As a culture over the last hundred years or so, we’ve witnessed marriages dissolve with such regularity as to see the matter become commonplace. Some readers might consider it harsh for me to suggest divorce is, in fact, another manifestation of the Brave New World. Though I think it applies, I will refrain from using the title this time.
I’m thankful to be married to the same man who caught my eye (and shortly after that, my heart) more than forty-four years ago. Part of the marriage vows we repeated to each other (and all who attended our wedding) promised we would love and cherish one another “… so long as we both shall live.” We both meant what we promised that day.
Has it always been easy? Hardly. The way I’ve always viewed it though, when a person gives his or her word, that’s as good as gold; there’s no turning back.
I recall a time when my children were young. My daughter was in conversation with one of her playmates and they were talking about their dads. The young playmate suddenly exclaimed: “You mean your dad lives here … with you?!” (Her tone and body language implicitly communicated, “How weird is that?”)
That conversation must have taken place some thirty years ago, perhaps more. I was struck by the unpleasant realization that children in our home town were growing up in households where Daddy was just a sometime visitor. As most everyone knows, this is the situation across much of our country today, a fact of modern life.
Yep, I’m old-fashioned. Children need their daddy and they need their mamma. As the website anonymousfathersday explains so clearly (and other resources concur), children have an innate need to connect. This need doesn’t recede just because they have “loving parents” (not always blood-related) to raise them. It doesn’t go away when they reach adulthood.
Divorce powerfully shatters a child’s world. I think it’s no exaggeration to say children of divorce know almost immediately their lives will never be the same again. Even if they’re too young to verbalize the extent of their loss, they understand it.
ASIDE: Please don’t mistake my words. I’m not casting blame, but I grieve terribly for children who suffer in what I can only describe as a suffocating swamp. (There’s no way out, just an ongoing struggle not to be swallowed up any further.) Yes, children bounce back from the worst experiences, but many also carry lifelong scars.
Through the years, I’ve known many children scarred by divorce. Even acknowledging the deep wounds they’ve sustained, they’re not the only ones who get pounded.
I’ve known numerous adults who experienced divorce and some with multiple divorces. No matter how “amicable” the divorce was supposed to be, lingering regrets and distress are an ongoing plague. It’s the nature of broken relationships to turn us into broken and tormented people. It is, plain and simple, a death unlike any other.
Whenever a friend tells me about his or her divorce, I’m prone to cogitate on and internalize details they share; I can’t help it and often their stories turn into subjects for my poetry. The sonnet below pictures how one father addressed his pain. (I suspect he’s not alone in coping with his loss as described in the poem.)
Whether for a child or an adult, there’s purpose in the pain. As C. S. Lewis put it: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
13 thoughts on “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”
I think part of the problem is bad math. Some people believe that marriage is like one of these two equations: 1+1=1 or 2=1
What do I mean by that? When two individuals get married, while they commit their love and their lives to one another, they still remain as two individuals. 1+1=2. It always has been that way and it always will be. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t take two individuals and create one being. 2=1 is not a valid mathematical expression.
For those who are fortunate (and/or who really work out at it), the two individuals can move closer and closer together. But they remain as two distinct beings. What sometimes (often?) happens is that, over time, people change. Who of us is the same person we were 20, 30, 40 years ago? Interests change, passions change. Each of the individuals in the marriage grows, but perhaps in slightly different directions. And at some point one or both may come to understand that 1+1≠1 and that 2≠1.
If there are children involved, that mathematical reality might not occur until after the children have grown and left the nest. Up until that point, the individuals may have been operating under the belief that 1+1+1+1+1=1, where each additional 1 after the first two represents each child, and where the last 1, the one after the equals sign, represents the family unit. And if that equation can be constructively maintained while the kids are still around, that may be good…for the kids, anyway.
But at some point, after the realization that 1+1=2, and, in the event that individual growth has occurred at a different pace, or in an entirely different direction, it might not make sense to continue to labor under the invalid equation that 1+1=1. At some point, separation and D-I-V-O-R-C-E may be the right course of action to allow each “1” to continue to grow.
You are one of the fortunate couples who have grown together over the years and continue to thrive side-by-side. Good for you.
I hope you don’t think I ignored your comment today! (I was breaking in a new computer which is usually time-consuming.)
As always, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you that lots of people are clueless about the marriage equation. People can try very hard and be frustrated by not getting results they hoped. I speak (as always) from my Christian experience. My husband and I are both sinful, self-centered people and we are prone to get wrapped up in ourselves just like anyone else. That’s the 1+1=2 part, two selfish human beings going our own ways, often like ships passing in the night.
