Four Things You Should Know About Divorce
After assessing the damage, the owners have a choice—either tear down the house or save it.
IS YOUR marriage at a similar juncture? Perhaps your spouse has betrayed your trust or recurring conflicts have sapped the joy from your relationship. If so, you might tell yourself, ‘We’ve fallen out of love’ or ‘We just aren’t meant for each other’ or ‘We didn’t know what we were doing when we got married.’ You could even be thinking, ‘Maybe we should divorce.’
Before making a hasty decision to end your marriage, think. Divorce does not always end life’s anxieties. On the contrary, often it merely exchanges one set of problems for another. In his book The Good Enough Teen, Dr. Brad Sachs warns: “Separating couples fantasize about the perfect divorce—the sudden and permanent passing of gray and stormy conflict, replaced by the cool, comforting breezes of serenity and congeniality. But such a state is just as eternally elusive as is the perfect marriage.” It is important, then, to be fully informed and to approach the question of divorce realistically.
The Bible and Divorce
The Bible does not treat divorce casually. It states that Jehovah God views as treacherous and hateful the frivolous putting away of one’s mate, perhaps with the motive of taking another spouse. (Malachi 2:13-16) Marriage is a permanent bond. (Matthew 19:6) Many marriages that broke up on trivial grounds could have been saved if partners had been more forgiving.—Matthew 18:21, 22.
At the same time, the Bible allows for divorce and remarriage on one ground—sexual relations outside the marriage. (Matthew 19:9) Therefore, if you learn that your mate has been unfaithful, you have the right to terminate the marriage. Others should not impose their views on you, and it is not the purpose of this article to tell you what to do. In the end, you are the one who will live with the consequences; therefore, you are the one who must decide.—Galatians 6:5.
Nevertheless, the Bible states: “The shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) Hence, even if you have Scriptural grounds for divorce, you would do well to give serious thought to what that step will entail. (1 Corinthians 6:12) “Some may think that they have to decide quickly,” says David, in Britain. “But having been through a divorce, I can say from experience that time is needed to think things through.” *
Let us consider four important issues you need to think about. As we do, please note that none of the divorced individuals quoted say that they made a wrong decision. However, their comments highlight some of the challenges that often arise in the months and even years after ending a marriage.
1. The Problem of Finances
Daniella, in Italy, was married for 12 years when she found out that her husband had been having an affair with a colleague. “By the time I knew about it,” says Daniella, “the woman was six months pregnant.”
After a period of separation, Daniella decided to get a divorce. “I tried to save my marriage,” she says, “but my husband continued to be unfaithful.” Daniella feels that she made the right choice. Still, she relates: “As soon as we separated, my economic situation became disastrous. Sometimes I didn’t even have an evening meal. I would just drink a glass of milk.”
Maria, in Spain, suffered a similar setback. “My ex-husband doesn’t give us any financial support,” she says, “and I have to work very hard to pay off debts he had. I also had to move from a comfortable house to a small apartment in an unsafe area.”
As these experiences show, the breakup of a marriage often deals a devastating financial blow to women. In fact, a seven-year European study revealed that while the income of men increased by 11 percent after divorce, women’s income decreased by 17 percent. “It’s difficult for some women,” says Mieke Jansen, who headed the study, “because they have to care for the children, find a job as well as deal with the emotional trauma of divorce.” London’sDaily Telegraph noted that according to some attorneys, such factors are “forcing people to think twice about splitting up.”
What might happen: If you divorce, there may be a reduction in your income. You may also have to move. If you retain custody, it may be difficult to support yourself and adequately care for the needs of your children.—1 Timothy 5:8.
“EVERY CHILD’S BIRTHRIGHT”
“When I was five years old, my father had a brief affair with his secretary, and my parents divorced. As far as taking care of me, they did everything ‘right’ according to the wisdom of the day. They reassured me that while they did not love each other anymore, they still loved me, and after my father departed to his bachelor apartment across town, both continued to care for my material needs.
“Two years later my mother remarried, and we moved out of the country. After that, I only saw my father every few years. I have seen him just once in the past nine years. He missed most of my growing up, and he does not know my three children—his grandchildren—except through what I’ve shared with him in letters and photos. They have missed knowing their grandfather.
“As a child of divorce, I grew up without any visible scars. But inside I battled monsters of rage, depression, and insecurity without knowing why. My trust in men was nonexistent. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that a mature friend helped me to identify the roots of my hostility and I began to work at letting go of it.
“My parents’ divorce took away from me every child’s birthright—the feeling of being secure and protected. The world is a cold, scary place, but it seems to me that the family unit is a wall against it, where the child can come to feel nurtured and comforted. Shatter the family unit, and the protective wall crumbles too.”—Diane.
