Let's face it. Some of the most admirable marriages we have sought to emulate have ended in divorce, temporary separation, or worst, estrangement within the marriage. While even the best marriages experience periods of tension and stretches of extended strain, the ones that prove to be wholly dysfunctional, inescapably irreparable, or ignominiously transient experience disproportionate bouts of combative silence or resentful compliance in most or all areas of the marriage. They are just good at pretending.
Or good at suppressing the deleterious effects of a sucky marriage. But as with all things suppressed, that which is under pressure is sure to ooze, to leak, to explode. Aside from those marriages that amiably end in divorce and temporary separation or that result in mutual estrangement within the marriage, it is for certain that a heightened measure of spousal suppression preceded the defining moment when something snapped, when a line was crossed, when things changed.
Suppression has a way of tattling on itself. Maybe for years you are going along with a signature cycle of patterns, and then "it" comes out of nowhere like a blown head gasket (my damned suburban blew one this past week). Initially you are in shock. I mean, what has always happened didn't happen this time. Someone went too far and the cycle morphed.
I have always taken note of odd occurrences in failed marriages, signs that some sort of force was being silently but severely applied. Here are a few things I have noticed. (Granted, I did not necessarily think that these things would lead to divorce. It is just that in retrospect I recall thinking the behavior to have been strange.)
1. Separate vacations. Surely a marriage is on its way out when spouses routinely take vacations for pleasure apart from each other. It seems that among the most reasonable reasons for marrying, enjoyment ought to be at or near the top. I knew a couple who never vacationed together (and if they did they never spoke of it). No, they took week-long vacations apart from each other, and they actually enjoyed them, only reluctantly returning. Pardon my French way of thinking, but it seems to me that vacation for pleasure is a time for lots of romance, lots of sex, lots of "free time", and lots of nonsense. I am not sure how that can be achieved apart from physical proximity to one's spouse.
2. No touching. You don't have to make out in public with your spouse to have a great marriage. However, if you have absolutely no contact with your spouse in public apart from some odd compulsion like religious conviction, then something must be seriously wrong. I mean, you must be making a special note not to touch your spouse which is a conscious thought. I knew a couple who did not touch in public. The one wouldn't even touch the other to get the other's attention. The one would just sit there calling out the other one's name until after about five times the other one would finally respond. Actually, each spouse received more physical affection from the people around them than they ever gave each other in public. I always wondered how they ever had children. They divorced.
3. Vocal tone. I don't like hearing a spouse chew the other one out. I don't. I hate it when one chastises or interrogates the other in public in order to make a point to his audience that he has a dumb or wholly incompetent spouse. I have also learned through eleven years of running my own school that a spouse who dares to reprimand the other in public more than likely "turns it up a notch or two" in private. I once had a couple in my house who argued the entire time they were with us, using my wife and me as barricades to hide behind and trying to subtly bring us into the argument. They divorced. And I'm glad they did for her sake, because he was a butthole.
4. Incompatible networks. It is hard to have a good marriage when your friends do not like your spouse. It is also hard to have a good marriage when your spouse has no interest in who your friends are or in developing relationships with them. I knew a woman who was married to a good but ignorant man. He didn't cheat on her, but he didn't make love to her. He didn't hit her, but he also didn't touch her. He didn't raise his voice at her, but he also didn't speak to her. It was an awkward marriage where he was involved with a not-for-profit to which he gave his undivided attention. In return, the not-for-profit took his services but didn't pay him in return for the many hours he worked. His wife on the other hand threw herself into her own network of friends, incessantly volunteering time out of her normal job. They divorced. Quite honestly, it seemed to make sense.
5. Religious language. Exclusively. It is hard to talk to someone who is intent to be allegorical, poetic, or talking in parables all of the time. It is as if that person intends not to give a straight answer. Not to be easily understood. When one spouse talks this way, it might be style. When both spouses speak this way, it has proven time and time again to be a collaborative cover up.
"How are you guys doing?"
"God is faithful."
"That's nice, but I'm asking how you both are doing."
"Jesus never fails."
"Mmm, yeah, but are things going well?"
Surely they don't speak that way to their creditors when asked to pay their bills. Surely, they don't speak that way to their employers else they might not have a job. Surely they don't talk to their children this way when their children ask for dinner or come to them with a bloody knee. They divorced.
You know what I think was going on behind the scenes with every one of these marriages?