We are married to marriage.
Our whole culture, across all socio-economic, religious, gender and political boards is overwhelmingly married to the idea of marriage. When someone divorces, they call it a “failed marriage”. But the implication is not that the actual pairing failed; rather, the implication is that something tragic and bad has happened and the individuals themselves have somehow personally failed. How often do you hear these phrases:
“He’s had two (three, four…) failed marriages, no wonder…”
“She’s the product of a broken home.”
“Their marriage dissolved; what a shame.”
Why is it that divorce is considered such a social wart? Before you get all up in arms about the impact on the children, let’s take a look at that for a minute. One might argue that divorce hurts the children the most; well what about an unhappy marriage? How does that impact children? Why does divorce usually impact children in a negative way? The main reason is because the divorcing parties are not placing their children first among their priorities during the process. So is divorce really horrible for children, or has our society’s, thus our, attitude about divorce espoused the negativity that makes it disruptive and difficult?
All that aside, no one is more bent on salvaging marriages than the Mormon Church. Ironically.
I know some individuals who are going through a separation; not maritally, but religiously (from the Mormon Church). It is, however, impacting their marriages immensely, since their spouses are still active members. One man’s wife is being so passive-aggressive it leaves him feeling like a stranger in his own home. One woman’s husband plays the guilt card on her to manipulate her into returning. Another seeks massive amounts of doctrinal evidence to thwart her new-found venture outside of Mormonism.
As I listen to their stories, I want to ask them something: What keeps you holding on? What keeps your spouse holding on? I don’t ask because it’s none of my business. I can presume that they would reply, “Love, children, years together, hobbies, habit, friendship…”. But really, if one spouse thinks they’re not going to the highest kingdom because their other spouse is an apostate, or if it’s a man, he’ll have to be sealed to another woman in the Celestial Kingdom because his wife won’t be worthy, what does that do to a marriage? How tragic.
Most stay together out of love for each other and for their children. I have no judgement other than I think it is a very noble thing to want to spare your kids and yourselves from a divorce in this society. But what about those who have nothing in common with their spouse other than religion and kids… and the religion is gone? Is it worth it?
In typical black and white form, in an Ensign,article James E. Faust spoke specifically to women in the talk initially, although covertly. He played on their worst fears by an ‘anecdotal’ story of a woman who sought a divorce, and years later when her saw her, he noticed that “the years of loneliness and discouragement were evident in her once-beautiful face.” Translation: You will be alone, miserable and ugly if you get divorced.
He also gave a road map to a successful marriage, and I wondered at how this applies to people who are married to non-believers. His formula? Prayer, trust, virtue, divine presence, tithing, and parenthood. (Tithing before children?) Tithing at ALL??? Holy Mercenary, Batman.
That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for the dissenter, does it?
This clearly gives the message to the TBM (True Believing Mormon) that unless their spouse does the above admonishment, they will not have a happy union, and it may already be evident based on the inevitable conflicts they have experienced thus far in the marriage. So what is a TBM to do? Well naturally, the message is to re-convert the non-believer, since missionary work is primary. This becomes the focal point of the marriage, rather than open and honest communication and acceptance. The fundamental principle of couples’ therapy is “You can only change yourself, not the other person”. But that principle is in direct conflict to the Mormon paradigm of ‘convert the masses.’
So really, in a subtle way the Church is encouraging divorce. They have given an ultimatum of sorts. One of the talks given by a GA this last weekend was on marriage and how the only way to have a successful union is if both parties obeyed the gospel. Again, where does that leave the person who has dissented? It is holding the family hostage in the most insidious of ways. The non-believer is being strong-armed to conform, or lose his or her family.
In these situations, I think a great question would be to ask: Does my spouse love me for me, or because I am Mormon? Because that’s what it boils down to. If they love you for you AND because you’re a Mormon, then you’re still fucked. Because the Church issue will always be OUT THERE.
Many people want to hold on to these marriages so badly that they will sometimes go back to church to appease their spouse, they give up rights, give up the place in their homes, allow their boundaries to be crossed, all in the name of “Saving” the marriage from “failing”. But what message does it give the children when they watch a parent act out of integrity? What are they saving?
I am going through a divorce. Not legally yet, but psychologically and physically. Our son is first in our minds. There is no bashing of one parent or the other to him. There are no, nor will there ever be, any strict visitation limits and times. We will be a family, it will just look a little different. My son will see me happy and hopefully, his dad happy, and know that we love him. If I were to stay married, I will have betrayed my spirit, and what kind of parent would I be if I modeled that for my son? My daughters?
The only failure I see in a divorce is when parents don’t put their children first. The only ‘failure’ is that they act with acrimony toward one another instead of peace and love. The only failure is our culture’s misguided ‘marriage’ to marriage as the end-all, be-all of existence. Marriage does not make a person happy. Divorce doesn’t make a person UNhappy. Some marriages should just not be, and our culture and religions hold them together like toxic glue made of guilt and shame to preserve a sense of “rightness” that is no more “right” than two people choosing to live together without a piece of paper to say ‘it’s legal’.
We need to change the way in which we view marriage and families. An appropriate beginning to this could be the release of the parochial and archaic idea that “marriage is between a man and a woman ONLY”. Oh really? Who says? God? You? Who are they to tell me that someones vow of love to each other is what broke up my marriage? What nonsense. I’ll tell them what broke it up–shame. Shame, selfishness and a change in direction. Not someone elses’ love and commitment to one another; not a lack of god or prayer.
My list for a happy union would look like this: love, acceptance, children, communication, mutual respect and autonomy. If they preached THAT from the pulpit, every marriage could be saved if the only major issue was religious beliefs. If a couple practiced these principals and the marriage was still not happy, they could continue practicing them after the dissolution of it, with the children being at the forefront.
Too much shame and guilt surrounds our views of marriage and divorce, and the only way I can see a change coming is to start there; start with the redefinition of marriage legally. Because from there, the focus can then be on what it should be: love.
repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman blog