“Never Marry Someone You Wouldn’t Want to Be Divorced From”

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“Never marry someone you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” This advice comes from the twice divorced, now deceased, Nora Ephron in her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck. She puts it in a list of things she wished she had known. There is no other context for it. It falls between, “Buy, don’t rent,” and “Don’t cover a couch with anything that isn’t more or less beige.” If you google it, you will find that it is now a popular saying. Expect to see it on coffee mugs and tote bags in the near future.

But what does it mean? I take it to mean that you should be careful of the temper of the person you marry. If the person is the type who is fine when everything is going his/her way but dangerous and punishing when things are not, this person will be unbearable to live with. Then what? Your divorce will be an even deeper circle of hell than your marriage was. On the other hand, if the person is nice to you even under bad conditions, you will probably never want a divorce.

Seen this way, it is brilliant dating advice. So I mentioned it to my twenty year old daughter, Eileen. Her response? “How awful.” Marry someone you’d want to divorce? Ugh.

Never Marry Someone You Wouldn't Want to Be Divorced From—is it a brilliant dating tip or a sad musing on culture?Click To Tweet

That’s when I realized that there were different ways to read it. Popular saying or not, it’s not self explanatory.

Okay, what do other people think?

So I asked the other young adults in my life for their take on the quote. Is it good advice or bad? Should we get the tote bag or not?

My twenty-five year old daughter, Molly, understood it my way. “I think it means that if the person is really mean when they’re angry, or they refuse to admit wrongdoing or forgive, you shouldn’t marry them. If you marry someone like that, then divorce will be the worst.” Then she added, “But if the person is truly kind, then if you are divorced, you can still get along for your kids’ sake.”

But her fiancé Frank had something of his own to add. As a convert, and coming from a divorced home, he said, “I still find it a weird point to dwell on regarding one’s future spouse. Even when trying to make a positive point, this is a way we think about things! Because the circumstances of a divorce (the broken heart, wild emotions, anger, sadness, regret, etc.) are triggered by something that should never happen. Ideally, our view of marriage would be such that this would never be the terms in which we judge the character of a potential spouse!”

Who knew that ten little words could contain so much contradiction?

Ephron herself was a contradiction. Though not religious in any way, and in youth something of a bohemian, she was still graced with keen insight into the human condition, and she had the writing chops to express it. Her writing is funny, honest, and shows a spirit that longed for transcendence. She often comes close. So close. Only to turn away—deliberately—for gifted writers don’t write anything by accident. For example, after a long reflection about death brought on by the loss of her best friend, she concludes that she has no answers and then goes on, “And that reminds me to say something about bath oil.”

They had a gut feeling they were made little lower than the angels, but had been conditioned to behave like animals. Click To Tweet

I always thought her an apt spokeswoman for the people of today’s culture—a whole generation of people who have a gut feeling that that they were made a little lower than the angels but have been conditioned to behave like animals. Her writing opens a window into the hunger of those who live just for this world but know—deep down—that there is more.

Perhaps the best context for Ephron’s words of wisdom is another of her coffee cup sayings: “Marriages come and go but divorce is forever.” Funny as she is, there is a sad distrust beneath her words. As Frank pointed out, marriage is framed in the context of a possible break-up.

“Much better,” said Frank, “to marry someone with whom divorce is not possible.” Since he’s about to marry my daughter, I couldn’t agree more.

I may even get it printed on a tote bag.



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33 Comments

  1. Sue-906387 May 11, 2017 Reply

    Evangelicals are becoming the Best when it comes to handling marriage problems. They are helping couples who are in difficult marriage rather than encourage couples to separate/divorce or get annulments as the Catholic church is doing. I heard of a pastor who married his wife only to abuse her in every area in her life till they got divorced. What he did was they both sought counseling and ended up remarrying to the same spouse when they both became emotionally free. Now, they both have a ministry that helps couples in difficult or abusive marriage. What a superb way to solve problems and turn them into blessings to others.

    I even heard that Evangelicals are helping couples nurture their marriage even when their is a extramarital affair/ adultery, provided that the cheating partner does truly repent from this sin. This is the only case – adultery – where Christ allowed divorce.

