Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Divorce Is the Best Option

[I need to emphasize right at the beginning of this post that what I am about to say is subject to being over-ridden by personal revelation and is not meant to be conclusive in every situation - even though I am going to write in more absolute terms than normal for this blog.] 

Encouraging divorce is a difficult subject, especially in a society where "irreconcilable differences" is used as a common justification and means, in many cases, nothing more than "we stopped trying and drifted apart". Active, systematic abuse, however, adds an element that changes the entire discussion, in my opinion - even (and, I believe, especially) in the case of temple sealings.

The tendency to stay in a "less abusive" relationship that truly still is patently abusive because "he wants to change" and "I still love her" (or "for the kids") is a bad tendency, as bluntly as I can put it. To me, "desire" doesn't cut it in cases where abuse has been a real and serious problem. In those cases, actions and actions alone are key. He can say he's trying to change until he's blue in the face; what matters is if he actually is changing. If she still is extremely emotionally abusive and/or physically/sexually abusive over an extended period of time, she's not changing enough to warrant staying together.

As an example, albeit in a situation where marital divorce wasn't the issue, I once counseled a family in which some adult children were living with their elderly mother. All were emotionally and verbally abused by their father/husband before he died. It was a terrible situation, and I told them in no uncertain terms that they needed at least to consider the option of splitting up and healing individually before trying to live together again. Frankly, I didn't think they would be able to heal while they were together - and that feeling was most intense while I was praying about them and their situation. There just was too much accumulated baggage at the time when they were interacting with each other - baggage that exacerbated or perhaps even created real emotional disabilities. Counseling was needed desperately, but even that was compounded by the years of learned and assimilated behavior triggered by their constant proximity.

Again, this is a difficult topic to address adequately, especially in our current culture of general permissiveness and lack of accountability, but I believe it is important to be able to allow for those situations where divorce really is the best option. 

8 comments:

E said...

I'll go further and say that anyone who stays in an abusive situation, especially if there are children in the family, needs to repent. It is wrong wrong wrong to permit abuse, and staying with an abuser enables it.

SilverRain said...

Telling someone in the middle of an abusive situation that they need to repent is the exact opposite advice they need. They know they need to repent. In fact, they know they need to repent so much, so deeply, and so personally, that they doubt their ability to do it.

And calling them "enablers" and using words like "permit" to describe what a victim does just betrays your ignorance on the subject of abuse.

And I don't usually speak that strongly, either, but it is partially people who say those kinds of things who create a world where abused women don't believe they can get out.

And thanks for your post, Ray. I think that the ability to allow for something without condoning ALL of it is a subtlety that is beyond most people, not only with abuse, but with everything.

As a people, we have lost our ability to make moral judgments.

michelle said...

I absolutely know that there are situations where divorce is the right option, but I'd stop short of actually being the one to recommend divorce. I was struck years ago by Elder Oaks counseling bishops to never counsel someone to divorce. The decision needs to be made by the individual, because the consequences will also have to be endured by the individual.

I also disagree with E. I think it's possible for someone in a bad situation to feel inspired to stay. Staying does not necessarily equal permitting abuse, and while I'd be the first to support someone who feels impressed that they should get out of an abusive situation, I've also seen situations where I think staying was indeed the right thing to do...even as the process of changing and healing can take some time.

Papa D said...

E, I agree with SilverRain totally about telling someone in an abusive situation that they need to repent is the wrong approach. They need love and support, not anything that even hints at criticism or condemnation. To "repent" means nothing more than to "change", at the most core level (so, in that sense, your comment about repentance can be read as totally valid), but we can't apply even appear to assign blame or any degree of condescension in situations like abusive environments to the person being abused. It can be a fine line, but it's a line I believe we absolutely MUST try to walk.

michelle, I agree - and that's why I added my note at the beginning of the post. Ultimately, this type of decision simply must be made by the individual.

Gwennaƫlle said...

