Divorce is a terrible thing that most of us have been exposed to at one point or another. How do you negotiate through the pain of being associated with a divorce, and how do you avoid it in your own life?
We seem to be getting better and better at monitoring statistics and having a general awareness of a lot more of the problems that people are facing in life. If you had a look 50 years ago compared to now, things like skin cancer, STDs and other diseases are being monitored in a much more effective manner. People are more aware of the risks such diseases possess, and have a better awareness of prevention and resolution.
A set of statistics we have been pretty good at for quite a while is that of divorce. In quite a number of places in the world, particularly Western nations, the number of divorces significantly increased around the time of the 70s. In the early 2000s, a lot of stats will tell us that divorce rates were at their peak, and by 2007-2009, the frequency has started to decrease again in the last few years.
Unfortunately, the pain involved in such an event has not decreased over time.
Divorce is the decision to terminate a marriage. There can be so many reasons associated with why – unfaithfulness, falling out of love, constant arguing, and even more still. There is never a case where the effects aren’t devastating to the individuals involved. Even beyond the husband and the wife who have decided to no longer be so, there may be children, extended family, and shared friends who are affected by the decision. In some places, it is a majority of children who have grown up in an environment where divorce entered into their life even in their earlier years, and the flow on effects on their own lives can be pretty devastating too.
Even with divorce rates declining, they are still remarkably high, considering that marriage is entered into with the ideal of being for a lifetime – 50-60% of first time marriages ending in divorce in the United States, and around 30% in Australia. So we’re looking at something that is affecting quite a lot of us.
And maybe even you, dear reader, have been affected by it at some point, whether you yourself exercising the choice to do so, or having friends or family who have made a decision to do so.
No one lives their lives and thinks, “Hey, I want to marry the person of my dreams who I will eventually divorce”. And yet it happens so often. Marriage can be a beautiful thing, but a lot of us start to have our view and our attitude towards it tainted by the pain of what’s gone before and around us.
What can we do to deal with the effects of divorce in our own lives, and how can we make sure we do our best to ensure we enter a marriage that lasts?
Dr Myles Munroe makes an excellent comparison between marriage and learning to drive. If you want to get a driver’s licence in most countries, you have to take a certain number of tests. The tests are to prove that you have what it takes you drive a car. This means you’ve done your reading, you have sorted out your attitudes and approaches to driving, and you have done what it takes to make it as a driver.
People are not given the same test before they get married. The same preparation is often not exercised or considered until the damage is done. Munroe suggests that for this reason, our driver’s licences last longer than our marriage licences.
Your single years are the best years to get ready for a marriage that lasts. It’s like being on your learner’s permit. But if you are married, it’s not too late to give this some thought about how to negotiate your current season together, and what your future looks like.
How do you get along with people in your world now? What are your attitudes towards the opposite sex? Do you know where you’re going in life? Do you understand what your motivations are? What are you willing to compromise or change? Are you ready to put someone else before yourself? Are you doing it now, or are you putting it off til the Disney shining light tells you it’s time for you to do so?
How about destructive behaviours? Are you realistic in how you address these in your life? How about in others? Things like pornography, alcoholism, even fits of rage – are you aware of their reality now, or are you waiting for The One before you decide to start dealing with them?
Better preparation would probably go a long way in living out marriages that last.
Habits and Default Behaviour
There is a book I really like called The Ten Commandments of Dating. One of the most interesting “commandments” it puts forward is “Thou shalt not practice divorce”.
The authors highlight that divorce is an attitude that a lot of us exercise on a regular basis. A lot of us are very quick to hit the eject button in difficult situations, and we may be regularly exercising this decision in more situations than we realize.
Don’t like your job? Easy. Just find another one.
Don’t get along with the room mates you have? Just find some new ones.
Getting frustrated with your family? Same thing – don’t talk to them, even if family is supposed to be a bit more permanent. Shut them out of your life. Run away. Never see them except at the big events around Christmas and Easter. Or less. Don’t be honest with them. Don’t talk about your feelings. Don’t show them who you really are.
And so we enter marriage with this practised disposition. Not getting along with your husband or wife? That’s easy, we should…
We are so good at running away from challenges. It’s no wonder that sometimes divorce is a much more readily available option. I think this popular meme puts it very well:
Falling out of love?
Falling out of love is touted as one of the biggest reasons why divorce is a more acceptable option to us nowadays. People are described as falling in love – we therefore then assert that it’s possible to fall out of it.
What this really means is that the feelings have changed. Instead of feeling that sense of awe and longing that was once there, it has been replaced with numbness, emptiness, maybe anger or bitterness. However, this is a really dodgy concept to bring into our adult thinking.
