Seeing Divorce for What It Is


Do you know the proper response to divorce: either for yourself or someone you care about?

The breakup of a marriage is always a tragedy

"I look forward to divorcing him."

My heart sank as I read these words posted on our Authentic Intimacy Facebook page. We'd posted the question, "What are you looking forward to doing with your spouse this summer?" and nestled among responses about vacations, family gatherings, and anniversaries were these painful words.

I felt so sad for this woman who is obviously in a painful marriage. I'm sure it felt like salt in a wound for her to read the other responses from women who are excited to be with their husbands while she can't wait to get away from hers.

Marriage represents the greatest longings and disappointments—the greatest joys and sorrows—that we experience in this life. If you've been married for any length of time, you've probably walked through some of both.

I was also grieved by the woman's comment because she implied that she was looking forward to her impending divorce. Granted, we often cover deep pain by making light of tragic circumstances. It is sometimes easier to be cynical or sarcastic than to acknowledge a devastating loss. But there's more to it than just cynicism. We live in a society that, at times, celebrates the end of a marriage. For example, you can readily find greeting cards congratulating someone on their divorce.

There are valid reasons for marriages to end. Jesus recognized the pain of broken vows and abandonment (Matthew 19:1–12). While God hates divorce, he also hates violence and abuse. Yet divorce should always break our heart. Jesus said that divorce "was not what God had originally intended" (19:8).

Many of us wrestle with what our attitude should be toward divorce. Maybe you have a friend or family member who is in a difficult or abusive marriage. If you're honest, you think she's hung in there way too long. The news of a divorce feels like it's long overdue. But even in this type of situation, divorce and everything that led up to it is still a tragedy. The fact that a tragedy is inevitable makes it no less tragic.

A good parallel to this is how we look at death. Although death is inevitable and common, it never ceases to be a tragedy. There is something within us that just doesn't want to accept that life must end. The medical profession does everything it can to prevent death and prolong life. Whenever a person dies, loved ones and friends gather to grieve.

I think we should have this same approach toward divorce. We need to recognize the loss that it is. Experts who work with children and adults in the aftermath of divorce often refer to it as a "living death." It's not just a matter of someone having a clean slate or a new start; it usually represents a profound loss of trust, community, and identity. Ultimately, it means that a relationship meant to represent God's unconditional love ended in great disappointment. The fact that broken marriages are common makes them no less tragic. We should each do all we can to prevent it—in our own lives and through lovingly coming alongside others who are struggling. When a divorce occurs, rather than celebrating it, we must take the time to acknowledge the devastation and grieve for those who have been harmed by it.

Written by Dr. Juli Slattery

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