    Of course I’m not against annulments in the Catholic church; however I believe as Christians we can learn a lot from our Evangelical brothers and sisters, esp if they seem to exceed us in this crucial area!

  2. Sue-906387 May 11, 2017 Reply

    After reading this article slowly, I find this article to be GREAT. I think what the author meant is that never marry someone whom you do not wish to divorce from someday – in other words without finding out his/her shortcomings and feeling comfy in living with them. What a great lesson for us esp. in a culture that teaches us to give up too easily too quickly. To return a purchased item if unhappy with it. We can become so confused and transfer this pop culture concept into church culture. It’s no wonder the rate of divorce is so high and still counting.

    Divorce is a new concept that emerged in our current generation. In the previous generations, this divorce phenomenon was unheard of. Couples lived with each other, “For better or worse” just as they made those vows in their marriage contract. They sincerely abided by them, not just paid lip service as is happening nowadays. Many of them suffered silently, bore their burdens and considered it as a Cross or Crosses. We can definitely learn a lot from the older generations.

    Thanks Susie for writing this splendid article and may God bless you richly!!!

    • Author
      Susie L. May 11, 2017 Reply

      Thank you, Sue. Catholic Match is not just about helping people find their soul mates, it is also about upholding Church teaching on marriage. That is what we all try to do. I myself have been married nearly 30 years. May God bless you richly as well and all the members of CM!

      • Sue-906387 May 11, 2017 Reply

        You’re welcome Susie. Keep up the Great work!!!

  3. Diane-1312802 May 9, 2017 Reply

    Divorce isn’t allowed in the Catholic church. It doesn’t count. You are still married in the eyes of God. You would have to get an annulment for God to recognize that the marriage doesn’t exist. Also anyone going into a marriage thinking that “divorce” is a possibility and a safety net is not really committed or truly married and should not get married. Divorce happens far too much and it should happen far and few between only in extreme circumstances.

    • Diane-1312802 May 9, 2017 Reply

      Also if anyone tried to “divorce” me, I would tear up the papers and make his life hell for leaving me.

  4. Anne-1158588 May 1, 2017 Reply

    Ok everyone, I have thoroughly read the article, reflected, and would like to comment on it based on my own experiences. Let me offer yet a new perspective. My ex (Ugh…even after six years of being apart I loathe having to say that…) and I both came from devout Catholic homes. We were raised to know, love and serve God in this world in the next while trying to help get each other to heaven as a good spouse should. Our wedding looked picture perfect to all our friends and family. I thought I had a good guy, not perfect, but a good Catholic guy who would stick by me through thick and thin. The first year of our marriage was pretty good. After that it was a slow decline filled with emotional abuse and neglect until the last year of our marriage when a co-worker pursued him and he decided he no longer wished to honor the vows he made to me and to God, not to mention our children. During that last year of horror, I found out many things I did not know which later all made sense.
    Readers, there are all kinds of evil in this world: those who pursue married individuals, porn users, people who use alcohol and/or drugs when they should not or too much, abuse of all kinds. Now, I did not experience all of those things, but I did experience enough that after HE left to file for divorce to live his new life, I wanted to die. God watched over me. My children gave me purpose and still do. Six years later I am a much different person and help others who are struggling in the same way that I did.
    To think that because you are a good Catholic divorce will not happen to you is just plain naive. I used to be one of those people who thought divorced couples were those who did not want to work on their marriages. I admit that I was judgemental. Now, I am certain there are some couples like that. In fact, I know there are. However, there are others who fought to the death to save their crumbling marriages and did not file for divorce. They honored their vows. One person cannot make a marriage work. Since all those years ago, I have run into too many people who have stories similar to mine….sad to say. It is a reflection of the evil that is in our world and people’s ability to resist it because of lack of self-control and/or deeper problems in their past.
    No one wants to think about divorce when they are preparing for marriage. Lord knows I did not. I thought I would have been married until death do us part, and did everything I could to make that happen. It did not. Divorce is a reality of this world. It happens to people of all faiths and sometimes to people who never wanted it or thought about it. I think you should go into a marriage with the “Til death do us part mentality”, but really take a look at your future spouse’s character. Watch how they are with others. Spend a lot of time with them and notice their behavior. If you see red flags don’t think you will be able to “handle it”. No one wants a life like that. No one should have a life like that. The bottom line is, divorce can happen to ANYONE, and you should prepare yourself to see the signs of someone who could possibly lead you to that place because of their maturity level, beliefs or behaviors. Don’t think you are immune. Be responsible, observe and discuss. This was a great article and very though provoking. We cannot live with our heads in the sand, but need to ready ourselves for what could possibly come knocking on our door someday. I pray it does not happen to any of you. God bless.

