By Jay Dee, Contributing Writer
Dan Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard, has been studying happiness for a while. He ran a study a while ago on the photography class.
Students were given the choice of one photograph to have blown up and they could keep. Half of the group was told they could exchange it within a certain time period if they liked. The other group was told that once you make a selection, you were stuck with it. Turns out that the students who able to change their mind ended up happier with their choice than the students who were given the option to exchange it (regardless of whether or not they decided to exchange it).When I learned of this study, I wondered: is there a correlation in marriage? I think there is.
Growing up, I knew of only one or two marriages that ended in divorce in my sphere of relationships. It was an extremely rare event in the Christian community I grew up in. And those divorces that did happen were shocking, even years, decades later to find out that this person had been divorced. One of the divorces that I knew about growing up was a pastor who had gotten divorced years before I had met him. His son and I were in the same glass in elementary school. When I found out, I didn’t know what to think. Were pastors allowed to get divorced? I thought Christians didn’t do that. Everything in my upbringing told me that marriage was for life, there were no excuses, no ways out. Sure, I knew of divorce, but that really wasn’t an option in my mind.
So, later on, when I got married, again, divorce wasn’t an option, and my wife grew up in the same sort of community with the same values. When we said our vows, we meant for life. No get out of jail free cards, no back door escapes, divorce was not an option. What proceeded from that point on was a very rocky marriage for nearly a decade. We fought, we argued, we ignored each other, we were selfish, we each had our own sexual sins to get over. It took us each a long time to sort things out and figure out how to be a spouse, all the time growing closer to God.
After we had sorted our marriage out, fixed our bad habits and started fresh with what seemed like a new marriage, my wife asked me once if I ever thought of leaving. I hadn’t. Why not? It was certainly bad enough at some points. I’m sure it was for her as well. But divorce wasn’t an option, and because it wasn’t an option, we were forced to make the best out of what we had. Even in the lowest parts of our marriage, I loved her and wanted to be with her for the rest of our lives.
It was like the study. I had made my choice, and now I was stuck with it, like it or not, for the rest of my life. This does a few things:
1) You have to be very selective in choosing your spouse.
You won’t get another one, so pick well. While our marriage started off bad, I still think I picked well, because one of my criteria was someone who wanted to follow God, to have that as a goal in her life. Everything else, I think, will fall in place if you both have the same goal. When you both follow God, you can’t help but grow as a person, and have your marriage grow as a result.
2) You have to make the best of what you have.
When leaving isn’t an option, you are forced to fix the problems. You can’t just throw it out and start over with someone else. So, we worked on our communication, we worked on our finances, we worked out our sex life, we worked on our health, we worked on all the pieces of our life we were unsatisfied with. Because, after all, we only get this one. We better make it the best one we can.
We’re still working on things, but we’ve come a long way. Your brain also plays a trick on you. When you have no choices, your brain will make you think that the path you are on is better than it is. Dan Gilbert called this synthetic happiness, and I guess it is. We create this happiness as a way to cope. But guess what, you don’t know it’s synthetic, it feels like regular happiness, so it doesn’t really matter that it’s produced.
3) You don’t see other opportunities.
There was another study, which I can’t find now, that found that students in relationships tend to rate members of the opposite sex as less attractive than those who are single. When you have no choice, your world starts to get filtered. Your brain starts ignoring things that aren’t options. You don’t see attractive people as a valid distraction or opportunity, in fact, you may not notice them at all. And when you don’t notice them, or you don’t notice their attention, you don’t think about the grass being greener on the other side. You only think about maintaining your own lawn.
4) You become more intentional.
A few years ago, I spent a lot of time trying to learn about investing. I tried a lot of different investment streams with small amounts of money, or with play money, just to learn how they worked. Let me tell you, there is a huge difference between investing with play money, or with a small amount of money versus investing your retirement savings. When you aren’t really invested in it, you make stupid choices, you make quick decisions, you do things just to try them out. You don’t really care much about the outcome, because, well, you can just get a do-over, you can reset the account, or throw in another $100.
But when you are playing with your life savings…well, that’s a different ball game. You spend hours, days, weeks researching. You make small changes and see how they will play out. You are focused on your actions and their outcomes until you are sure it is healthy and wise move, and then you do it again with the next one. Marriage without divorce is like this. You don’t get to try again, so you become intentional in your actions. You have a goal in mind, and you constantly take small steps to get there.
I thank God that we didn’t see divorce as an option. If we did, I’m not sure we would have made it, and we would have missed out on the amazing marriage we have now. It more than makes up for the years of difficulty we went through, and this new marriage is just getting started. It feels a bit like we are newly weds, since we didn’t feel much like newly weds when we got married.
What are your views on divorce? What are your spouses? Have you both decided that divorce is not an option?