Divorce, as previously discussed, has a tendency to be…a touchy subject. The last time we had this conversation I was somewhat surprised by the type of response I received, both online and in person. I had a few people with similar marriage struggles express empathy with my situation, but most conversations I had about it were with my non divorced Christian friends who by and large said that they just really don’t know what to do or say when they have people in their lives struggle in this way.
And just when I was thinking, gee, it’d be nice if that really dark chapter of my life could be publicly dissected in order to have some kind of meaning or be helpful to someone.
So. Let’s talk about it.
For today’s discussion: one phrase that is not as helpful as it sounds in your head.
“All marriages have problems.”
What you think when you say it: this is a way to encourage my friend. Remind him/her they are not alone in their struggles. That marriage is a hard thing and everyone has had to wrestle with that at some point.
What it communicates: buck up. This isn’t as big of a deal as you think it is.
While it is certainly true that all marriages have problems (and that many marriages have overcome even extraordinarily difficult circumstances), what your friend does NOT need when they’re pouring their heart out to you about their husband’s infidelity or their wife’s consistent verbal abuse is for you to shake your head, mention how you had to ask your husband to take the garbage out for the THIRD time this week, and then say, “but all marriages have problems, I guess”.
Please understand that there is a huge difference between the natural and expected conflicts which arise as two people try to figure out how to live and work and love together and what is faced by a person who is fighting for their marriage alone against very real, very overwhelming odds. This is not to say that those “minor” annoyances aren’t difficult. Honestly, my very-messed-up marriage had plenty of those things too, and they were frustrating to say the least. But those were things I could very easily see as things to work through and overcome. To talk about. There is no talking it out when a person cheats on you consistently and lies about it. There is no give-and-take when nothing you do is good enough no matter what. Those daily “all marriage” problems were far removed from the things that ultimately caused my marriage’s end and to lump them together made them sound offensively small.
I get it. It’s scary when one of our own starts talking about things like divorce (or about the kind of things that could lead up to one). So in a way (even a subconscious one) I think this phrase is kind of trying to plant a seed against that being a viable option by reminding our struggling loved ones that life is a battle we’re all fighting together. But at best, all it does is communicate that you don’t quite understand the severity or gravity of the situation or that you are afraid of divorce more than you are able to present for your friend. At worst, it’s something they internalize and use to judge their own responses to their circumstances (and question the outcome of those struggles, especially if the marriage does end).
Moral of the story: say something else. Or nothing. Decide if you are responding to support and encourage your friend or to make yourself feel better about the situation. Sometimes we don’t have to have answers to be helpful. Sometimes the thing is to just be there and ask what else is needed.