The wedding was beautiful and romantic. But the years that came right after it were not.
As Tammie Haveman wrote on her blog, Twenty Shekels, she and her husband, Dave, thought they were ready for “happily ever after” when they said “I do”:
Ours was a fairytale wedding. Madly in love, tears of joy streaming down our cheeks, we promised unwavering devotion to each other for better or worse.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, the pressures of marriage started to undo their relationship. Misunderstandings and fights became the norm. As a Christian couple, they thought they should “be nailing this marriage thing,” but they were struggling. Tammie wrote:
We said things we shouldn’t have said and each demanded our own way. We doused every argument with fire and allowed selfishness to seep into the fabric of our relationship.
The marriage rapidly fell apart. Within two years, Tammie and Dave were ready to call it quits. She wrote:
By the world’s standards of a happy marriage, no one would’ve blamed us. Because we were miserable and had grown apart in every sense of the word.
The fact that their marriage was falling apart at the two-year mark isn’t unusual. According to the Spruce, researchers have found the first two years of marriage can determine a lot about its eventual fate. Couples who divorce in the first two years often cite negative feelings toward the other, as well as a sense of disillusionment.
That’s where the newlyweds found themselves near their second anniversary. But when Tammie and Dave confided in family and friends about their plan to divorce, they got a response they never expected — a resounding “no.”
The couple found plenty of love and support — except when it came to separating. Tammie wrote:
[F]riends and family who knew our marriage was crumbling covered us in prayer and love but didn’t stop there. They weren’t afraid to hold us accountable to our vows and our own behavior.
Tammie recalls talking for hours to her friend, Kim, tearfully going over the details of her broken relationship. But rather than encouraging a divorce, Kim urged Tammie to love her husband:
She always reminded me that my behavior was my own responsibility and advised me to treat my husband with respect — regardless of how I felt about him.
And Dave got the same treatment from his friends. Tammie wrote:
When Dave lamented to Kim’s husband, Dan, how unfortunate it was that our marriage was ending, Dan pointedly told him no, it wasn’t. He reminded Dave of the vows he made before God and family and clearly stated that he expected Dave to live up to the commitment he made.
Tammie’s mother understood, having been in her daughter’s shoes, but she still spoke about fighting for her marriage. Dave’s parents also encouraged them to remember their vows.
To the young couple, it was frustrating to find so little sympathy for their divorce. But the encouragement had its effect:
Looking back, Dave and I marvel that no one … NO ONE … told us what we wanted to hear or let us off the hook of the commitment we made. In fact, we laugh today at the choice words we wanted to fire back when hard words were spoken to us in love.
According to Psychology Today, many people fear telling friends and family about an impending divorce for fear of a judgmental response. In Tammie’s case, the fact their friends and family disagreed with divorce but couched that disagreement in sympathetic, nonjudgmental terms may have made a big difference.
It may not have been their expressed intent, but the questions and advice family and friends gave Tammie and Dave reflect similar advice from marriage counselors. Writing in HuffPost, family counselor Winifred M. Reilly recommended that couples contemplating divorce hit “pause” and ask some serious questions before ending the marriage.
Now, approximately 20 years after they said their vows, Tammie and Dave are still together. And they recognize the gift their family and friends gave them by speaking truthfully about their marriage.
Tammie isn’t saying that every relationship can be saved in the same way, but she hopes people recognize the value in being truthful to a friend whose marriage has hit a rough patch. She wrote:
I realize that there are grave issues that can lead a couple to divorce and not every marriage can be saved. But the most cited reasons for divorce are things like communication problems, arguing and unmet expectations. And studies have shown that most couples regret their divorce in the long run. Still our society is quick to usher couples down the path of divorce towards a mirage of happiness. This ought not be so.
Tammie believes a true friend will be honest about the hard work, commitment, and selflessness that is needed for a marriage to work — not to mention the deep joy and love that come from sticking to your vows, even under great stress.
That’s why she and her husband are so grateful for the response they got when they were ready to walk away. She wrote: “Had we given up, we would’ve thrown away the most treasured relationship in each of our lives. We are by no means perfect, and neither is our marriage, but we are best friends. We are closer, stronger, more committed and far more in love now than we were twenty years ago as naive kids looking for a fairy tale.”