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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is Your Marriage Facebook Perfect?


I spend very little time on Facebook.  In fact, I don’t even spend very much time on the internet.  I’d rather pick up a clump of paper held between two pieces of cardboard or heavy paper known as “a book”.  

However, my wife, who is pretty internet savvy, occasionally sends me a link for something she thinks I would find interesting.  One day she sent me a link to a New York Times article by Hannah Seligson entitled, “Facebook’s Last Taboo:  The Unhappy Marriage,” I followed the link and went to read the article---after all, she might be trying to tell me something!   

Here is the link to the article, in case you want to check it out for yourself before going any further, (though I will give you some summary statements myself):  

To read the article click this link:    Facebook's Last Taboo

In a nutshell, the article sprang from a posting by a couple who were in the process of divorcing and had both posted on their facebook pages their divorce announcement.  In the announcement they included appreciation for the support others offered and a statement about how well they are doing together divorced.  Other individuals are also discussed in the article, along with some analysis as to why people rarely let others into the inner workings of a struggling marriage, instead creating the impression that theirs is a wonderful marriage.  I thought it might be worth reflecting on some of the issues raised in the article.

One of the big themes of the article focuses on the “artificial image” we allow to persist about our marriages, as if everything is alright when in fact there may be struggles, disappointments and heartaches.  

As a pastor, I can attest that this very phenomenon is true in every church on any given Sunday, as families sit together nicely going through the motions of their faith, never allowing the veneer of happy marriage to crack enough for anyone to see inside.  Once they are divorced, however, those around are often surprised and say, “We had no idea they were even having problems.”  But as their pastor, I may have known for years that there were serious issues in their marriage.  

Should the other people have known of the problems as well?  

Should all their facebook “friends” have been told all along?  That is the core of the article’s questions.

The author raises the issue in this way, through the words of the individual who made the facebook post:   

“There is a fairy-tale marketing of marriage that we all participate in,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “It’s a mirage, and it does a disservice to people who are thinking of getting married…”  

I think most of us understand what Mr. Ellsberg is saying, which is also reiterated and discussed by the article’s author.  Fairy tale is an interesting usage here, because do you not recall that most fairy tales describe the romance up to the marriage, and the only subsequent comment is that “they lived happily ever after”?  

As far as we know, Cinderella and Prince Charming never argued about anything, never had to face financial stressors, never had children with the resulting stress on their time and energy.  They lived happily ever after.

That so isn’t real life, is it?  Which, of course, is why it is called a “fairy tale;” it was never intended to be real life, but a representation of the finest moments in life, and to evoke the longing and hope within each of us for something better, the striving for the ultimate perfection,  which is only fulfilled in heaven.  Even the fairy tale dreams beckon us to search for what Milton called the “Paradise Lost”.    

Do we do the disservice of creating false impressions for those not yet married by not sharing our problems publicly?  Do these false impressions add to the divorce rate by setting up unrealistic expectations?  Or do the public presentations people perceive mimic the role of the life of the fairy tale in beckoning us to reach for the very best?  

Would opening the struggles of our marriages and private lives by revealing the “sordid details” to the world help these young people or ourselves?  Or is stoically bearing the pains in private, as suggested by the adage to “not air your dirty laundry in public” the better way to go?   

Are there only these two options?   Is there not a difference between living a lie and choosing to keep some areas of our lives private?  And really, any child knows that their parents’ marriage is not always perfect, and that awareness can do a lot to offset any fairy tale images along the way.

It has been my experience that wise individuals find a middle ground, in which they teach and learn from other couples with whom they have developed close and trusting relationships with the result that each couple grows and develops.  Les and Leslie Parrott refer to these as marriage mentors, couples helping one another learn how to handle effectively the struggles and joys of marriage.  On the other hand, I have observed that those who open their lives to any and everybody - do nobody any service at all, and reap only ill-founded if well intentioned advice from individuals whose prying interest is more for self-gratification than real help and hope.  

I do believe those who try to live their existence through the creation and projection of an illusion of the perfect marriage, end up frustrated as they live lives of denial and disappointment because of unrealistic expectations and efforts to live up to a lie. 

No marriage is the perfect fairy tale.  But marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to be worth cherishing and nourishing.  It probably is not a good idea to create a false impression about our marriages to the point that we lead others believe we have the perfect relationship and refuse to acknowledge our own struggles.  

On the other hand; it also seems to me that people whose view of marriage are that it is only a relationship filled with problems and challenges and therefore not worth pursuing are perceiving it imperfectly as well.  This perception may lead them to pursue live-together relationships  (about which there are also false impressions out there), or at worst, avoid a serious relationship.   In either case, they never experience what an incredible thing a good marriage really is…even if it is NOT perfect!

Bottom line, it boils down to whether you are living a life of integrity and genuineness, not whether or not you are telling everybody about your problems.  

I think many of our issues are best worked out privately between the individuals involved, maybe with the help of a pastor or counselor.  The naïveté of youth believing theirs will be a perfect wedding and a perfect marriage and they will live happily ever after would probably not change because somebody told them about their marriage problems.  You know youth, “well, that won’t ever happen to ME!”  

Instead, modeling a life in which you live in a committed marriage relationship, willing to face each challenge as it arises is what might help others, who somehow believe that they should end their marriage just because it wasn’t “perfect.”  It may not always make a difference, but at least the example is there!  

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