On divorce/What is marriage for?
(She is a lifelong member, reader, wife, and world traveler.)
As a preface, I don’t know the feminist response to what I am about to share, nor the “Mormon feminist” response. What I offer instead is my own response, the response of a woman who cares about women (and men)—the response of one single child of humanity.
Just over two weeks ago I stood in the kitchen of a woman I deeply love and admire, as she told me a small handful of rather simple sentences, which written would mean very little, but spoken strongly implied that her spouse was cheating on her. My initial reaction was shock, and then my second and third reactions (followed quickly thereafter) were fury and disappointment. The cheating partner is intimately connected to my own life and family, making the wife’s hurt, sad sentences my hurt (if only the most infinitesimal part of what she feels). I listened to her close, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
I thought of her and her spouse so often during the subsequent weeks, but did not say another word to either of them. Part of this was because I moved across the country exactly one day after I saw them, and another part is that I didn’t know what to say. I was so angry at the one who hurt her and so sad for the one who was hurt.
Just a few days ago, I found out what did happen to the woman in the kitchen: her husband left her and their two very young children in what looks like a permanent leaving. The man did not hug his children goodbye. (He has one reason for that, but it is difficult for me to accept it as enough.) What he did do is grab some clothes and two of his guitars. He is at a hotel, but moving in with his new “friend” within days.
I recognize that in all such cases, involving two (or more) people, there are two (or more) stories to be told. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to get to the whole truth. Sometimes it may not even be worth the grief of trying. Notwithstanding, in this particular case, it does seem clear that one party (due to substance abuse and measures of infidelity) shares more culpability than the other.
Notwithstanding that, my heart aches for everyone—the man who just closed the door on many (if not all) of the most beautiful things in his life, more for his children who will not have a present father, and the most for the woman who has been betrayed and made single through no choice of her own.
This time I have reached out to both of the adults with the best love and support that I possess. I know that in both cases it is probably not enough, either to help the leaving party not want to leave and/or get help for his substance abuse, or to help the left party feel less heartbroken and devastated. Still it is what I can offer.
A few days later I found myself in an Eastern city with an old friend. As part of that meeting I discovered that she and her husband (who I had seen with her and their child the day before) were separated. I did not feel the fury I felt in the first case, but did feel the shock, and some small, small portion of the disappointment.
When we were walking privately I asked her the reasons. She started to explain and I started to understand: There were a series of difficult moments (some very cruel) that led her to feel alone and un-supported during times when she desperately needed support. One was an unplanned pregnancy. Another was the early loss of the same. She told me that she feels happier since her separation, and I am 1. inclined to trust her and 2. strongly desirous of her happiness.
Learning of these two breaks in the same week has caused my mind to be filled with marriage thoughts and un-marriage thoughts. It has also caused me to ask many questions. The first, and possibly most important is, “What is marriage for?” The second, still important question concerns when something is sufficient to get a divorce. The third is about happiness and responsibility. I do not have complete answers to any of these questions; only partial ones.
Marriage may be for love, intimacy (both sexual and otherwise), friendship, covenant, companionship, growth, progression, exaltation, parenting, grand-parenting, financial security, safety, commitment, selflessness, support, or so forth. It may be for a combination of those things, and it certainly may be for many more (or even many less) than I mentioned.
What if one thing is missing? In the first (true) story, the husband’s complaint was a lack of physical intimacy, for a specific length of time. It made me wonder if sex is really the only thing that marriage is for. I believe it is a highly vital part, but have a difficult time conceding that it is the only part. It also seems like things may be done to improve it. An unwillingness to make a bad (or absent) situation better feels like more of a problem to me than the absence itself. But, what if two things are missing? Or three? Or four? Is it enough, then, to renege on lifetime or eternal commitments?
What of personal happiness? It is important, but it is also important to remember that not only one person’s happiness is at stake. Simply getting married seems to be an acknowledgement that someone else’s happiness matters. If there are kids it makes the mix even bigger. Each of us is an individual, yes, but each of us is an individual in a community. We were born in a community, even if it was a community of mother/daughter or mother/son. We inherited language from our community and many other things indeed. In a marriage there is a strong (and hopefully close) community that requires strong responsibility.
I feel passionately that divorce is terrible, if only (or especially) because it hurts everyone involved, but I am also glad that women and men (when each uses it appropriately) have the right to divorce. Is this a contradiction? Maybe, but I am human, and humans contain multitudes (even contradicting multitudes).
I am glad that people have the right to divorce primarily when they are in unsafe situations, whether that safety is physical, emotional, or mental. I am glad that people have the right to divorce when there are great breaches of trust (such as in cases involving infidelity), though I also admire those who go through such breaches and find forgiveness and redemption within their original marriage vows. I am glad that people have the right to divorce when the pain done to them or their children is less than the pain of staying in the relationship.
All of these things are where it gets tricky, because again, there are always multiple human sides to every human story, and what may be enough for one person may not be enough for someone else. This is also where I beg you, dear readers, to chime in. Any help is much appreciated as I mourn for those both in and out of my life effected by divorce.
- What do you think marriage is for?
- When (if ever) is it is sufficient to sever a marriage union?
- How can outside parties be supportive during the times preceding, during, and after divorce? (To the wronged party as well as to the one who wronged.)