“Marriages today just don’t work,” says relationship columnist Anthony D’Ambrosio. Why not? He gives five specific reasons for the increasing societal demise of marriage: three of them largely relying on the premise that technology has irrevocably changed our lives, and makes relationships harder than they’ve ever been.
Our incredible online connectedness leads to real-time disconnect, argues D’Ambrosio. We’re fixated on the desire for attention, rather than on a more wholesome desire for love (this ties into some thoughts expressed yesterday about online loneliness). He believes that by throwing privacy out the window, in favor of the exposure and accolades provided by social media, we’ve cheapened our marital intimacy. He also complains that marital sex is nearly nonexistent, and that today’s financial landscape takes an incredible toll on marriage.
Some thoughts on the last two points first: D’Ambrosio suggests that the cost of living puts a strain on marriages today. But it seems that a shared income could in fact relieve some of the difficulties caused by expenses in today’s world: living in the Washington, D.C. / NOVA area is egregiously expensive, and I could not afford housing in this area if I were not married. Because my husband and I pool our resources, we are able to afford housing, pay off student loans, etc. Without that support and help, my financial situation would indeed be dire. It seems the most important factor here is being a smart and savvy spender: considering what sort of housing you can afford, where you should be buying groceries, what kind of car you can reasonably keep, etc., etc. This is often harder to coordinate with a spouse, one who may have more expensive (or cheaper) tastes than you. But marriage is, in many ways, the art of compromise: seeking a golden mean that is both practically and relationally beneficial.
As to a lack of marital sex, D’Ambrosio blames it on a combination of boredom and the temptations of outside media: “Everywhere you look, there’s pictures of men and women we know half naked — some look better than your husband or wife. So it becomes desirable. It’s in your face every single day and changes your mindset.”
But does it have to?
In this section, and the other sections about social media, D’Ambrosio paints us as passive puppets in a technologically-orchestrated dance of disconnection. We have no control over our marriages, because we’re so caught up in this social media stupor. “You want to know why your grandmother and grandfather just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary?” he asks. “Because they weren’t scrolling through Instagram worrying about what John ate for dinner. They weren’t on Facebook criticizing others. They weren’t on vacation sending Snapchats to their friends.”
But it’s so much more complicated than that. Divorce, affairs, infidelity—all of these things have happened throughout history. Marriages have failed, time and time again. Temptation has always existed. Boredom, exhaustion, bad finances: none of these things are new. While technology is more prevalent and incessant than it’s ever been, the vices that it can encourage—jealousy, worry, lust, narcissism—are also not new.
It is true that social mores have changed, giving us greater leniency in marital relationships today. There is no longer a strong social stigma associated with divorce—at least nothing compared to the stigma that would have existed 60 years ago. This often gives people greater mental freedom to consider divorce. Additionally, the legal restraints and repercussions of divorce have changed significantly, with the rise of no-fault divorce. But even so, how did our grandparents do it? How did they make marriage last? How do 50th, even 60th, anniversaries even happen?
D’Ambrosio presents five reasons that “we can’t handle marriage anymore.” But his five reasons really seem to boil down to one big reason, expressed at the beginning of the piece:
Marriages today just don’t work.
The million dollar question? Why not?
It’s a pretty simple concept — fall in love and share your life together. Our great grandparents did it, our grandparents followed suit, and for many of us, our parents did it as well. Why the hell can’t we?
Because marriage does not just involve “falling in love and sharing your life together.” This is perhaps one of the most passive definitions of marriage one could come up with. It involves no effort, no choice, no purposeful decision-making or selflessness. It involves “falling in love,” rather than loving. It suggests “sharing your life together,” rather than building a life together. Yet marriage must involve the latter, not the former, if it is to survive.
I’m not speaking from my own, still young, experience of marriage. I’m thinking about my grandparents, both sets, who celebrated 50+ years of marriage together. They were purposeful, careful, respectful. They made time for each other, honored each other. They were jealous of each other (in a healthy way), seeking to preserve intimacy and closeness to the exclusion of the outside world. They were romantic—nurturing the spark of love with gifts, flowers, acts of service, words of affection.
I’m also thinking of my parents and parents-in-law, who have celebrated 30 and 30+ years of marriage: both of whom have carefully set aside date nights since the beginning of their marriage, taking time to nurture intimacy despite the chaos of life and kids. They’ve conducted arguments behind closed doors, keeping their disagreements private from even their children. They’ve helped each other with everyday tasks, not dividing their lives into “his” and “her” portions. They take the time for kisses and compliments, no matter how busy the season. And they pray for each other—which seems to have given them a deeper compassion, empathy, and humility.
All of these couples have lived within, and before, our age of social media. Some of them have social media accounts; others do not. While they did not grow up in the wake of its affluence, but they must be cognizant of its various temptations nonetheless. Yet the virtues they have cultivated help them counter its poisoning effects: they are able to use Facebook or Instagram, and appreciate them, without getting sucked into their marriage-destroying vices.
All of this comes down to choice: actively seeking to thrive, even in a hostile environment. Life will always be tough on marriage. But the resilience with which you approach it strengthens your chances of succeeding. Finances are worrisome? Create a budget, and consider how best to use your resources. Don’t feel like having sex? Actively seek to cultivate romance with your married partner. Don’t just complain about it—seek to solve the problem. Instagram or Facebook distracting you from your spouse? Turn the damn phone off.
D’Ambrosio says at the end of his article that he believes “Marriage is sacred. It is the most beautiful sacrament and has tremendous promise for those fortunate enough to experience it. Divorced or not, I am a believer in true love and building a beautiful life with someone.”
But the religious language he employs (sacred, sacrament) speaks to an act rooted in and founded on grace. Grace is not a passive thing: it is a blessing given to us at great cost. If we believe that grace is indeed the foundation of marriage, we must expect to be called to the same virtue, and the same cost, in order to make it work.