But our faith helps us work at “oneness” in our marriage, so in that sense, the 1+1=1 equation becomes possible! Our Creator provides a kind of spiritual glue (if you’ll permit a clunky metaphor) that melds us together, causes two to become one. (In my view of course God designed marriage, so he teaches us how it works best.)
As for the possibility of divorcing after children are grown, I would suggest that is no less devastating than it is for younger children. (I’ve seen it.) It shatters an adult child to the core … even when they knew Mom and Dad had never gotten along.
Honestly, it’s just my opinion, but I think the “we grew apart” blather is nonsense … like so much we say to cover our behinds and try to assuage our guilt. When you make promises, you ought to keep them, no matter who you are and which direction you’ve “grown.”
No problem about not responding right away. We all have other things to do besides sitting around our computers waiting to immediately respond to some random person’s comment.
As you know, I’m an atheist, so the “god designed” and “our creator” rationalizations don’t work for me. But if that works for you, I’m all for it…for you.
We’ll just have to agree to disagree on what you call the “we grew apart nonsense.” People change over time. They may change and/or grow at different rates and in different directions. Some of my interests, my passions from when I first met my wife have changed and been replaced by different interests and passions. I don’t listen to the same music that I did back then, read the same books, like the same kinds of movies. My politics have shifted, my beliefs have evolved. I don’t think this is that unusual.
Sometimes people grow so far apart that being together makes them each miserable. Is it god’s plan that they should stay together no matter what and share their misery until death do them part rather than separating and perhaps each finding peace, contentment, and perhaps even joy while still living?
If that is, indeed, god’s plan, it’s just one more reason why I have embraced atheism.
Yes, I knew (given your personal worldview) you’d disagree with my comments to your comments. Nevertheless, I believed your comments deserved a considered reply. My views (though admittedly from a Christian perspective) approach marriage in an organic context. You ask “is it god’s plan” for couples to stay in a joyless marriage? My reply is no, the organism requires ongoing nurture to yield vibrancy and stave off misery.
Believe me, I know how people change over time. My husband and I were never dog lovers, knew it from the start, were quite content in our doglessness. Ten years ago, our son brought a labrador home for us. My husband has grown to love this dog; I’m still very much a dog denier (so to speak). I think it’s accurate to say we’ve “grown apart” in this instance — we’re certainly not the same people we were when we married.
I respect your point of view and recognize there are points at which no agreement is likely. Still, I hope you’re not blaming God (or God’s plan) for the failures of men and women.
And as always, thanks for thought-provoking interaction.
I can’t blame god or god’s plan for the failures of men and women. How can I hold god accountable for anything when I don’t believe god exists? I hold only men and women accountable for their failures…or for their successes.
I understand your dog illustration, but at the risk of sounding dyslexic, what if it wasn’t dog, but god? You obviously feel strongly about god and your beliefs. But what if one day your husband woke up and told you that he rejected your beliefs and no longer believed in your god? In fact, what if he told you that he thought your belief in god was stupid?
Of course I know that’s an extreme example, but I’m using it to illustrate something much deeper and more fundamental than changing from not liking dogs to being a dog lover. Might that be what some refer to as “irreconcilable differences”?
Frankly, in some respects, the dog situation could be reasonably categorized “irreconcilable” but the marriage has always been more important (to us both).
As to conjecture, it’s impossible to know with certainty what one would do when and if faced with this or that situation. I know my husband well and he knows me well enough to have a reasonable expectation your suggested scenario, while not impossible (we live in a sinful world), is highly improbable.
However, I’ll play along. My comments are made here with all due respect to you and your different point of view.
Would I be disappointed with his decision? Of course. That would not change my love for him. In fact, I would want him to pursue his newly adopted worldview with all the gusto he’d had for his former worldview.
Most of all, I would expect him to live a life consistent with his new worldview. A person who has rejected God has no firm basis for morality or truth or goodness … if we’re all just glops of primordial slime and the party’s over, really O V E R, when we die, time is the enemy! If my husband adopted this worldview, I’m pretty sure he’d put a gun to his head because he’d acknowledge his life is meaningless. That’s what I mean by him living consistently to his adopted worldview.
Others may disagree, but if one has no hope, why carry on the charade?
