Pre-Existing Conditions in a Marriage

Written by David Schel


Applications and tests tell things.  Job applications and interviews determine if someone is qualified to do a particular job.  A school application and SAT score determine if someone is qualified to attend a particular school.  Several times in my career as a life insurance agent I’ve given a client news that their blood test showed a pre-existing condition requiring immediate attention.  This was a good part of my job.  While it was difficult to tell a client that a policy would cost more than anticipated, I was able to help them get preventative care so the problem didn’t turn into something bigger down the road.

Since my wife and I separated, I’ve been talking about the history of divorce in our lives.  Recently I constructed my daughters’ family tree which looks more like the dissolution of a family tree.   As I was discussing the need for divorce reform legislation, and in particular the Parental Divorce Reduction Act, I remembered back to the 80-hour classroom education the state required me to undergo before I could even submit an application for my insurance licenses.

And a light bulb went off.  I suddenly realized that my wife and I had a pre-existing condition when we got married.  And, therefore, a high risk marriage!

Given our history, for fifteen years I’d thought we had a low risk marriage.  After all, my parents had divorced, my wife’s parents divorced five times, and my wife already had one divorce with a child behind her.  To me, that meant we stood no chance of splitting up.   No one more than us knew how awful divorce was on children and parents.  Now I know it was the inverse; we were at the highest risk possible.  I hadn’t known that the divorce rate for second marriages was higher than for first marriages either.  Or that third marriages fared even worse.  Who would want to go through that again?  As Vince Lombardi said, “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”

Why hadn’t someone told me this six months before we got married rather than six months after we separated?  My wife’s OB/GYN asked lots of questions, did tests, determined we would have a “normal” pregnancy, and advised us accordingly.  Had he determined we would have a “high risk” pregnancy he would have advised us differently.  Why couldn’t our marriage license have been stamped “high risk”?   My driving license is stamped “corrective lenses “so I don’t drive into a tree.  I’m not saying we should have been restricted from marrying.  I am saying it would have been helpful if we’d known we had a pre-existing condition that required our immediate and ongoing vigilance.

My wife is a beautiful person, and we had a genuine love story that I hoped would be the greatest gift we ever gave our daughters.  We also had some of the same money, health and family problems most marriages have.  There are couples with bigger problems than ours though whose marriages survive, and couples with smaller problems whose marriages fail.  Sure our problems were relevant, but it was also about who we were – a couple with no idea they were living with a pre-existing condition.

I don’t know exactly what we would have done differently, but just as someone with high cholesterol, or diabetes, or a heart condition in their history deals with daily living in a different way than someone who doesn’t, we might have altered the course of our marriage, too.  At the very least, we might have done less diagnosing and treating of ourselves.  Reached out for help with the complicated condition we inherited.  We might have gone to counseling from day one.  We didn’t even know about marriage education. I’ve since learned that it also has a great track record of helping couples with marital problems.

Right now my marriage is on extreme life support in the hospice that is family court.  In another two months the “ waiting “ period will be over and even though my advance directive says to do everything possible to resuscitate our marriage, the plug neither my daughters nor I want pulled will be yanked from the wall.  Forget doing everything possible to help us fix our marriage.  The family court will have done nothing, and has no interest in helping treat our pre-existing condition.  In this hospice there’s no pain control or emotional support either.  Unfortunately, one spouse can’t attend marriage counseling alone, and it only takes one hand to pull the marital cord.  As a result, our marriage will lose its life, and our children a better childhood than we had.

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