2. Parenting Issues
“My husband’s unfaithfulness came as a terrible shock,” says a woman in Britain named Jane. “Also, I was devastated to think that he actually chose to leave us.” Jane divorced her husband. She still believes that she made the right decision, but she admits: “One challenge I faced was having to be both mom and dad to the children. I had to make all the decisions myself.”
The situation was similar with Graciela, a divorced mother in Spain. “I was given full custody of my 16-year-old son,” she says. “But adolescence is a difficult time, and I was ill-prepared to raise my son alone. I spent days and nights sobbing. I felt like a failure as a mother.”
Those who share custody may face an additional problem—having to negotiate with the ex-spouse on such delicate issues as visitation arrangements, child support, and discipline. Christine, a divorced mother in the United States, says: “Creating a working relationship with your ex is not easy. There are so many emotions involved, and if you’re not careful, you could end up using your child as a tool to try to manipulate the situation.”
What might happen: The custody arrangements set forth in a court of law may not be what you would prefer. If you share custody, your ex-spouse may not be as reasonable as you would like regarding the aforementioned matters of visitation, financial support, and so on.
3. The Effect of Divorce on You
Mark, from Britain, was betrayed by his wife more than once. “The second time,” he says, “I couldn’t cope with the possibility that it could happen again.” Mark divorced his wife, but he found that his feelings for her lingered. “When people say negative things about her, they think they’re helping; but they’re not,” he says. “Love stays for a long time.”
David, quoted earlier, was similarly devastated when he found out that his wife was involved with another man. “I reacted with total disbelief,” he says. “I truly wanted to spend every day of my life with her and our children.” David chose to divorce, but the breakup has left him with doubts about his future. “I wonder if someone could really love me or whether this might happen again if I remarry,” he says. “My confidence has been shaken.”
If you are divorced, it is only to be expected that you will experience a wide range of emotions. On the one hand, you might still feel love for this person with whom you shared a one-flesh bond. (Genesis 2:24) On the other hand, you might feel resentful over what has occurred. “Even after several years,” says Graciela, quoted earlier, “you feel confused, humiliated, and helpless. Many happy moments from your marriage come to mind, and you think: ‘He used to tell me that he couldn’t live without me. Was he always lying? Why did this happen?’”
What might happen: You may have lingering feelings of anger and resentment over the ways in which your spouse mistreated you. At times, loneliness may be overwhelming.—Proverbs 14:29; 18:1.
4. The Effect of Divorce on Children
“It was devastating,” says José, a divorced father in Spain. “The worst moment was when I discovered that the other man was my sister’s husband. I just wanted to die.” José found that his two boys—ages two and four—were also affected by their mother’s course. “They could not come to terms with the situation,” he says. “They didn’t understand why their mother was living with their uncle and why I had taken them with me and moved in with my sister and my mother. If I had to go somewhere, they would ask, ‘When are you coming home?’ or they would say, ‘Daddy, don’t leave us!’”
Children are often the forgotten casualties on the divorce battlefield. But what if two parents just do not get along? In such a case, is divorce really “better for the children”? In recent years, that notion has come under attack—especially when marital problems are not extreme. The book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce states: “Many adults who are trapped in very unhappy marriages would be surprised to learn that their children are relatively content. They don’t care if Mom and Dad sleep in different beds as long as the family is together.”
Admittedly, children are often aware of parental conflicts, and marital tension can take a toll on their young minds and hearts. However, to assume that a divorce will automatically be in their best interests could be a mistake. “The structure that marriage provides appears to help parents maintain the kind of consistent, moderate discipline to which children respond, even when the marriage is less than ideal,” write Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher in their book The Case for Marriage.
What might happen: Divorce could have a devastating effect on your children, especially if you do not encourage them to have a healthy relationship with your ex-spouse.—See the box “Caught in the Middle.”
This article has discussed four factors that you would do well to consider if you are thinking about divorce. As mentioned earlier, if your spouse has been unfaithful, the decision is yours to make. Whichever course you choose, you need to be aware of the consequences. Know what challenges you will face, and be prepared to deal with them.
After considering the matter, you might feel that the better option is to work to improve your marriage. But is that really possible?
“CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE”
“My parents divorced when I was 12 years old. In one way, I was relieved. Things got a lot more calm and peaceful around the house; I didn’t have to listen to all that fighting anymore. Still, I had mixed emotions.
“After the divorce, I wanted to get along with both of my parents, and I tried very hard to stay as neutral as possible. But no matter what I did, I always felt like I was caught in the middle. My dad told me that he thought my mom was going to turn me against him. So I had to reassure him constantly that my mom wasn’t trying to poison my mind. My mom was also very insecure. She said she was afraid that I was listening to negative things my dad told me about her. It got to the point that I didn’t feel like I could talk to either of my parents about what I was going through anymore because I didn’t want to hurt them. So, basically, from the age of 12 on, I kept my feelings about the divorce to myself.”—Sandra.