Is Marriage Really Marriage?
There was a time in the not too distant past when divorce was treated like a criminal offense. To initiate the process, at least one mate had to be guilty and once guilt was established punishment was meted out. The laws were controlling and the outcomes were chaffing.
The process actually made things worse. If the parting couple was unhappy with each other before the divorce, they hated each other after and the feud spread. Friends and family got caught up in the hostilities too. Not smart.
How The Divorce Process Played Out
You can imagine how the scenario played out. One person, the petitioner, produced sufficient evidence to prove their partner was at fault and the effect of that is obvious. Not only would the partner feel smeared, there was also nothing they could do about it, that is, if he or she really wanted the divorce. An effective defense meant staying hitched. That’s how it worked. If the alleged fault couldn’t be substantiated the couple was sent home to live unhappily at odds ever after.
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The accused was between a rock and hard place. Either prove innocence and live with someone who doesn’t want you or accept the blame and be smudged for life. It was a LOSE-LOSE situation.
Had to be humiliating, especially if both parties just wanted to split without rancor, but the first step was proving fault. That was the law. Grounds had to be established. Sounds like something you would read in church documents. It was a recipe that guaranteed aggravation.
And it didn’t stop there. After the faulting phase the punishing phase started and never ended.
If the wife was at fault she was thrown out and left to fend for herself.
Today that wouldn’t seem too bad. Women are often more capable than men, but remember, this was a time when traditional thinking saw husbands as breadwinners and wives as stay at home nurturers. Women weren’t encouraged to develop commercial skills and if they did, employment opportunities were few and pay was skimpy. With this judgment, she would suffer. Remember, too, that divorced ladies weren’t at the top of the list for eligible bachelors.
If the husband was at fault he would be alimon-ied till “death does you in.” Although maintenance judgments are much more fair today, men still see it as a means for ex wives to rip out “private parts” by way of the wallet (my words, Robin Williams thought).
Those were just the long term judgments. You had to pay for the divorce first which could be quite a hefty bill also.
It’s no wonder that some couples stayed legally married but quietly went their separate romantic ways. They were living a lie, yes, but it was a self imposed punishment they found more tolerable.
Divorce Law Designed For Dark Ages
The reality is, court rulings made life after marriage impossible and that was the intention. Society considered marriage permanent by nature and breakups punishable offenses – right out of the dark ages. The idea behind the legislation was to save as many marriages as possible, at all cost, and one way to insure that was to roadblock divorce, making it more painful to split than stay together.
Seems cold and mechanical. Kind of like stiff arming people into relationship prisons. That might keep the marriage in tact, but I doubt it engendered love and commitment.
Obviously, things have changed. The courts discovered the word “amicable” and legalized no-fault petitions. This happened because they finally realized that forcing people to stay unhappily married, or penalizing breakups with unbearable judgments, did nothing to stabilize society. Now jurisprudence focuses on enabling lives to recover when the marriage can’t be reconciled.
We are thankful for this change but is it really enough?
Public Perceptions And Legislation
Remember that the law is nothing more than code – words on a piece of paper – stiffly applied in some of the most human unfriendly places, courtrooms, and a change in the code isn’t always accepted outside the court. The public doesn’t always “get it” so the perception is very slow to change.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863 and we all know how agreeably the general public received it and how stubborn prevailing perceptions proved to be. So the question is are we, the public, helping or hurting when it comes to divorce and remarriage issues?
What the courts didn’t admit to before and what the public still don’t realize today is that divorce can be difficult to bear even when it is agreeable. A friendly divorce still abrades. It’s always painful, it’s always costly and it always requires time to heal and recover. Sometimes the pain lingers for years. The marks will last a lifetime. We really shouldn’t make it worse.
No one wishes divorce on anyone and many are sympathetic but only in a condescending way. Public opinion and especially the church struggles with the inevitability of divorce.
Why So Many Divorces
One thing working against a healthy change in public perception is the increase in the divorce rate. Depending on who you read, it is somewhere between 33% and 50%, which is much higher than it was before the laws changed. Things have gotten worse and that makes us wonder.
We accept it reluctantly because that is the law but we shun it on a personal level. People who divorce get “special” consideration and church manuals on the topic of marriage and divorce illustrate the point. They are filled with conditional arguments about what divorced people can or cannot do in or out of church.
It’s interesting that you don’t find the same attention to detail for all other offenses. In the church’s mind there is nothing worse than divorce. Some teach that getting a divorce or being born to an unwed mother bars one from heaven. What kind of demented thinking comes up with these ideas.
But back to my point. There may be other reasons for the high rate of divorce other than the “sinfulness” of humanity.
The truth is, motivations to marry have varied significantly. Throughout most of history unions were arranged by parents. Romance had little to do with it. If love developed, fine. If not, tough. Marriage was primarily a matter of survival. In fact, marriage and nation building were one and the same. It expanded the community base which in turn helped establish economic and military security.
So when did love enter the picture?
According to Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, mutual attraction didn’t become relevant until the mid 1700’s and it didn’t become a significant factor until the 20th century.
That means that society is relatively inexperienced at romance, which is to say we don’t really know what we are doing. Couples who stay married till death today are probably lucky. Not smart but lucky. People don’t like hearing that and I admit the idea smacks of “happy to be ignorant” but learning how to get this right is a process. Psychologists are working hard to unravel the mechanisms of attraction but it will take time and until we understand it better, we can expect a few spills.
In fact, if we are smart, we would learn to prize the wisdom by hind sight that divorced individuals have to offer. We should draw them out and tap their understanding. That would be better than putting them off to the side and asking them to keep their mouth shut. They are blazing the trail and if we listen, they can help future lovers avoid the traps.
Divorce Is An Experience To Learn From, Not A Dead Weight To Carry Around
We mustn’t be glib about divorce but we mustn’t give it strength either.
- Only a dreamer thinks every marriage can be made right.
- Only the shallow think a stick-it-out mentality toward marriage is somehow a solution to all problems.
- Only a sadistic person would require the irreconcilable to stay-the-course.
- Only the unrealistic think divorce can never happen.
- Only the cruel refuse to accept it when it does.
People make mistakes. They mistakenly marry the wrong person or the wrong kind of person. It happens often. Even when a partner has the right nature, they don’t always have the maturity to handle inevitable relationship bruises. Sometimes the only way forward is out. When a car is totaled, junk it and buy another.
Mistakes shape us into better people, they don’t define us. We don’t become the mistakes we make or at least we shouldn’t.
Most people understand this. Some don’t. Those that don’t are still in the “dark ages” where life molding concepts are concerned. But even those who understand the mistake-experience cycle are selective about which mistakes they allow.
Budget mishaps we allow. Divorce we don’t.
Divorce is like tripping in public. Everyone sees it. It’s hard not to be embarrassed.
And the complications are made worse by an unforgiving public.
Next time you see a divorced person don’t point. Ask them what they learned from the experienced. Write down what they say. Listen and learn.