    • Darin-1415639 May 1, 2017 Reply

      “I thought I had a good guy”

      Perhaps he was (early on) a _nice_ guy rather than a good guy??

      If I’m going to be honest, I don’t like being called a nice guy for the most part. If it’s an elderly lady, I’ll probably give her a free pass though.
      But for the most part it’s an insult because it doesn’t normally mean a good guy. What it often means is a guy who is too cowardly to be anything but nice, until of course he knows you well, after which he’s still nice to others but no longer to you.

      Rule of thumb, don’t call us nice guys, thinking that we’ll be complimented. It usually means: You’re weak cowards and I don’t like you.

      But perhaps an even more important rule of thumb, don’t think a guy is a good guy just because he’s (currently) a nice guy.

      • Anne-1158588 May 1, 2017 Reply

        That is not what I meant Darin. I don’t think good or nice guys are cowards. That is just ridiculous. I have learned though to speak up for myself. Your tone is disrespectful of me and my situation. A grounded Catholic who knows both the letter and spirit of the law should have more compassion for the struggles of others. You may wish to think about this for future comments.

        • Darin-1415639 May 2, 2017 Reply

          Don’t read into things. My reply said nothing about you. Yours says something about you though. Good luck.

          • Anne-1158588 May 2, 2017 Reply

            Darin, I will pray for you. God bless.

          • Darin-1415639 May 2, 2017 Reply

            I didn’t say anything about what you meant. I asked a question that you didn’t answer and I gave info that I felt might be insightful. Maybe I need to work a little on my communication skills, but I got pretty surprised when I saw a bickering reply.

  5. Sean-1354996 April 27, 2017 Reply

    Funny that. Catholic Match removed my post. Glad to see the other comments backing me up. This article isn’t appropriate for Catholic match. If we wanted the ‘secular concept of marriage’ in Ephron’s writing, we’d just go sample from the many sites which offer it.

    • Darin-1415639 April 28, 2017 Reply

      Why would we want to sample the secular concept of marriage on a secular site? Much better is to examine secular concepts more in a Catholic light, to determine their faults and merits. Ignoring the secular views as though they don’t exist, will mean getting hit harder by them when we face them on our own. We are units of the Mystical Body of Christ, and we cannot say to any of the others: I do not need you. We need each other, we need to examine the secular views together. Not alone. Perhaps read St. Paul’s writings on the Mystical Body of Christ.

    • Susie Lloyd May 1, 2017 Reply

      Sean, you did notice that the popular secular view of marriage was used as a launching point for the Catholic view of marriage, right? Kind of like how St. Thomas Aquinas used to argue for Catholic things after presenting the worldly point of view. Not that I have any of his holiness or brilliance…

    • Sue-906387 May 11, 2017 Reply

      Sean. I believe you failed to read between the lines. Like you…I was struck when I read the title and thought the author was playing a prank on us. However, when I read it and mulled over it, I found great insight and wisdom in it. Marriage nowadays is challenging with all the temptations and sins we are surrounded by, not to mention the high divorce rate and counting and the culture that promotes it that we live in.

      Still Sean you need to be respectful, charitable and kind when you do not understand something!!! If in doubt, better not to post.

  6. Stephanie-1368834 April 25, 2017 Reply

    +JMJ+
    Forgive my naivetè, but I experienced a hard time grasping this article. Nevertheless, I concur with the writer’s future son-in-law, Frank. He clearly understood the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; “to marry someone with whom divorce is not possible.” When you enter into Holy Matrimony with divorce in the far crevices of your mind, then you’ve already begun the divorce process, without even realizing it.

