Broken Promises, Broken Marriages


He was shocked and depressed. The divorce papers served came as a total surprise. He had no idea his wife was that unhappy, which was a big part of the problem. He seemed to be the only person that didn’t know.

I knew, as she had been telling me for years how unhappy she was, how disconnected from the family he was, how uninvolved he was in her and their kids lives. They didn’t talk because he didn’t talk. When he had free time he either did nothing or he went out biking with his friends. He had asked his wife to bike with him, but she was not the biking kind. In his mind his invitation showed he cared and wanted her to do something with him, in her mind it was just another indication that he was not interested in what she wanted to do.

She told me that she was “done”. In her mind love was gone and he needed to be gone too. She was not interested in counseling or saving the marriage. Like CPR on a corpse, she felt all attempts to resurrect their relationship would be pointless. He took the opposite view. Finally acknowledging he could have and should have done more, he was ready to go to counseling to do what needed to be done to save his marriage. It was too late.

As I dialogued with each of them, I was saddened by the familiarity of their tale. Two people who were once in love, who had once looked forward to growing old together, had seen their relationship devolve into discussions of visitation rights and community property. In talking with them they each had their opinions on what had brought them to this point, places and times where each of them had gone wrong. As they shared their feelings I noticed something missing from each of their stories.

Neither one of them talked about the promises they had made to one another. 20 years ago, they stood before friends and family and made promises to one another, the promises couples make when they marry. They promised to love one another- in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, for better or worse, til death parted them.

They aren’t rich, not are they poor. They are both in reasonable health, and neither of them is dead, but things have definitely taken a turn for the worse, so much so the marriage was being abandoned. Apparently the promises they made to one another weren’t really promises at all. They were more like political promises, the kind that disappear at the first signs of conflict or opposition.

They are sadly normal in this regard. Marital promises don’t seem to carry much weight anymore. I have seen marriages end over finances, family conflicts, cigarettes and even obesity. Every divorcing couple I have encountered shares their sad reality, they have all failed to keep the most important promises they ever made.

This is the problem. People who keep their promises don’t get divorced.

Several years ago I heard the well-known Christian Pastor share his secret for he and his wife’s over 60 marriage- “Keep your promises and live a long time.”

It really is that simple. Lisa and I have learned this. When we are hurt and disappointed we have learned to focus on the promises we have made and how we can keep them instead of the hurts we feel and how we have been let down.

As of this morning, we have been doing that for 13,488 days. I think it’s working.