Burn the Boats

Burn the Boats

A recent analysis of modern day wedding vows reveal around a third of couples shunning the traditional commitment for life.

According to the results, 34% dumped the phrase ‘until death do us part’. This really shouldn’t surprise us as the prevailing messages young couples hear is that divorce is not only commonplace, it’s also to be expected.

Understandably, many couples simply do not have the confidence in marriage as a life-long proposition.

So when things start to get a bit tough in the marriage, they’re expecting it… and so is their community of supporters.

The struggling couple will hear such sentiments as,

  • “People live much longer today, it’s unreasonable to be with the one person for so long”, or,
  • “It’s not the end of the world; lots of people have lived through a divorce”, or,
  • “The kids will be fine as long as you’re happy”.

Not only are these sentiments misleading, they are also unhelpful to the couple wanting to keep their marriage intact. What they really need at this time is practical support and encouragement to get the help they need.

But the biggest issue is that if you don’t expect your marriage to endure, it reduces your will to make it work. Here’s a good analogy.

Burning your Boats on the Shore

In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez landed in Mexico on the shores of the Yucatan, with 600 men and prepared for battle with the formidable native population.

Knowing the terror of his men, the captain ordered that the boats be burnt on the shore so that there was no retreat. He knew that while there was the option for escape, his men would only half-heartedly fight, expecting the call to withdraw to come at any moment.

By burning the boats, he steadied the resolve of his men and commanded their full commitment to the battle. They went on to defeat their enemy and claim the substantial riches of the Aztecs.

Putting aside the moral justification for the invasion, the story has become popular among many motivational authors and life-style coaches. If we want to be successful at any endeavour in life, we need to invest deeply in it, be it a business, academic study, a fitness goal or a charitable mission. It’s not always down to talent; most of those who are successful in life get there through perseverance and grit.

Keeping your marriage afloat

The principle also applies to marriage. While we’d like to believe that it is all sunsets and romance, the reality is that marriage can be deeply challenging at times.

Many couples will find themselves at some stage in desperate situations when one or both spouses feel wounded and hopeless for the relationship’s future. Tragically, many marriages won’t make it. Even more tragic, among is a substantial proportion who could have recovered with the deeper investment and the right support.

A vow to love and honour for only as long as the marriage lasts, is like leaving our escape vehicle idling at the curb; as soon as it looks like it might get a bit rough, instead of thinking about how we can make it better, we’re thinking about when the right time will be to make the jump.

We may even subconsciously seek to aggravate the situation so that our decision to leave seems more reasonable. This situation hollows out our commitment and weakens our resolve to fight for our marriage.

It encourages a conditional commitment rather than an absolute one – ‘I’m committed, but only if it’s working out for me’.

Marriage is a demanding commitment. Make no mistake: there will be both good times and bad. In order to have the grit to tough it out through those bad times, couples do well to take divorce off the table as an option and ‘burn their boats on the shore’.

Francine & Byron Pirola

Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children. Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links. For Media Enquiries Please Contact us here

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  1. Margaret Martin on October 23, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    Thank you Byron and Francine. John and I have been married for 47 years and still find that we can learn and benefit from your posts. Thank you for your great work and God bless you both

  2. Laura Cain on October 23, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Great post Francine and Byron. I really like your analogy.

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