“A person who has rejected God has no firm basis for morality or truth or goodness … if we’re all just glops of primordial slime and the party’s over, really O V E R, when we die, time is the enemy! If my husband adopted this worldview, I’m pretty sure he’d put a gun to his head because he’d acknowledge his life is meaningless.”
If I’m reading correctly what you wrote, you’re suggesting that an atheist, which, by definition, is someone who has rejected god, cannot be a moral person, cannot know truth, and cannot be a good person. And since you know that I’m an atheist, you are, therefore, suggesting that I cannot be a moral person, cannot distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, or know what’s true and what’s false. You’re suggesting that an atheist’s life is without meaning, so, therefore, one who is an atheist might as well commit suicide (which, by the way, I thought was a sin in your god’s eyes). And since you know that I’m an atheist, you’re concluding that my life is meaningless, so I might as well stick a gun to my head.
I am deeply disappointed. I thought, while recognizing that you have strong religious convictions, that you were not one of those who would so readily condemn and disparage anyone whose beliefs were different from yours. I thought, perhaps, that you were of the belief that those who do not share your convictions are not “wrong” in their beliefs, they just have different beliefs.
I do not believe in your god, but I don’t believe either, that you are wrong for believing in a deity if so believing helps you deal with the life you’re living in this world, gives you comfort, provides your life with meaning and purpose, and prepares you to spend an eternity in heaven. Yet you call my life meaningless and consider me to be immoral because I don’t believe in this deity.
You wrote, “if one has no hope, why carry on the charade?” I assume, by that statement, you are suggesting that hope is defined only as achieving salvation through the grace of god to spend an eternity in heaven. However, I define hope much more broadly. It is the feeling one gets from knowing that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: I am full of hope, and I reject your assertion that atheism equates to hopelessness.
You wrote that your comments herein were made “with all due respect” to me and my different point of view. You should seriously rethink that statement. You’re essentially calling me a “glop of primordial slime.” Your comments reflect a self-righteous arrogance that so many Christians in this country have toward those who are not Christian. And not just with respect to atheists, but toward those who are as fully committed to their own religions and belief systems as you are to yours.
So tell me this. You believe that I will be condemned to eternal damnation in this fantasy place you call hell simply because I reject this deity of yours. While I don’t embrace your beliefs, I do respect them, I wish for you the best in your life, and I condemn you to nothing horrid for your beliefs. Given this, which of us is, indeed, the more moral individual?
Sorry you’re disappointed. As human beings, we tend to disappoint. When I referenced “primordial slime,” I was simply echoing Dr Carl Sagan’s “primordial soup” concept.
As you’ll recall, we were speaking hypothetically about my husband. If in my comments you read condemnation of you personally, it was never intended. I have no right to condemn anyone, for I myself am worthy of condemnation.
My point was the need for consistency with one’s worldview. Being “moral” means there’s an objective standard. I’ve stated the Bible is mine. What is the objective standard that informs an atheist’s moral perspective?
My use of the phrase “with all due respect” was genuine and sincere. You may not believe you’re made in God’s image, but I do. Because you are highly valued and loved by God, I have utmost respect for you.
I love your writing. My husband & I went thru a time of “separation” in our marriage. I say it in quotes because I don’t mean actually separated, but a time where we were on complete opposite ends of the scope in our marriage. It took a toll on us, our boys, our family. He had decided to leave – siting that he could not be a good husband or a good father, and also that he felt he didn’t know where his relationship with God was or whether he even had one. We had many friends praying and standing with us thru this rocky road. I am so grateful to the folks that God put in our lives and it has been a rough 8 years, but we are getting back on track. I am thankful that we could find our path again. One of the things we discussed is that we (the boys & i) would never really feel safe as long as we felt that his leaving during the rough patches was still one of the options. After a few years back on our journey, I am so thankful that leaving is not an option anymore. Things have been very tough again recently and we are still climbing out of the hole that we fell in to so many years ago, but our relationship with each other is growing and more importantly, our relationship with God has grown as well.
Thanks for your writing on the hard subjects.
My son is a poetry writer and soon we hope to begin putting his out there as well.
Oh, how you humble me with your praise and your transparency! I know every marriage has its ups and downs, but it’s so vital to remember our first love and God honors us by staying committed to the vows we made before God and our families. You and your husband are models to your sons of being committed and staying committed. That’s something they’ll never forget and they’ll be grateful to you both for your faithfulness. In a world where so many things lack permanence, our kids need to see that marriage can be forever. Keep at it! Remembering you in my prayers!