Marriage is easy. Divorce is hard.
That was the message in the information packet that was given to us when we applied for a marriage license.
To tell the truth, it seemed a bit odd to be given information about divorce when we applied for a marriage license.
Before we went to the courthouse, we thought the application process would be one of those warm, fuzzy moments like we had when we picked out our wedding rings. It was far from that.
When it was our turn in line, the bored clerk merely pointed to computers on the side of the room and told us we could complete the entire process there. But she warned that we would have to read through a booklet and "sign off" stating we read and understood it before we could start the application.
The booklet, which was available in both printed or computer form, consisted of 12 pages. Eleven and three-quarters of those pages informed us about Florida law regarding divorce.
I couldn't believe it.
Before we even got to the application, much less the marriage, the state wanted us to know all about divorce.
The information they gave started off telling us all the statistics we all know – more than half of all marriages end in divorce.
We hear those statistics so much that they no longer have any meaning. They certainly don't have much meaning to starry-eyed couples about to get married. No one gets married with the thought of getting divorced.
Or, do they? Several couples and at least one lawyer I talked with insist that a couple should do a pre-nuptial agreement ahead of time, stipulating what each one gets in case of divorce.
The state of Florida seems to be siding with that group in that their "Marriage Guide" talks exclusively about divorce laws. It details spousal property rights, equitable distribution of assets during a divorce, treatment of marital and non-marital property, alimony, and penalties for domestic violence.
It didn't make for very romantic reading.
Seems to me, if a state wants to do more to discourage divorce, they could follow the example of states like Oklahoma that offers "free and fun" marriage education programs. Offered to engaged, newly married or long-time married couples, the courses focus on preserving fun and friendship in a marriage. It gives specific advice on how to avoid common pitfalls, how to maintain commitment and how to communicate through problems.
Our state offers a $32 discount on the marriage application fee to any couple that completes a marriage education program with a certified instructor. It's something I would hardily recommend for anyone.
David and I consider ourselves blessed in that we had the benefit of 12 very practical marriage prep classes with a wonderful clergyman named Father Lee.
I thought I knew all there was to know about marital issues and communication skills. After all, I was happily married for 41 years before Andy died. And he and I taught marriage prep classes in our church for many years.
But Father Lee brought up issues I never would have thought of and gave really practical ways to resolve conflict BEFORE it gets to be a major issue.
He was so on target with his discussions with us that Dave and I thought he had a crystal ball. We came out of every session wiser and happier.
Best yet, we both loved his "lifetime offer" to help whenever we encounter a rough patch.
This early in the game we can't imagine rough patches. But those who have walked this road before know problems sometimes have a way of taking us by surprise. We are happy to know we have a wise Father Lee who will be there for us.
I know one couple that took their upcoming marriage very seriously. For months before the wedding, they sought out happily married couples and asked them what advice they had to offer.
Yet, in spite of all their good intentions, the marriage failed. Both acknowledge why. After marriage, they thought through every day and every decision giving weight to "me", not "we."
Father Lee said it's common, especially when the couple had established, independent lives long before the marriage.
"From the day you are married," he said, "you can never again approach any day or any situation thinking about yourself. You have to forego that independence and start thinking as "we." It's not an easy transition."
Since I'm one who likes informal surveys, I think I'll do one of my own marriage surveys if my readers will help me.
Tell me what you think makes a marriage strong.
Also, tell me what unexpected pitfall can trip up a marriage.
What caused the first unexpected fight in your marriage? Be honest, but you don't have to use your real name.
If I get some interesting responses, I'll share them with readers in a later column.
Meanwhile, I can say Dave and I found one thing is true about the state of Florida's marriage advice: Marriage is easy. It's blessedly joyful and easy.