Thoughts on Divorce
This is not a complete work, but a few observations. It is not all personal, but it is all true. It is about the parts that move, and the ones that don’t. The issue, at its core, is that of failure. Failure to listen, failure to tell. Failure to hear what is not said, and to do things that drive you to the edge of hope or fear. The church doesn’t know what to do with it. Society doesn’t know what to do with it. Those that are adamant about how correct they are, are the most afraid of it happening to them. Our friends are unclear about what to do with it when it happens. Most of the time it is only a trail of loss and the crumbs of our past strewn along as we go. The rending of the fabric of our relationships and lives is a sound you cannot not remember. You can imagine the lamb that has it's tail docked and has to re-orient its life and adapt to the new reality. No one wins, but some have hope of the pain stopping, and the possibility of something more.
To know the smell of the death of dreams and the acrid smoke of the fire that consumes hope is only achieved by standing at the fire. Others can “know about it” but they will not “know” it. I have had many friends that went through it and I was always trying to understand the parts that went into it, but there was a glass that kept me on the other side of the thing itself. It is as it is. Those that have been through it, have not gone through what you have gone through, so it is still singular in all truth. Even the estranged partner, now ex, will have had a different journey than your own, so they cannot know your story any more than you can know theirs. The fears and the turmoil and the sorrows. The hope of a future, of healing and perhaps not running free, but walking with a limp is what is instore for you. Only now, at this point is the darkness and fear so strong. Be there fully. It is the fastest way to heal. Lean into the wind that assails and has the hail and rain. Let it spend its energy. Let it wash your tears.
The world is full of the numb that have severed their past relationships and jettisoned their histories. They have “moved on” … but that is not healing. I have a friend with a friend in New York that has been married 6 times… I can appreciate the idea of not wanting to stay with someone incompatible, but perhaps there needs to be a new list of qualifying questions after the second or third failure? On the other hand, I have many relationships with friends that have “endured” their marriage for many counted years, even though it has become as dried leather rather than the supple and flexible version of their earlier days. Endured much in the realm of struggle and dryness, of separate lives in the same home. I am not to say which is better, for there is a cost to each, but I will say that the cry of the lonesome is forlorn and lamentable.
The church is all over the place on this. Some will kick you out and withhold Communion, the very symbol of redemption. Some are little better than the world and will let you change partners until you have worn out the gene pool of the willing. You can be held out of the role of Pastor for the discretion of divorce, regardless of the reasons, and for other communities, there is a time of counseling and support in the midst of the turmoil which is restorative. If you are in need, this is worth the search to find it. Divorce is a tearing of the fabric of the community. To some, in the body of friends that make up the church, it seems that it could be seen as permission for another couple to take the same step. This is the law of the first follower, meaning it acts like permission for you to follow in the same way. This is a curious human barrier to some activity, and it works whenever there are humans involved. “Well, if he can stay with that one, I suppose I can stay with this one” is the line of thought that prevents you making the change. Until it doesn’t. The question though is this; did you simply change your circumstance or did you learn something about your own part in the failure? To change partners without changing your own understanding of what idiot thing you did to ruin it simply resets the clock that will bring an end to the next one as well.
The world is no better at this, of course. They will provide the permission to flee pain at the first signs, so they can justify it in their own journeys. There are a bunch of justifications, and all will seem to be sensible at the time, but in the end, you are still simply hollow, alone and older. There is a path in the midst of struggle that will bring an awareness that to have not had that struggle will have not taught you. So too, I would and do wish to avoid pain and suffering as much as the rest of the world, but when the journey in marriage is hard, there is much good that can be brought to the surface, and hopefully it will bring changes that last, and help make the marriage better. That is not always the case. Here is an interesting statistic that caught me off guard: 80% of the people that go to Alcoholics Anonymous and it works, will end up divorced, but it is the same for people that get Gastric Bypass surgery for weight loss. Why? Because the one that went in is not the one that came out and if the marriage has lasted a while when this took place, the one that was the caretaker of the addict is now left with a change in identity of purpose and relationship. What then are we to do? Not get better, to stay an addict and stay married? Or perhaps to go into it with a full understanding of the changes that are going to come with it?
