How Does A Marriage to Crumble? (part two)

ScribblesCrumblingThe other day I was watching a movie. It’s was written by Paul Haggis and it focuses on a group of inter-connected relationships that are all in some state of transition. One couple, who aren’t married because the guy just isn’t up for that, finds out they are expecting a baby at the same time the mother to be is told by her own mother that she’s left her father. There are some other relationships in the story but it’s the dynamic between this 29 year old woman and her mother that I want to tell you about. The young woman, a couple months pregnant, meets her with her mother to “talk some sense into her”. The young woman is Jenna, her mother is Anna.

I’ll get a job, I’ll find a place.
You really think you can start over?
You mean “at my age”?
I’m still breathing for God’s sake.
It was a long time ago. Daddy will understand.
You’re saying it’s too late for me. I should just settle for what I can have?
You’ve been together since college!
And I’ve been miserable most of that time!
I don’t think that’s true.
I just didn’t let you see it.
Trust me, you’re not good at hiding your emotions. I saw exactly when you started to be miserable, and it hasn’t been most of your life.
You’re twenty nine years old but you know everything and I haven’t got a clue!
It started three years ago. I think you had this affair and then afterward you convinced yourself that you did it because you were miserable.
So I created all this; it was just in my mind?
Daddy adores you! You treat him like shit!
Adores me? He won’t even look at me!
You know what? You make this difficult because you want it that way! Men are easy – –
– – you’ve been with Michael three years!
–and it took less than half an hour of that time to figure him out. You know exactly what Daddy wants and needs, you know how to make him happy and how to make him miserable – – every woman does! If you’re bored, fine – but that’s your fault, not his.

You need to know that the emotional impact of this scene is actually felt as the next scene unfolds. The very next scene is another conversation and this next one involves Michael, the father of Jenna’s baby – who she had all figured out in half an hour – and a young, 18 year old girl that Michael has met and is arranging to take out that night for a secret “date”. Jenna’s “figured out” world is about to get rocked.


I’m telling you about that story because I’ve seen it played out in real life.

At least the first conversation.

More than once.

I’ve listened as friends and family have tried to “talk some sense” into the party that appears to be the cause of the crumble. I’ve heard kids who know, they KNOW how it really is! They may have even been told by the other person how it REALLY is. I’ve heard the same from friends, family and “church family” – and because of the role I’ve sometimes played I know secrets they don’t know. I’m not saying that I know how it really is – far from it – but I am saying that sometimes I know how it really ISN’T. Those limited experiences have led me to be quick to listen but very slow to speak when it comes down to the who’s and why’s when a marriage is crumbling.

Long ago I’ve been “Jenna”. I’ve sat and explained to people how simple their situation is. “Just work it out.” “The Bible says that divorce is a sin. You love Jesus don’t you? Well then, Jesus doesn’t want you to get a divorce.”


Only in real life, not so much.

People, despite the advertisements, aren’t really all that simple. I mean, it’s fun work making one and almost any two people can do it, but understanding them, figuring them out, really knowing them, much, much harder. Madeleine L’Engle said, “…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…” .

Our tendency is to relate to people based on how they interact with us. I’ve observed that for some reason we seem to think our lives are like a movie where people are these supporting characters in our story. They come in and go out and essentially have no independent life outside of our experience of them. If they’re depressed, we’d know it. If they’re unhappy, we’d know. If they were fighting with each other we’d have picked up on that, there would have been a scene at some point that would’ve introduced that element into the plot. But, as poets and songwriters have always observed, it’s painfully easy to feel all alone in a crowd. For all we know someone, a parent or a child, a brother or sister, it’s impossible to know exactly what really goes on behind their bedroom door or inside their heart and mind.

During my Bible College days a group of us were philosophizing and theologizing in our dorm room. The talk turned to sex and marriage. The “if a tree falls in the woods” question we were discussing: if your wife couldn’t have sex, would that be grounds for divorce? In other words, would God give you a free pass? On my turn I expounded the biblical text and then used the example of a well known woman who did ministry work as a paraplegic. “If something happened to my wife after we were married that made it impossible to have sex I wouldn’t even consider ending our relationship!” Was I spiritual or what?

