I recently read a missive written by a white male student attending an elite private college. During the recent unrest on his campus, spurred by the resignation of University of Missouri’s coach and the aftermath , this young man tried to find a way he could personally contribute to creating a healthier climate of acceptance of diversity (ethnic, gender, race) in his school. He explored how he could be a better “ally” to his friends who were not white males.
It led me to consider the stigma associated with divorce in Central Oregon’s homogenous culture, in which divorce is not the norm. According to a July 17, Bend Bulletin article, just over 4 in 1,000 couples in Deschutes County divorced in 2014. The total number of divorces that year was 732, in a population of over 165,000.
It’s easy to judge those who divorce, particularly for those who have never experienced divorce or those who have struggled to maintain their own marriages. We find ourselves thinking: they could have tried harder; she could have forgiven him; they were just being greedy, things weren’t that bad; they put selfish needs before the commitment they made; they were just poor communicators; they were lazy; and even they didn’t have enough faith in God.
Those in a marriage may take pride in preserving their marriage, making daily sacrifices to sustain it. They are protective of marriage as an institution; they are vested in believing in it. When they see cracks in the edifice of the foundation, they are made aware of their own marriage’s vulnerability. So often we judge others because of our own fears.
We don’t know the hows and whys of how a couple’s marriage has ended in ruins. We don’t know what went on behind their closed door. Too often we reflexively deem them “guilty!” rather than helping them through this traumatic life change. They are invariably in great distress, and are doing what they feel they need to do. No one chooses divorce lightly. There are serious and far-reaching implications for both parties, regardless of whose “choice” it was: emotional, financial, family. What may appear, on the outside, as a partner throwing away the marriage on a whim, or seeking immediate gratification, might actually be a spouse having the courage to leave an abusive or severely dysfunctional marriage.
Our culture presumes there is an inherent virtue in staying married. Yet so many in bad marriages feel the dissonance of that pressure with their feelings of disappointment, frustration, bitterness, guilt or regret. It takes grit, courage and strength to upset the status quo.
Coming up soon: How to Support Friends Going Through Divorce