So it happens that we American Christians like to have a weekend gathering called a “marriage retreat”. This usually ends up bringing up pains that had been stuffed below the awareness line, but are now brought up just enough to have to know about it but with not enough time to deal with it in any meaningful way. This is why men hate to go to a second one, because we like to “resolve things” and we don’t get resolution there. What we get is the awareness of things that we were pretending we could ignore or simply didn’t know how to confront and still live. Now we are angry about what we know and can’t deal with completely. This is what dry leather looks like. The snarky comments and the stomping out of the room, but not the confrontation that can bring resolution. It then builds layers. Quiet layers of solitude and seclusion.
So here is the hard part. Who goes first and for how long, before you really are the “walking mat”, that you don’t stand up for “yourself”. It isn’t about “rights”, that is the wrong position. It is about respect and communicating the hard bits that you would rather not have to deal with. You will know a time that it changes, then will come the choices that are harder still. I had an uncle that got a divorce at 60 and I thought that was curious. To have stayed that long and finally end it. What could have finally changed that made the difference that moved the gate to open… My own came in not much of a different time, and I would say that I still don’t have the answer. Each is singular in the why and what of details, but they make sense when you do it, at least to yourself at the time. Like everyone else I can tell of the things that contributed, but others, better ones perhaps, could have worked through it and not simply survived, but thrived… Mine did not. It is curious when couples get remarried to the partner that they parted from. Perhaps they learned some things that will help this time around. Perhaps they found that they didn’t have it so bad after all… again it is singular to them.
This is what I know now; that hard things are hard things. Your Doctor or nurse will ask about the “level of pain” but that is a subjective measure. Only those that have stood over the fire, watching their hopes being consumed, can know this level of pain. Yet again, it is singular. To the spouse that was surprised that level is different than the one that left years before the departure. Only the journey to forgiveness and renewal will bring them to confront their part in it. Letting go of the blame is harder for some than for others, but it is always required to get to the next level. To expect the church or the world to understand is the path of needing to gain approval from those that cannot give it to you. Perhaps when we stop asking those who cannot give it, we will then realize we didn’t need it anyway.
Divorce is always messy and filled with struggle. It should always be the end in the cases of abuse and emotional hostility. When you get past the obvious levels, it gets subjective and only you will know. To heal requires you to accept how you contributed to it. To take ownership of the part you played and that you may need counseling to point out your blindness. To think that your partner is obligated to stay when you mistreat them is a real thing, but it is not true. To get them to stop is hard. To be scared is real, or you would have acted sooner. Scared and the feeling of being trapped, by finance or social status or family obligations is to force the path of the fire into other areas. Adultery, or drugs, are only the beginning of the outlets. Workaholics are just as common as the indolent and slothful, but they get more awards. But perhaps they simply didn’t want to go home. For some, suicide is a more appealing option. It finishes, rather than prolongs, the aftermath. If it is done with some thought it is a “believable accident” rather than a mess in the bathroom, but you are still gone. The spouse gets the insurance and the sympathy. Society is better to the widow than the divorcee, or so it seems.
The need to finally confront your sorrow and struggle requires a lot of grit and resolve. Friends are good as well, but some well intentioned friends would speak guilt and obligations that keep you in places that you need to remove yourself from. Friends that have been moved to the sheep pen of the docked tails will know better to listen than compel. They have been through the knothole and survived. They know the taste of the salt of the tears that come. This is not a call to get a divorce, but a call to get some help. It is a call to see those that are your friends, that have been through it, differently. To see the friends that need to go to a level deeper about their pain and then to go with them. Not to solve, but to hear. We learn as we speak, so let them speak so they can learn for themselves the power of the pain to heal. This is an appeal to make your friendship more than it was before. You will be better for the journey. So will your friends. Do the “buddy check”, you may never know who is needing to talk.
Know this; cheap answers and small Band-Aids will not heal a wounded relationship. Regardless of the commitments to the long term, it doesn’t get better with time alone. It is work. To stay married, to make it better than yesterday, to make it a pleasure and not simply survival. But you have to both want to. This is not one-sided. Life is filled with things that will kill you, choose to fight to survive and to get on top of the pain and the problems. Everything needs maintenance. You, your marriage, your friendships, your “self”. Keep things fresh. Start today. Start with you.