Love and Marriage

A family tree filled with broken branches

By Kersley Fitzgerald

My dad had six brothers and sisters, five of whom lived to adulthood.

Five of the siblings married; one didn't.

I have two older cousins, then me and my sister and brother, then a slew of youngers.

So, grandparents, six kids, six oldest grandkids.

In that group, two never married (although one is a serial monogamist who has been with his girlfriend for several years). Two (including myself) are married to our first spouses.

Every single other member of my dad's family has been divorced at least once.

That's, what, nine divorces in the oldest thirteen family members?

That's just the ones I know about; there are at least nine other adult cousins.

I'm not here to judge the divorces. Some of them were due to abuse. Some adultery. Some just "fell out of love." Some of the divorces were justified, and some weren't. Most if not all of the subsequent marriages lasted, as if they needed practice before they got the spouse-thing figured out right.

It's just weird to me that this is my family's legacy.

A couple of days ago, we celebrated my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary. In some ways, their marriage has been rockier than those that in my family led to divorce. But whether through stubbornness or appreciation or an air of "don't go there", they've made it to 50. That's the legacy JT will remember.

In celebration of that anniversary, we had family pictures taken. Some of them look like they're from a church directory, but Dev and I got some taken in black shirts and jeans. We were going over the proofs (no more little 1"x1" print-outs — now it's on a big flat-screen TV) to choose which ones we wanted prints of.

I could tell the photographer had edited his favorites — I've had bad skin since I was 13 so it was pretty obvious. For the shots with Dev and me, he'd chosen one where we were slightly facing each other with our front arms embracing.

I didn't really like it. For one, our big, pale hands against the black shirts looked kind of goofy. For another, it was too sweet and romantic. "Look at this couple, married 18 years and still in love. How wonderful."

Instead I chose the picture where our hands were down. We still stood tightly next to each other, but we each had one hand free. And we were facing forward more, not toward each other so much.

I thought it was a better illustration of our relationship. Supportive without being all-consuming. Together, but facing the world, with free hands to get stuff done.

More of a partnership, and less of a pose.

I can't blame my family members for how they chose their spouses. I married Dev because he asked and I had no reason to say no. The previous 18 years weren't necessarily because we chose right. It's because by the grace of God we made right choices afterward. We chose to see ourselves as a team, not a romantic, lovey-dovey couple. We chose to face the world as a partnership, not roommates with individual dreams. And we chose to appreciate our differences, not be threatened by them.

We both, mutually and individually, made the decision that we liked this gig and we wanted to continue liking it for as long as we had the chance. When we're faced with hard stuff, we don't think about what choice would prevent divorce or leave a good legacy for JT. We just figure out what would protect and strengthen the relationship. Many, many members of my family did not do that. In some way or another, they chose themselves — their fear or their entitlement or their addiction. Then they kept choosing themselves until it consumed them.

JT isn't close to my dad's family, so he doesn't see those choices. Instead, he sees Dev and me and the legacy we will leave him. The example of working for a good relationship. Making mutual decisions for the benefit of the team. JT's more of a romantic, like his father. He needs to look out for that first burst of love and emotion and realize that's not what makes a successful life together. Neither does gutting it out or stuffing down the pain or putting up with it. A bitter marriage isn't too much better than a bitter divorce.

Of the oldest 13 members of my family, I have one uncle who is still married to his original spouse — and his wife says there is no worldly reason they are still together. As far as I can tell, they even still like each other. I don't know if it means anything that he was my favorite uncle growing up. He always seemed to be aware of how I was feeling and made an effort to cheer me up. That's probably pretty telling.

JT's a lot like him. I hope he can take those character traits and apply them to his own marriage. Not because divorce is bad or because of the legacy he'll leave his children, but because, with God's help, marriage can be a really good deal.

TagsChristian-Life  |  Family-Life  |  Hardships  |  Personal-Life  |  Personal-Relationships

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Published 12-31-13