Divorce is an extremely sensitive topic and I hope to share my thoughts in an personal way, void of offense. My goal is not to make anyone feel guilty for past decisions. As far as I know, none of us have a time machine, so why worry about things we can’t change. :) We can only move forward and learn from our mistakes, and if we’re smart, other’s mistakes as well.
My goal is to shine a light on something (divorce) that if avoided could bring great happiness to both husbands and wives, parents and children.
Divorce Hasn’t Treated Me Well
Looking back, divorce has had a profound affect on my life and continues to do so.
When I was born my dad had 5 children from a previous marriage and my mom had 6. Yes, that makes 12 brothers and sisters including my younger brother! One big happy family, right? I have no greater wish.
I wasn’t born when my mother’s previous marriage ended, so I know very little about it, but in my lifetime I’ve seen some siblings gravitate to their dad and some to my mom and some in-between. Sadly, I don’t often see several of my siblings as they have grown apart from my mom. As a result, I have nieces and nephews, even a sister-in-law that I’ve never met and who have never met me. My father’s kids also seem to have similar riffs.
I sometimes wonder if the many riffs and offenses in my family could have been avoided. Did divorce send a message to us kids that our family isn’t worth working for, enduring for, suffering for, or fighting for? Maybe offenses are easily taken and remembered among siblings and children because offenses broke the strongest bond in the family: a marriage.
My mom and dad later divorced when I was only two. I’m not sure the exact timeline but I know it was shortly after my little brother was born. I lived with my mom during the week and saw my dad every other weekend. I knew my family was a little different, but didn’t think about it much, although I remember missing my dad a lot.
Turns out, missing my dad was the real tragedy.
One parent cannot do it all! My mom is a saint for trying but it is extremely hard for one “to manage alone what two together can barely sustain” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Why Marriage, Why Family). Looking back, I had serious problems with authority and independence. I think part of the problem was that I’d see how different my mom’s rules were from my dad’s. Then I’d go to pre-school and have another set of rules. Later on, I’d take care of myself after school for a couple hours and soon decided I should be able to do whatever I wanted. I demanded my independence more than my mom was ready to give. Needless to say, my teen years were particularly challenging for both my mother and I, which could have been much easier with my dad at home.
My wife has had a different, but similar experience with divorce. Her parents were also separated when she was about one. Luckily, her parents were both remarried and have stayed married her entire life, so she didn’t have to deal with some of the problems that come without a dad in the home. Also, she was an only child in that marriage, so she doesn’t have any sibling riffs.
On the one hand, she’s benefited from the perspective of having two families, one she lived with and one she stayed with over summer break. On the other hand, she suffered from being in-between two families. Because she spent only part of the year with both families she never felt completely anywhere. By that I mean that she missed memorable summer trips with her mom’s side and missed every day life with her dad’s side. She’s simply left out of memories on both sides and sometimes feels the loss.
These experiences are shared not to cast judgement on any of our loved ones, we love all our parents and treasure their involvement in our lives, these are just our experiences of the harsh reality of divorce. In my experience, it is not better for the kids.
“Because divorce separates the interests of children from the interests of their parents, children are its first victims. Scholars of family life tell us that the most important cause of the current decline in the well-being of children is the current weakening of marriage, because family instability decreases parental investment in children [see Marriage and Civil Society]. We know that children raised in a single-parent home after divorce have a much higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, poor school performance, and various kinds of victimization” (Dallin H. Oaks, Divorce).
So how can families avoid those risks even if family life is a challenge? I love the story of a woman endured a horrible marriage until the children were raised. She said, “There were three parties to our marriage—my husband and I and the Lord. I told myself that if two of us could hang in there, we could hold it together” (Dallin H. Oaks, Divorce).
For anyone thinking about divorce, these words of wisdom may add some perspective. A Bishop (the leader of a congregation in my Church) who was familiar with counseling couples facing divorce said of couples who couldn’t work out their differences:
“Universally, every couple or individual said they recognized that divorce was not a good thing, but they all insisted that their situation was different. Universally, they focused on the fault of the spouse and attributed little responsibility to their own behavior. Communication had withered. Universally, they were looking back, not willing to leave the baggage of past behavior on the roadside and move on…. All were worried about the effect on the children, but always the conclusion was ‘it’s worse for them to have us together and fighting.’” (Dallin H. Oaks, Divorce).
My story does have a happy ending! Now with a family of my own, my wife and I can overcome some of our loss with the joy we have together. That’s not to say we don’t still feel the effects of decisions made more than a quarter century ago. For one, holidays are crazy! It would be hard enough splitting your holidays between two families (mine and hers), but now imagine splitting between four (my mom’s, my dad’s, her mom’s, her dad’s). And not only that, we also have to split our time between inter-sibling feuds (my mom’s group 1, my dad’s group 2, etc.).
Despite our personal difficulties with divorce, we think it may be our experiences and perspective that motivates us to keep our own marriage strong at a time when marriage is undervalued, avoided, and increasingly ended for selfish reasons.
That said, marriage is hard. I’d love to say that our marriage is always filled with sweet companionship, laughter at the dinner table, and selfless concern for the other person’s well being. It’s not, although there is a lot of that and I think our marriage is doing great right now, probably due to 8 years of practice. :)
With three kids and a fourth on the way our life is anything but calm.
The good days are amazing and the joy from family life is unimaginable. The bad days as hard as the good days are good!
Stress sometimes causes unbridled words and hurt feelings. Sometimes we both find ourselves offended for what seems like very good reasons. By nature, I’m horrible at sensing my wife’s emotions, which at times leaves her frustrated. We also occasionally project our impossible expectations onto each other causing sadness and/or resentment.
When those hard times come, I sometimes want nothing more than to disconnect from it all. In those moments, however, I never allow myself to dwell on the possibility of divorce. Thinking is the first step to doing.
I love the council shared recently by Elder Oaks (one of the highest leaders in my Church). He said, “Bishops do not counsel members to divorce, but they can help members with the consequences of their decisions. Under the law of the Lord, a marriage, like a human life, is a precious, living thing. If our bodies are sick, we seek to heal them. We do not give up. While there is any prospect of life, we seek healing again and again. The same should be true of our marriages, and if we seek Him, the Lord will help us and heal us” (Dallin H. Oaks, Divorce).
Deciding who to marry is one of the most important decisions you can make, but after that decision is made, the life of that marriage becomes the most important focus. Bringing children into that marriage only increases the priceless reasons to keep it alive!
“A good marriage does not require a perfect man or a perfect woman. It only requires a man and a woman committed to strive together toward perfection” (Dallin H. Oaks, Divorce).
With the right perspective, marriage is an absolute joy. It is having your best friend as a companion and supporter. It is having your children adore you and make you laugh. It is having support on the hard days and someone to tell about the good ones. I truly believe that most marriages can be happy, in fact, one study even found that two thirds of couples who avoided an imminent divorce reported a happy marriage 5 years later (Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages).
My purpose isn’t to dwell on things we can’t change (namely the past), it is to simply focus on my personal experience with divorce and marriage. Things can get better, differences can be overcome, and happiness can be found in most marriages!
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments below!