by David Sisler

It was only yesterday, but it seems like forever.

Actor Charlie Sheen recently announced he is divorcing Donna Peele, his wife of nearly six months, because he was suffocating.

Mr. Sheen conceded that he wasn't ready to be a married man, and that he had, in fact, married the wrong person. He acknowledged he should have taken more time than their six week courtship to get to know Miss Peele.

"I couldn't breathe," he said. "I like breathing too much. I had to come up for air."

A young couple of my acquaintance are planning their nuptials. The service is to be held in less than five months. As Old Dad has remarked, on more than one occasion, "It is easier to plan a wedding than it is to plan a marriage." Translation: after the gown has been hermetically sealed and stored away, the flowers have faded, the guests are gone, and the sparkling wedding ring is covered with toilet bowl cleaner, there is still the day-to-day business of molding two separate lives into one.

You struggle to find a caterer. You ask your friends to recommend a good photographer. Now there are more important questions. Do both sets of hands fit the handle of the vacuum cleaner equally well? Who is going to balance the checkbook? Whose parents will you visit on Christmas?

The wedding is just one day. Marriage is the rest of your life.

Also, as Old Dad remarked, only once, "You will stand before God and everybody and promise to take your companion for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer. If you knew, absolutely, beyond any possible doubt, that it would only be for worse, and never for better, that it would always be in sickness and never in health, that it would always be in poverty and never in riches, would you still marry each other?"

Their eyes brimming with tears and goofy grins plastered on their faces, they allowed as how they would.

The day Amy and Jack make a public commitment to forever together, Bonnie and I will celebrate our twenty-eighth anniversary. There have been some rough spots over the years. I dug pot holes. She patched the roadway.

Forty percent of the first-time couples who this year will say, "I do," won't.

In a few days, my Mom and Dad will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary -- 18,238 days and nights with frozen water pipes, car repairs, new wallpaper, the perfect Christmas tree, teenaged sons, married sons, grandchildren, sickness and health. Twenty percent of the couples who were married in 1946 make it to their fiftieth. The average marriage today lasts less than eight years.

In 1993, 2.3 million couples got married, what Elizabeth Gleick calls "that most optimistic of human rituals." In 1993, 1.2 million couples reached another agreement: this marriage cannot be saved.

Judith Wallerstein is a clinical psychologist who took the early lead in warning about the lasting damage of divorce. She found children of divorce to be at higher risk for depression, poor grades, substance abuse and intimacy problems.

In the last 30 years, teen suicide has tripled. Drug abuse, eating disorders and depression among young people have soared. Reports of child abuse and neglect have quadrupled in the last 20 years. Juvenile crime is up 600 percent.

In the 1960s divorce was destigmatized. Not surprisingly, the children who lived through the early days of the no-fault years are clamoring to change the system. Today lawmakers in Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia and Pennsylvania, among others, are reconsidering their states' no-fault divorce laws. When parents with minor children enter family court in Utah and Connecticut they face mandatory education programs. The problem is becoming so acute that many divorce lawyers are recommending marriage counseling rather than their own services.

The United States has gone from the most marrying society in the world to one with the most divorces and unwed mothers. Today when couples say, "Till death do us part," they cross their fingers and say, "As long as I am happy."

Remember what Charlie Sheen said? "I couldn't breathe. I had to come up for air."

If a marriage -- your marriage -- is to last, your desires, your wish fulfillment must be weighed against your partner's. There is no place for selfishness. The philosophy, "Me, first, everyone else second," is probably the greatest single destroyer of marriage.

Eighty percent of all marriages take place in a house of worship. But that is the last time many couples ever see the stained glass from the inside. Before he ordained a government or established a church, God created the home. Even devoutly religious people get divorced, but if God is left out of a marriage, what chance does it have of surviving? When you got married, you told God it was until death. If your marriage needs help, shouldn't he be the first one you turn to?


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 3/30/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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