E, I can tell you feel strongly about this subject :)

I did not feel like commenting about the subject because I also feel very strongly about the subject of abuse to the point that I am aware this is partly what is holding me back in the process of getting married.
Abuse is the the most perverse form of violence.

jen said...

I really appreciate this post. I think that every person has to find their own way through life, and I really appreciated those who gave me the freedom to decide what was best for me.

In my situation, divorce was eventually the best option. Some thought I stayed too long. Most thought I should have worked it out. I've come to accept it was MY path and my journey and it was perfect for me.

Anonymous said...

If it is true that spouses should leave an abusive spouse then that would mean that God would want most all couples in the Church to divorce today. Do we really think that would create a better world, to have everyone divorce?

For in almost every marriage in and out of the Church, one or both spouses are abusing the other in some form or degree and often don't even know it. People who are abusive rarely realize they are and are rarely willing to repent. There are many forms and degrees of abuse and ways a person can be abusive.

Abusive tendencies are passed down in almost every single family on earth, even in the Church. Many types of abuse are seen as normal or justified or even righteous, especially in the Church.

To tell a spouse with dependent children to leave an abusive spouse, when our current laws will most likely give the abusive spouse unsupervised visitation and sometimes full custody, is to put the children at even greater risk for more abuse. For often the good spouse is protecting those children by staying in the home 24/7.

So until there are better laws and enforcement that will guarantee protection and long term financial support to abused spouses and their children, (which doesn't seem likely for a long time) often it is best to stay with a spouse who is abusive, if to just protect the children from having to be alone with an abusive parent.

For what kind of parent would leave a child behind in danger, even part time, while running to safety themselves?

For in most cases of divorce with children, it seems that the abusive spouse gets at least some custody or visitation.

Also, even if an abused spouse didn't have children and needed to divorce for safety reasons, that does not mean that Heavenly Father allows them to break their sacred marriage covenants to their abusive spouse and date and remarry someone else.

For Heavenly Father and Christ do not consider divorce a dissolution of the marriage, they are still husband and wife, just separated by legal means.

Also, HF knew that most all marriages, even in the Church, would have to deal with abuse by one or both spouses. And thus he commanded the spouses to have unconditional love for each other and to love and serve and stay completely true and faithful to each other their whole life, if even from a safe distance if needed, until that other spouse repented, even if it's not until the next life, when everyone will have to finally repent.

Thus, though Christ recognized that divorce for legal and safety reasons may be needed in rare cases, Christ taught that the divorce couple are still really married and thus should not seek remarriage for that would then be adultery.

Christ's laws on marriage and divorce and remarriage still stand today, though very few really believe in or live by them anymore, even in the Church.

Thus adultery by divorce and remarriage is rampant and accepted today.

Christ's command to have unconditional love and commitment for a spouse is rarely believed in, let alone practiced today, even in the Church, where most everyone believes in and supports divorce and remarriage and refuses to see it as adultery.

But truly righteous men and women prove themselves by how they still believe in and live Christ high laws, especially regarding marriage, despite that almost everyone around them believes and does the opposite.

The ancient Prophets prophesied of our day and how all the members of the latter day church, except a few, would become corrupted by abominations and wickedness, while still believing themselves to be righteous.

The support of remarriage after divorce, by most all members and leaders of the Church, is just one of the many things that everyone has been deceived to fall for today.

Papa D said...

"Sunlight" (the last anonymous commenter), We disagree totally as to whether or not divorce is ever acceptable - as well as the way you are defining abuse compared to how I used it. You seem to be saying divorce should not be allowed in any case whatsoever, including extreme abuse of every imaginable type. You also appear to condemn all remarriages that follow divorce for any reason.

I disagree totally with that, even as I do not support divorce as anything but a "last resort".

Now, on an administrative note:

I'm telling you upfront that I will delete any comments you make on my blog that are not focused on the points I make in my posts. This one is on point, so I am not deleting it. If you threadjack my blog like you are threadjacking FMH right now, I simply will delete your comments. If your comments are on point, I will let them stand as written - and I will respond to any points you make that are more than just the same statement over and over and over again.