  7. Jeff-1438487 April 24, 2017 Reply

    Slightly off topic– why is agreement with Church teaching on indissolubility of marriage not one of the faith questions? Seems at least as relevant as papal infallibility.

    • Darin-1415639 April 26, 2017 Reply

      If they put in too many, people will automatically check yes for everything without reading them. Do you really think someone silly enough to disagree with any of the Church teachings is going to catch and answer everything accurately?? Even now I’ve known a 7/7 woman to later admit to lying. They want to attract 7/7 men without being 7/7 themselves. Don’t push it. Make those questions too tedious and they’ll be more likely of clicking yes on everything…

  8. George-1274666 April 24, 2017 Reply

    It’s reassuring to read the Catholic responses to this article, all of which are against the concept of divorce and many which even dislike the mention of marriage and divorce in the same sentence. But most of these appear to miss the point the author is trying to make: I don’t see anywhere that the author suggests that divorce and marriage go together, but instead she contrasts the secular view of a popular mainstream writer’s take on marriage with what Catholic’s believe. Ephron is an extremely popular director/writer and most are more familiar with her movies (“You’ve got Mail”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “My Blue Heaven”, “When Harry Met Sally”, etc. etc.) then her books. Her take on marriage and relationships practically serves as the definition used by secular society, among which are likely many Christians. It is easy to be against a divorce that injures one or the other party, or to disagree with the destruction of family, which is how Catholics see divorce (not to mention the desecration of a sacrament). But what if your society views divorce as just another phase of a relationship, one that has it’s own pros and cons? This IS how our modern society views divorce, and it is what Ephron’s comments pertain to.

    I do not believe she is talking about marrying a nice person who won’t fight with you while and after you divorce him. Ephron, like a lot of women, doesn’t necessarily view divorce as a bad thing, just something that happens and that you deal with. And since it’s likely inevitable, don’t make the mistake of marrying someone you can’t live without. Marry someone that you can stand to be divorced from so it isn’t so painful when you are. This makes divorce a tolerable relationship instead of a sad reminder. I agree with you that this is a very warped way of viewing a sacrament that gives grace to two people, but it is extremely common in the country in which we live.

    • Susie Lloyd April 25, 2017 Reply

      Interestingly, what first got me interested in reading Nora Ephron was an article I read in doctor’s waiting room. It was very honest about how awful divorce is – especially if you have kids. You don’t see that attitude coming from most secular writers.

  9. Zita-1427119 April 24, 2017 Reply

    You can never go into a marriage believing divorce is an option. (My mama was right!) As a divorced gal, I was (and still am) continually surprised at how divorce completely changes a person–and if one of the ex-spouses is not in the Holy Will of God/in line with the true Catholic Church– that person becomes unrecognizable… The children suffer greatly and become very insecure. Whether anyone likes it or not- the older I get the more I see that we may have more technology, but the basic life lessons remain the same. Divorce is angry, bitter, and causes great division and pain. No one can possibly predict how bad it really is…

  10. Jeannie-822585 April 24, 2017 Reply

    This article reminds me of something I posted in the Women’s Room — the Annulment Forum which highlighted the positive in a marriage, not the negative, in that it pointed out what constitutes a valid marriage. Kind of like the backdoor approach.
    A couple of thoughts about this article that were helpful was how one deals with confrontations within a relationship. So very true, you can tell a lot as to whether they will be spiteful, passive/aggressive, abusive emotionally, etc. or learn to work it out as a couple with God as your core.

  11. Frank-1431510 April 24, 2017 Reply

    Maybe, “to marry someone with whom divorce is not an option”… Well, that you wouldn’t consider. When you start something with fear, human mind is set to have a “back up plan” and therefore, don’t commit 100%. I agree with the author in therms of the deep thought you have to put into this decision. But, nevertheless, how to avoid having “fear” of this great and life-lasting decision? I guess we have to recognize that fear in order to dissect the feeling (which is complex), and that is the way to make “informed decisions”. Working through fear is rational, a very healthy area to take into account when it comes to this sort of endeavors. Also… what else would help to cast fear away? Love. Love and affection from our partner, and towards our partner, will deal with that irrational fears that would also may appear.

