22 March 2017

When Divorce Is the Only Option

Knowing only a little about this subject—that Bucer held slightly more "liberal" views than his fellow Reformers—I sought to get my head around it in order to see if my ex had sufficient grounds to initiate the divorce. 

I did not do so with the intent to present whatever I found to her; it's an obvious though unfortunate fact that reasonable discourse is not tolerated, much less heard, in situations such as this. What I wanted was to be confronted with my own sin so that I could own up more honestly and faithfully to the part I played in the dissolution of our marriage. Probably my greatest hope was that I would be vindicated (not of our relational demise, to which I no doubt contributed), at least to my own mind and before God, should I find that I was not implicated in Bucer's grounds.

In short, what I wanted to find was that while we marrieds can easily find multiple reasons to leave each other over the years, the higher road or calling was to stick with the marriage, not least in the absence of infidelity or abuse.

What I found was that I could've divorced my wife years before (unilateral abstinence, irreconcilability), and she probably also could've made the case on at least one ground to initiate when she did (irreconcilability)—because by the time she did pursue a legal divorce, the relationship had grown very toxic, indeed. Claiming the "higher road" by not initiating made me feel better, but I'm a pretty pathetic judge.

Ah, well. Life's events seldom shake out in black and white.

John Burcher, who stood in opposition to Bucer, wrote in a letter to Henry Bullinger June 8, 1550, that Bucer was more than licentious on the subject of marriage. He accused Bucer of having asserted that a divorce should be allowed for any reason, however trifling (see H. Robinson, Original Letters, vol. 2, The Parker Society, CUP, 1846,  p. 666). I could see how downstream from Bucer this could be extrapolated from what he wrote (e.g., recall Milton's spin on the subject). There's no doubt that the paradigmatic shift away from procreation being the centerpiece of a marriage in favor of mutual companionship lies upstream from no-fault divorce, just as the sacramental notion of the indissolubility of marriage has just as often led to the imprisoning of women in abusive relationships (whether physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual). There are of course other factors leading to such unfortunate circumstances (e.g., the absence of an individual woman's legal rights), but the causal relationship of the aforementioned appears obvious to me.

So, what Bucer ultimately taught me about divorce was to in principle find the path that is in your power to please God. Staying together remains that path if—and only if—your partner is willing so to do. Absent that, what's in your power to please God is to negotiate the divorce in such a way as to be able stand with your head held high before the only judge who counts in the end. It is by grace (and hopefully not delusion) I can say today that with respect to my ex and my children, I conducted myself during the entire divorce proceedings in a manner I'm not ashamed of. That is to say, I can talk about my actions and reactions both in court and at home publicly without shame.

When we're hurt, we often lash out. In such a situation as this, where emotions run high and fear takes control, we might be tempted to, for example . . .
  • Initiate a divorce on fallacious grounds.
  • Sue for sole custody of the children.
  • Seek removal of the children to another locale, far away from one of their parents.
  • Refuse to consider mediation for the sake of establishing a healthy, co-parenting relationship once the dust has settled.
  • Take conversations and/or texts out of context in order to besmirch the other's character.
  • Anonymously write the other's place of business with accusations—however close to the truth they might be (the best lies always are)—with hopes that they'd terminate employment.
  • Cling to the sole custody and removal suit until the last possible moment (say, 18 months), until it becomes obvious that it will not go favorably, thereby wreaking havoc on all finances in the process.
  • Refuse to take any responsibility for the breakdown of the marital relationship and foist all the blame on the other.
  • Steal opportunities from your children by refusing to find sustainable and gainful employment—despite being young, healthy and educated—in order to contribute something financially to the rearing of the children.
Don't succumb to these temptations. Nothing good ever comes from playing the victim.

If you're on the receiving end of such vengeance, protect yourself—legally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially. The avenger suffers from a (we hope) momentary lapse of reason. Hold on.

To be sure, I missed the mark (and continue to do so) in other, personal ways during that time, but my actions and reactions both in court and at home exhibited, I believe, a kind of grace that can only emerge in a situation where you've committed not to play the nihilist, where you're not taking an "ends justifies the means" approach to getting what you want in court, where you're constantly humanizing the other by remembering your own faults, despite the violence she's perpetrating, not least for the sake of your children and their lifelong relationship with you—and their mother.

You want a divorce predicated on irreconcilable differences? Then go get one. Just don't blame anybody else for it. And, most of all, remember that there's an entire life to live on the other side of it, and especially the children's lives, coram Deo. What you do building up to that will impact those lives deeply. Outdo each other in kindness. It's never too late to start.

And it's important to hear: You are allowed to terminate toxic relationships. You are allowed to walk away from people who hurt you. You are allowed to be angry and, for a brief time, selfish and unforgiving. You don't owe anyone an explanation for taking care of yourself.

While that selfishness and unforgiveness must pass quickly if healing is to take place, it is nevertheless part and parcel of that process early on. In my life at the time, I needed to remember that I could walk away, but that meant I could not judge my ex for doing the same, even if I abhorred it, even if I thought she'd be wrong or giving up in so doing. As I said, I'm a pretty pathetic judge, and, at any rate, I'm not her judge for walking away, not least if I had perpetrated pain and toxicity, which, to my chagrin, implicates me in Bucer's grounds, after all.

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