Feelings make good followers, but they make horrible leaders. It is very easy to change the way you feel. Feelings follow your decisions.
For instance, remember back to one of the worst experiences in your life. Stop and close your eyes. Remember what it was like.
Now think about one of the happiest times in your life. Take some time to remember it. Try to see what it was like for you.
In our remembering, look how quickly your feelings changed because you decided to focus on something. Remembering the negative experience may have brought up some ugly feelings. Conversely, remembering the good experience may have brought a smile to your face just thinking about it.
…So why do we trust our feelings so much again?
Feelings are often what leads people into bad decisions, if not properly assessed and dealt with. Maybe we’re a bit naive when it comes to what it means to be attracted to someone. We think it’s all about their ability to make us feel good. That’s why CEOs sleep with their secretaries, why friends find themselves cheating with other friends. Because he listens during a hard time and that makes me feel good, unlike my husband. Because she was there for me when my wife is just nagging me and bringing me down. They change our feelings.
Maybe a better attitude would be this – We say “I love her, therefore she will become my wife”, but then need to also have the attitude, “She is my wife, therefore I love her”. It is an attitude that refuses to change even if the other does.
And how are you today with your attitude of love towards others? Are you still waiting for them to make you feel good? Or will you do what love truly demands – lay down your life for the ones you care about. Go all out for them. Be patient, kind, gentle, not boasting or rude. Hoping the best. Never giving up. Regardless of how you feel.
And hey, once you are acting out of love and viewing the other person as desirable and the focus of your attention, it’s funny to see how fast your feelings will follow. Many a couple will happily state, “it all changed when I began to see them differently”.
I’m a Christian, but I’ll be the first to say that there was one thing that Jesus said about divorce that I still find very challenging after being aware of it for a significant part of my life. And that is when some people asked Jesus about divorce, and He said that Moses under the old Jewish law permitted people to get divorced on the grounds of adultery, because, wait for it… they were selfish. What?! Selfish?
Man, I don’t even understand the pain that you may have gone through if you have been in that situation of unfaithfulness before. But the selflessness that Jesus describes about love is one of remaining committed regardless of any decision the other person makes. What a notion.
And look, if the other person is refusing to do anything to move past a situation of adultery, or even acts of violence, you can’t make their decisions for them. We are only responsible for our own response. And you can’t control what another person does with their own free will. So it’s a complex statement to consider in a complex decision in those more painful cases.
But imagine if our love was truly that deep and truly that faithful. Enduring beyond mistakes. Forgiving beyond measure. That would truly be a beautiful thing indeed.
Are you really ready or willing to exercise that poignant vow, “til death do us part”?
You can never talk about relationships without talking about expectations. Because all of us bring expectations with us everywhere we go – especially into marriage. Unrealistic expectations is another common reason quoted for divorce. We’ve already touched on quite a few, and on a number of occasions before, so I won’t go into super detail here.
But here’s a worthwhile consideration to level our expectations out back into reality.
What does life with you actually look like? Right now? What do you do on your day to day? Where do you hang out? How do you unwind? What do relationships look like with you now? What are the plans you have? The actual plans? The non-negotiable things you *have to do* in your life?
Add another person to be with you most of the time, to go where you go, to move forward together with, and what does it look like? That’s the reality of marriage. There’s not a magic spell that’s cast that adds bubbles and sound effects and lens flares to every moment – it’s you as you are, plus another person as they are.
Breaking the cycle
I think the worst thing that divorce does is it puts you in a flinched position of just waiting for it to happen again. If you are a child of divorce, you might be fearful of it happening again in your own life, of repeating your parents’ mistakes as you may put it. If you’ve seen it with friends, it may put you off the opposite gender altogether.
But you don’t have to do the same thing, friend. A new cycle can begin with you.
Recognize whose decisions actually lead to what eventuated. It is never a child’s fault for what parents decided.
Ah, there’s so much more you could say about it. Considering how many resources are available about the topic, I’m sure I could write and write and write and not describe all of its idiosyncrasies.
One thing that really needs to be said – if you are in a situation of physical harm or danger to yourself or your children or anyone else, please notify the respective authorities in your country. There is help available – don’t leave yourself in a situation that threatens your life.
In closing, a happy marriage is possible. And it is possible for two people to remain committed to each other for a lifetime. It is a sacred beautiful thing when two people come together, and it can be a very painful experience when they are separated. Let’s do all we can with common sense and grace to do all we can to continue to hold marriage as a sacred and blessed institution that can be one of the greatest gifts life has to offer.
Feel free to leave your thoughts below and any other comments or considerations you think worthwhile in the discussion of this massive topic.