Last September, my son begged to go on a dinner cruise for his birthday. We had a big group: my husband and me, my ex-husband and his wife, two kids, and three grandparents. Most women would say that being stuck on a boat with an ex wouldn’t be their idea of a good time, but it was actually pretty fun. In fact, we do something together a few times a year and genuinely enjoy our time together.
One bit of advice I received after my marriage ended was to avoid this kind of group family activity because it might send mixed messages to the kids. Clearly, I haven’t followed this advice very well, so I’m waiting for the day my kids ask a tricky question about my divorce. Here’s the specific question and why I’m actually looking forward to answering it.
“If you and dad get along so well, why did you get a divorce?”
It’s definitely going to be awkward because it’s going to require an adult conversation about the right and wrong reasons to get married. But I’m looking forward to it because I think it’s going to be a great teaching moment. After all, it was a huge learning moment for me.
So I’ve got some explaining to do.
I’ll tell my kids this very important lesson: Simply getting along with someone is not enough to justify committing your life to them. No blushing bride would say, “I’m marrying this man because we get along!” That’s weird and sad. No, it would sound like this: “We love being together. We make each other smile. We enjoy the same things.” Sounds better right? But when you strip that down, you’ve basically said, “We get along great.”
Those aren’t the wrong reasons to get married, but they’re not enough to create a foundation that will endure the demands of a lifelong commitment to marriage.
Why isn’t liking each other enough?
In my very first counseling session after my divorce, my therapist walked me through “Intimacy 101.” Basically, there are various levels of intimacy. You and I have no intimacy. I’ve written this article, but I don’t know who you are or what your name is. Now, if we meet in person, shake hands, and tell each other our names, we’ve reached a deeper level of intimacy. If we go for coffee and talk about our families and goals, we go deeper. You get it. For a married couple, there is also sexual intimacy and (yes, even deeper) spiritual and emotional intimacy.
If you go into marriage with a person you like, respect, and enjoy being with, but lack foundational connections, you’re going to find yourself stuck, unable to go to a deeper level of intimacy. This is a recipe for marital disaster, even for two good people who care about each other. Without spiritual and emotional intimacy, spouses cannot truly know one another and one of our deepest desires as human beings is to be known.
Without spiritual and emotional intimacy, spouses cannot truly know one another and one of our deepest desires as human beings is to be known.
I hope they take this away.
My sons know their dad and I love each other and like each other. But I also hope they see that they need to approach marriage with a different set of requirements than just that. Loving and liking are essential; they’re definitely not the wrong reasons to get married. But you know what? They are also really great reasons to be friends with someone. I want them to look for more—for that person who understands them emotionally and spiritually. That’s a great foundation.
What do you hope your children will learn about marriage?