One of the guys, a good friend, had been quiet as we talked this one over. As the glory of the Lord shone around me as I finished my statement he stood, pointed his finger in my face, trembling, as he said through clenched teeth, “You have NO idea WHAT you are talking about!” He walked out of the room. Later I found out that his parent’s marriage had broken up over some sexual dysfunction in their relationship. And he was right, I had no idea what I was talking about. Rarely, if ever, can someone say they understand all the issues that have led to a marriage crumbling. We know in part, we might even prophesy in part, but complete knowing belongs exclusively to God. That’s why he reserves the judgment seat for himself alone. And for that, I’m incredibly relieved.

To be continued…


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
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6 Responses to How Does A Marriage to Crumble? (part two)

  1. onemansbeliefs says:

    I’m back… And I still believe that selfishness is the root/cause of all the problems in marriages. One may provide reasons why marriages do not last, but boil it down and the answer is always “ME”…

    • brianmpei says:

      Thanks for stopping back by oneman! In an old letter that a guy names Paul wrote to a group of new followers of Jesus he shared a divorce scenario. “Say,” he said, “a person has a spouse who doesn’t believe and they’d like to leave their marriage to the believer – they’re free to go and you’re (the believer) free to let them go.” Would you describe the person who became a follower as the selfish person in that scenario or would you say the person who suddenly found themselves married to someone pursuing an entirely different, even dangerous to life and limb, lifestyle for feeling they couldn’t live that way themselves?

      When one person makes a choice that changes who they essentially are, does that make them selfish? Does it make the other person selfish because they want the life they started with rather than join the cult their spouse has joined and potentially lose their family, their business and relationships all to pursue a god they don’t worship?

      • onemansbeliefs says:

        Brian, I will stand by my original statement that selfishness is the reason that all marriages crumble. Perhaps I need to clarify that this does not mean that both parties involved are acting selfish.

      • Ian says:


        It is true what you say. But what you say is useless unless factors and other items of behavioural deficiency are identified. Identification of problems do little unless the small things that lead us there are also identified.

        If I am say, dishonest, this alone is a huge problem. There are thoughts, motives, and life experience that has led me to be thus minded. For me to know I am dishonest is helpful, but only if the other items above are exposed and dealt with; then I shall be a man free of dishonest things. Get what I mean?

  2. TJ says:

    I knew this couple. I met them about 20 years ago, when they first met, then had kids, married…and I knew them when, about 10 years ago, he decided to shoot himself in front of her. I knew she needed someone to get her, take her home, get the kids…so I did. I knew she must have been in pain, shock, grief…so I sympathized, comforted, understood. I thought I knew just the things to do.
    The following year my brother attempted suicide, at home, with his wife and kids there. I spent 48 hours by his bed til he woke up, then I went home and collapsed, slept. When I woke up, for a split second, everything was ok, it was just another day…then, what had happened physically hit me…really, like a truck, a huge wave…it was physical, brought me to my knees…and the only thing I could think of was that I knew squat when I was helping my friend…squat…and I picked up the phone and apologized to her…I told her I was sorry, asked her to forgive me, that I still didn’t have a clue what she had gone through, was going through, would never know…
    I remind myself many times that I’ll never know what it’s like for someone else to go through an experience, good or bad…especially when I’ve found out that I don’t even have a clue what it’ll be like for me til it happens.
    You’re right Brian, when it comes to marriage, life, love, people…Listen, don’t talk…offer help, not understanding…and always keep in mind, in the end, we really know squat.

  3. JD says:

    To be continued… AGAIN!! Man, you’re killing me. I thought I was going to get to read the last page!
    Just kidding (even though I despise that phrase), because you and I know there is no last page in a discussion that’s already too old to tell. Really, I was just waiting for your summation before I chimed in. But here’s two cents, U.S.

    Honesty. There’s a truly hard task – attitude. If you’re honest you don’t need selfishness and can recover from kneejerk reactions. But being honest all of the time to all mankind is scary and being honest to yourself sometimes seems impossible to manage. It might hurt someone else and we don’t like to do that when we’re being honest. (AA speak quoted here.)
    So, speak the truth in love. (Bible speak quoted here.) That sums it up but is so dangerous, few try to live it.
    I can tell you, honestly, I left my wife years ago. She just made me move. And now I am looking through more honest eyes.
    Gosh, when are you going to finish this topic? I wanna go get some fries and talk.
    OH! wait. Patience.

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