead of rushing to part.