For Better or Worse

Kristine Philips

July 1, 2006

Flipping through the channels on a Thursday afternoon, I am looking for reruns of Friends on my satellite dish, as chances are good there is a channel somewhere playing the show. This time, I find an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond running in the show’s spot. Instead of being disappointed and grumbling, I watch a show I normally would not. Instead of laughing at mindless 30-something adults running around in New York, I see the syndicated version of an all too common travesty: divorce.

Debra, played by actress Patricia Heaton, is sitting next to her father in tears as he explains to her calmly that he and her mother are going through a separation. He tries to explain to his distraught daughter that both he and his wife were to blame for the separation. Although he was actually the one to say that it was over, Debra’s mother had known it had been over for a long time.

"But what about those vows you took at your wedding?!" Debra asks in frustration. "What about loving someone for the rest of your life? Did that mean anything?"

"We meant them…then." Her father was not even remotely shaken or defensive. "When you were growing up, we really meant them. But after you and your sister went off to college, it just kept getting harder."

Stunned by his calm explanation, I felt myself getting angrier with Debra’s father: the man was clearly being selfish. Somehow, I really doubt his daughter is comforted by the fact that his marriage had become "harder" over the years. I wondered if this man ever really understood the real meaning of marriage: a lifetime commitment.

More and more people find themselves in Debra’s parents’ situation: fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce these days. Looking at marriages in Hollywood, that percentile significantly increases for people who change spouses as easily as most of us change our underwear. For these people, marriage is not a lifetime commitment; it is simply the next step in the cycle of a romantic relationship: friendship, dating, relationship, engagement, marriage and finally separation and divorce. These relationships exist solely for the purpose of making people happy, as long as it makes them happy.

How often is it though that people are always happy with any given relationship or any given person for that matter? My parents, my relatives, and my friends are people that I dearly love. Though I care about these people, there are times when I cannot stand to be around them, or when I just want to throw something at them. Though I love these people, I know there are times when I do not like them. Every relationship is different, but there is no relationship—friend, relative, or romantic—where both of the people are completely happy all the time.

So does this mean that true love is a matter of fiction brought to life by the Grimm brothers in their fairy tales? Absolutely not. True love is not to be confused with infatuation. "True love" does not mean being completely happy with a person all the time or having that person fulfill all your needs at one time. True "true love" is about caring enough about people to make them happy and love them even when you may not like them.

This has been a major shift through the past several generations. Marriage is now solely about happiness, temporary though it may be. Marriage SHOULD be about happiness, but not solely about happiness. Marriage is a sacred promise made between two people in love, in front of witnesses, and in the presence of God to love, honor, and be faithful to one another for their entire lives. Even the vows state the seriousness of this commitment. People are married "for better or worse, for richer or poor, in sickness and in health" for their entire lives. There is no loophole there that says "until I fall out of love with this person" or "until it become too ’hard’" as Debra’s father notes.

This new mentality has led people to believe that this serious commitment is just a temporary source of fun. When the fun runs out of one relationship, people leave to go off and find another "perfect relationship" that will make them completely happy. That is until the fun is gone from that relationship. This is a smorgasbord of relationships, an automatic companion upgrade system. If I see something that I like better, I try it. Better yet, I can take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and sample both to see which I like better.

Marriage now just seems to be a formality—a piece of paper legalizing your relationship so people can have social security and insurance benefits. The actual act of being married can happen before the actual marriage even takes place. People live together, have premarital sex, and have children together, all without the formality of marriage.

The legal aspect of marriage has become dominant in the concept of this union. My parents raised me to believe that marriage was a spiritual and sacred act of an eternal bond of love and commitment between two people. Growing up, I saw this definition manifested in their marriage as well as the marriages of my aunts and uncles. This is how I grew up understanding marriage; this is how people everywhere used to understand marriage.

The trouble with this new way of thinking is that there is no nobility left in marriage. Parents with or without children split up because their once "perfect" marriage has now fallen into the routine of school, work, and soccer practice. The two partners have become bored, so they leave. Do they remember the promises they made on their wedding day? Do they understand how sacred those promises were? Most people who get divorced because they are bored do not seem to acknowledge either of these questions. They do not understand that breaking an eternal promise undermines those promises they made, not only for themselves, but for other couples as well. If one couple can eradicate an eternal commitment, it follows that others may do it as well. The promises made in a marriage cease to have any value at all. This degrades and defiles an institution that was once the most sacred of all unions between two people.

Not only does this destroy the value of marriage, but a divorce is also a painful and an emotionally trying ordeal, especially if there are children involved. Adults and children alike are hurt, often permanently, leading to years of therapy. So tell me, is this healthy or normal? In fact, is it worth it?

To make a mature, serious commitment, like marriage, work, both partners must exhibit qualities of maturity including patience, restraint, sacrifice, and tolerance. This requires that people understand the nature of their commitment. Marriage does not make people mature—it requires already mature people to make it work. It requires people to know the person before they marry him or her. It requires people to understand that love is not just an act of receiving; it is primarily an act of giving. And most importantly, it requires putting the other person first. Romantic relationships start with a desire to love and be loved. Marriages start because you are willing to love, willing to keep an eternal promise, and willing to work at keeping that relationship healthy and strong everyday, no matter how hard it gets.

Sadly, this is something Debra’s father does not understand. I doubt he or all the divorced Hollywood stars will ever understand. I cannot watch anymore so I turn off the TV. Though I could escape this troubling incident on the TV by turning it off, I cannot do so in the real world. As I stare at the blank screen, I am comforted by the thought that at least I will never turn from a marriage as easily as just I turned off the TV.

Kristine Philips is a junior from Ashland, Ohio, majoring in Journalism and Political Science