September 10, 2021

I hit publish with some apprehension a few weeks ago. I’d been sitting on “When It’s Over” for months, considering the risk of posting about divorce when my life’s work is marriage. But, to be honest, to talk candidly about marriage, we must talk about divorce.  

Because if divorce is not an option, are we really choosing marriage?

Let’s start with what I believe to be at the heart of marriage. Is it love? Economics? Politics and power? Culture and society? Sure, all of those things are a part of marriage. I particularly like that “love” part. But I will suggest that the heart of marriage – the very essence of marriage, and the power imbedded in marriage – is choice. 

Think about it. From the start of a relationship, there is a choice to ask someone out: “Want to grab coffee Tuesday morning?” and the reciprocal consent, “Sure! Let’s meet for lattes.”

This is followed by choices to meet up after work for a longer dinner, go hear a band together – or not. Choices about if and how to get to know each other better: Will I sing out loud in front of her? Will I tell him this funny joke I heard, and will he think it’s as funny as I do? I wonder what she thinks about this job opportunity? Does he like my cat? Will she like my friends? How much will we share with each other? What will I hold back? Can I trust you with my heart? My money? My body?

Which just might lead to “Will you marry me?” We ritualize that consent – choosing into each other –  at the wedding ceremony. But, obviously, consent has already begun, and consent and choice will be the lifeblood of moving forward – day after day, week after week, year after year. Marriage is a series of moments both profound and mundane that build mutuality. Mine and theirs become ours. You and me become we and us. And that must be revisited, renegotiated, and renewed over and over again.

There is a temptation to overlook or underestimate choice. But a great deal of power lies in the “I do” we hear at weddings. Embedded in that “I do” is the realization that every moment of every day, there is choice. It’s why a wedding ceremony is far more than simply the chance to tell entertaining stories about the couple or wax poetic about the power of love. You need the profundity of the choice, of choosing “us.” A marriage of compulsion is no marriage at all. A happy, vital, healthy marriage is a creature of “I choose to be with you,” and not “I must be with you.” 

Over and over again, in big and small ways, a living marriage is the repetition of the wedding declaration “I do.”  Every day that I kiss you as we wake up, “I do.” Every day that you pick up the cleaning for me, “I do.” When you are angry with me, “I do.” When I am sad about where we are in our relationship, “I do.” Every day that I come home to you, “I do.” Again and again and again.

A keen awareness that other choices exist and can be chosen brings a depth to marriage, a breathtakingly beautiful grace made up of two small words played out in a million different ways. Because when we say,  “Divorce is not an option,” we are lying. Divorce is always an option, just as much as marriage is an option. 

And choosing the option of marriage, in a million little ways, day after day, when it’s easy and when it’s hard, when it’s fun and when it’s frustrating is what makes marriage the rich, adventurous, intimate, and chosen relationship that it is meant to be.