As a newlywed who has witnessed many marriages in my parents’ generation dissolve, I entered into marriage with a small degree of anxiety. Although my parents have been married for over 30 years and I thoroughly trust my husband, one never ceases to hear stories about pastors and other respectable men who one day reveal that their entire lives have been a lie. In an instant, everything their wives had known was shattered. That terrifies me.
However, I’ve noticed an equally startling as well as puzzling trend among married couples my age. At this stage in life, I already have a number of friends whose marriages have ended in divorce, but not because of the men. Within my own circle of acquaintances, every single instance has been a result of the wife’s decision to exit the marriage. Whether she was unfaithful or simply felt trapped, I have been shocked by the number of women who have chosen divorce relatively early in their marriages.
What has been even more startling is that their husbands were good men. This isn’t always the case, of course, but many of these women left husbands who were godly, faithful men. Any woman would consider herself lucky to have a husband like them. So what’s the deal? Whereas men seem more prone to have affairs in conjunction with a mid-life crisis, why are so many women leaving their husbands at such an early age?
I did a little research on this topic to find out if my experience is unique, but it’s not. Psychology Today estimates that while 50-70% of men have affairs, 30-60% of women do as well. A separate study published in the New York Times reported that this number is particularly on the rise amidst young women: In new marriages, about 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under 35 have admitted to cheating. So while infidelity is stereotypically attributed to men, statistics indicate otherwise. What is unclear is the reason behind these rising numbers.
The New York Times article offered several possibilities. Due to past cultural pressures, it’s possible that women have always been as equally unfaithful as men but were more likely to lie about it until now. Others speculate that as the number of women in the workforce increases, the late nights in the office provide opportunities for temptation that women never before had. Even women who do stay at home have the added temptation of internet, e-mail and text messaging.
While researchers have yet to establish a conclusive consensus about these “early exits,” I have my own theory. Based on my own experience in marriage thus far, I suspect it’s a result of several cultural influences. To begin, women grow up absorbing unrealistic stories about fairy tale romance from movies, t.v. shows and books. However, these romantic fantasies never provide us with a glimpse of the “happily ever after.” We see the pursuit and the climax, but then the movie ends.
As a result, we enter marriage subconsciously expecting that the same hot pursuit will define the rest of our lives…only to quickly realize that it doesn’t. Even six months into my own marriage I find myself sighing as I watch movies like the Notebook. There’s a part of me that’s sad I’ll no longer experience the newness of love and the hot passion of that initial stage. My husband is incredible and he pursues me every day, but it’s different now. There’s a small part of me that misses that.
Compound that disappointment with the very real challenges of marriage and every day life, along with a culture in which divorce is pretty normal. The result? Young women suspect they got married too quickly. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” they think. “I must have married the wrong guy!” Either that, or they suddenly feel they’re missing out on the passion and romance of their single friends. No more exciting first dates. No more thrill-of-the-chase.
And so they feel trapped. That word, “trapped,” has been the common denominator among the young women I’ve known to leave their husbands. She thought she knew what she was signing up for, but then she got married and felt she’d been duped. She felt stuck and she needed a way out. Then a handsome co-worker or family friend caught her eye…
Perhaps I’m totally wrong, but this “theory” is based off of my own battle with the culture’s influence on my expectations. I never realized how powerfully my understanding of romance had been shaped by media until I actually got married.
While psychologists and sociologists are still unclear about the cause for this growing trend, there are two ways in which we can go ahead and be on the defensive when it comes to fighting for our marriages:
1. Be discerning about the messages the culture is feeding you. Romantic movies may seem innocent enough, but be wise to the ways in which they are shaping your expectations of marriage. If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you know that I think about this stuff ALL the time and it has STILL affected me. It’s hard to resist getting swept up in fanciful dreams about what your life should be, all the while sabotaging the life you actually have. Marriage is a blessing and a gift, but we ruin it by imposing unnatural expectations upon it.
2. Don’t forget your Heavenly Lover. Even in the best marriages, it’s not all romance and steam. Some days you feel ordinary and plain, and your husband may not pursue you the way he did when you were courting. So on those days when you feel trapped, or at the very least forgotten about, remember that you have a Father in Heaven who never stops being enthralled by you. His extravagant loves puts the Notebook to shame. No one knows you as intimately, loves you as unconditionally, and will ever sacrifice more for you than Him. No man will ever pursue you as consistently or perfectly as God, so let Him be your satisfaction on the days when you might be tempted to look elsewhere.
Regardless of whether you are single or married, it’s time that we start talking about the fact that more and more women are sabotaging their marriages through infidelity. Women are just as likely to be tempted as men, so we must be on our guard against it. None of us is any safer than the woman next to us. Let’s be realistic about that fact, and pray for grace and wisdom all the while.