recent encounter with someone in my office triggered this reflection on divorce.
The first thing he said when we sat down was, "Sir, I have at times asked myself, 'Is my relationship with certain areas of my life, (Family, friends and finance) especially my marriage, as I have them now, turning out anywhere close to the way I planned?' I seem not to find a clear answer."
I shook my head in agreement because I have also asked myself the same question. My answer probably depends on the time of the day and the season. But I am very optimistic things will turn out OK since I believe that the will of God cannot lead me where his grace cannot sustain me.
I am also very aware in my line of profession as a priest and counselor that many of us do not want to endure things which we thought originally were meant to be enjoyed. I guess the inability to endure the perceived failings in certain areas of our lives is the reason so many marriages fail.
Marriages in the early part of this century were 'til death do they part. You could not divorce unless on the grounds of adultery, abuse or abandonment. In the bible Jesus even alluded to that when he said, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Mathew 19:8-9.)
What we have today are marriages of convenience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.9 percent of every 1000 people got divorce in 2015. According to Pew Research Center, "In 2015, 21 adults ages 40 to 49 divorced per 1,000 married persons in that age range which is up slightly from 18 in 1990."
Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington said "Staying in exactly the right relationship to one another is a very hard thing to maintain every decade. … People think you only get closer over time, but that's not necessarily true."
In times past, older couples who had been married for decades usually stayed together because of not wanting to go through the legal and emotional turmoil so late in life. But now, a longer life span means the possibility of finding a new relationship or enjoying the "golden years" without the stress of fighting with a spouse, Schwartz said.
It is not my intention here to catalogue the reasons for divorce because as relationships are different, so the causes of divorce are diverse. David Woodsfellow, a marriage therapist in Georgia, described couples abandoning marriage after several years together as "hot divorces." The younger couples usually split over mismatched lifestyles or the challenges of raising children.
In contrast, Woodsfellow said break-ups among couples married for several decades are "cold divorces," characterized by disengagement, distance, and isolation. These kinds of divorces are the product of a gradual buildup. The problems may have festered to the point where no one cares. He said a spouse normally reaches the tipping point where they realize the good is not outweighing the bad.
He also said, "Everything may look pretty good, but there is lack of investment. It's a fraying of the friendship."
My job as a culturally alert counselor is to make sure every person who walks through the doors of my office and is going through this fraying of the friendship knows that this season of aloneness, being looked down upon in some cultures and left out, is just a season and will pass with time.
A lot of people fear divorce. It has been said that to some it is like a living death. Yes, it is a death of a dream or hope that two people created. However, unlike death, the two people are likely to keep going through the pain of divorce for a long time.
I know for some, it is the "funeral that never ends." There is no physical body to view, but this is the best way to get perspective on it. I have dealt with people, who are trying to "gut out" the process alone, but it never works.
We know damage done to a person's life with divorce is likened to the damage a tornado does in our world around us. I have seen people who are figuratively ripped apart. Marriage joins together two individuals, but divorce tears apart the one relationship in which two people are intertwined.
If there are children involved, the pain increases. Judith Wallerstein studied people who were still struggling with their parents' divorce 25 years later. Sadly, our children learn negative ways of coping that often set them up for a lifetime of pain.
Children suffer greatly from divorce because they just do not understand how their parents who seem to love each other cannot get along. Many parents demand the children get along but most of the time cannot do so themselves. This is the irony of life.
Many times the children do not understand what is going on because they do not see the fighting behind closed doors. They think it must have been because of them. The funny thing is that they wonder if the parents will now abandon them if they do not do everything perfect.
There are people who do not sense pain coming out of divorce, but instead relief and peace. This does not mean that they will not feel the pain of loss or even regret from time to time, but they still see divorce as the best choice for them.
Today's reality is that one half of marriages ending in divorce equals a great deal of pain for society. The fact that marriages end at such a high rate has reduced the stigma of divorce; however, people who have been through it tell me it still remains one of the most painful failures a person will experience.
It is rare to see that both people in a marriage desire a divorce. In most cases, I find one person is willing to continue the relationship while the other person has decided that the relationship is over. I usually ask couples, which person were you?
Everyone handles divorce differently because their relationship is experienced differently, their dreams are different, and their needs in marriage are different. It depends on how you grew up and the values that you absorbed. It depends on what you learned about marriage as you grew up. Were your parents divorced? Sometimes abuse is involved and that adds to the pain of the separation.
The loneliness, pain, and guilt of divorce are sometimes a dangerous combination. I have witnessed that sometimes someone is so devastated with divorce that they will consider suicide as an alternative to the pain they are feeling. They lack self-worth and self-esteem and feel there is no reason to go on.
The question then is how do people survive divorce? Is there help for this kind of loss? Yes, but usually only after we see divorce in its finality. It is helpful to look at divorce and relate it to death.
How does one survive divorce? Divorce is the death of a marriage. Like after a death, someone experiencing a divorce goes through stages of grief. We will continue this discussion next week….