  12. Caren-1390894 April 24, 2017 Reply

    When I started dating my now-ex, I anticipated a breakup because we didn’t share a faith. I told him as much as an argument against starting to date. He assured me that we’d always be friends. (when you are done with the eye-rolling feel free to keep reading) Well, long story short, he converted, we married, he gave up on being converted, we eventually divorced. Even as we were starting to talk about divorce I thought how fortunate it was that we were reasonable people who weren’t going to go out of our way to be bastards to each other. Then he found out that divorce didn’t mean he got to keep 90% of everything because he’d made 90% of the income during our marriage, and since then he hasn’t missed an opportunity for any small hostility. So my opinion is that you can’t really know what a person will be like as an ex, what resentments will accumulate (and there will be some hefty ones or you wouldn’t be entertaining the idea of divorce), and therefore evaluating someone based on how decent you’d expect them to be after a breakup is impossible. And you won’t do it right when you are busy falling in love anyway. You’ll default to seeing them as reasonable, kind, generous, etc. I suppose if you can’t see those qualities in them during the courtship, then you must be way off course and may as well end it. But beyond that, I don’t see the value in looking at a potential spouse as a potential ex.

    • Darin-1415639 April 26, 2017 Reply

      “Then he found out that divorce didn’t mean he got to keep 90% of everything because he’d made 90% of the income during our marriage”
      Actually, no. He didn’t make 90%. As a combined unit, both of you made the 100%. When you’re busy taking care of household things and his health, so that he can work, it’s a combined effort for the 100%. Even the erroneous secular world has somehow managed to come to that conclusion. For all we know, you saved him from any number of health catastrophes that could’ve taken away everything that he had. One of the safest ways to do it, is to respect an even split, instead of playing God and deciding based on technical income, ignoring what might be far more important. There’s no easy way to measure household contribution, so why play God like it seems that he wanted to…

  13. Paul-91858 April 23, 2017 Reply

    You sound like you are in constant fear of divorce which is impacting your ability to get married. This is not a very healthy attitude to have if you are pursuing marriage.

    • Frank-1431510 April 24, 2017 Reply

      I agree here with Paul, about what I also comment in my post

  14. David-1216155 April 23, 2017 Reply

    The Church would consider a marriage with a prenup as invalid. If your that worried about divorce you have along journey ahead of you before you can think of marriage. As far as marriage contracts that’s not what marriage in the Church is all about.

    If you’re not ready, you have lingering relationship issues or any other issues these will most definitely come out during the nine month marriage prep.

    • Jeannie-822585 April 24, 2017 Reply

      Sadly, many priests, too often waive the 6-9 month marriage Pre-Cana time period. There are certainly times when that is fine and called for, but I think it happens far too frequently.

    • Lisa-727959 April 24, 2017 Reply

      You are correct, David, with some exceptions. Some prenuptial agreements would not nullify a marriage, for example, if a widower had a living will set aside for his children, he would be able to declare this separate from his marriage to a new spouse via prenuptial agreement.

  15. Darin-1415639 April 23, 2017 Reply

    Inadequate saying, to say the least. A prenuptial agreement makes most people more at ease about divorce, and yet generally they are unethical. If this is presented to make someone more at ease about divorce, it’s probably a bad thing rather than a good thing.

    It’s shocking that someone so often either signs one or get offended by it. Unless children are involved and the Church approves it, don’t do either: run! Why get mad that we almost surely dodged a bullet? Find someone with whom divorce would be more of an obstacle. …because ethically, we have to…

  16. Mary-970372 April 23, 2017 Reply

    That’s like saying I really got to know my husband when I divorced him. I now believe in marriage contracts. The state laws are too wishy washy and don’t give any weight to family. If he says he will support you and any children…will he promise that in written form and will you promise the same? How in this together were you ever?

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