Most weddings are a celebration. Love is in the air. Family and friends show up for the party bringing bitter-sweet memories and mixed feelings. But it’s not just for the wedding presents and to have an audience in the pictures; those family and friends impact your marriage long after the wedding is over.
There’s been much discussion about why so many Christian couples divorce when the church generally places such a high value on marriage. But one important factor powerfully predicts the likelihood of your own marriage ending, and that’s being around other marriages that end.
It’s been known for some time that if your own parents divorced, you’re more likely to become divorced yourself. Possible reasons why include the way relationship skills and interpersonal behavior are passed down to younger generations, and the decrease in confidence and commitment children of divorced parents come to marriage with.
And it’s more than family. A paper based on data from one of the longest-running studies of health in this country, the Framingham Heart Study, suggests “that divorce can spread between friends.” If a friend of yours goes through divorce, you are 75% more likely to become divorced yourself. And if a friend of a friend gets divorced, your own risk increases by 33%.
That’s not a pretty picture. Who doesn’t know someone personally who has gone through divorce? With about 40% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages ending in divorce, what chance does your marriage have?
Forewarned is forearmed. Here are some practical preventive steps to use how family and friends impact your marriage in a positive way.
Consider Your Family History
If the marriage you grew up observing was characterized by conflict, abuse, lack of commitment, infidelity, and/or ended in divorce, you already know some things you don’t want in your own marriage. Choosing a healthier kind of marriage is an important step.
But simply wanting something better doesn’t mean you will experience a better marriage. You learned more things by osmosis than you did by explicit teaching. Before you were even aware you were learning, you picked up ways to communicate, manage emotions, handle conflict, and do intimacy. You picked up attitudes about sex, the opposite sex, marriage, male-female roles, God, and more. You can’t un-learn such things until you evaluate what you brought to adulthood.
Doing family-of-origin work is not disrespectful or dishonoring to your parents. Some of the things you learned you will value and want to continue! Other things you may observe in yourself now with regret. Still other things you may not recognize until you face challenges in your own marriage.
Writing out a genogram can help you do this work. Such a genogram doesn’t only list who married and gave birth to who, but looks at the characteristics of your family history, positive and negative. Owning the baggage you carry is priceless in choosing what you do or don’t carry forward.
Choose Your Friends
This in no way is meant to suggest you walk away from a friend who needs your support while going through the end of a marriage!! But it does mean you need to be around healthy people who are living authentic and godly marriages if you want your own marriage to be healthy.
Notice the couples around you in church, at work, in your neighborhood. While you won’t know everything about them, look for a couple who is a little farther down the marriage road than you are, and who demonstrates the characteristics you’d like to experience in your relationship.
Hang out with one or two such couples. Find out how they deal with conflict, unmet expectations, communication, intimacy, etc. Just being around a healthy couple can rub off on you. And you can learn a lot by asking questions.
Learn New Skills
Nobody comes to marriage knowing all they need to know. You’re no exception. Remember, marriage is not about being happy; it’s about learning to love well.
It doesn’t matter whether your marriage is just starting out, or you’re experiencing marriage challenges after decades together, your marriage can improve with intentionally developing new skills.
You can learn things like healthy communication, handling conflict, pursuing intimacy, setting boundaries, healthy forgiveness, and having difficult conversations. You can learn to seek understanding, and what to do when your own needs aren’t getting met well.
Realize how family and friends impact your marriage. Especially if you’re struggling, be intentional about the people you hang out with. Doing so will make a big difference in the success of your own marriage.
Your Turn: Have you been close to a family member or friend who experienced divorce? How might that have impacted you? What are you going to do now about learning about healthy relationships? Leave a comment below.
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