Sunday, August 23, 2009

Second Terrace: a divorce checklist

From Second Terrace:

(a somewhat odd meditation on today's Gospel reading: Matthew 19.3-12)

Sufficient (but not necessary) reasons for divorce:

  • Sexual activity outside of marriage. Adultery. It matters little whether the mechanics of intercourse are achieved. We all know what sex is without long academic discussions on the meaning of "is" or "sex." I happen to think that any sort of sexual arousal outside of marriage is unchastity, and any sort of mutual sexual arousal outside of marriage is adultery. However, I am not so sure whether the fact of arousal and other activity short of intercourse can be used by the aggrieved partner to demand a divorce. (For that matter, I am suspicious of any demand for divorce.)
  • Harm and threat to spouse and child. This includes both physical and sexual abuse. For some time in the 90's, I was a therapist of children and teens who were victims of such abuse. There are few causes for divorce that are so clear and indubitable. The much more ambiguous category of "emotional abuse" cannot be used here. I have had too many clinical experiences with one spouse or partner alleging emotional abuse, while at the same time being far guiltier of that very allegation.
  • Desertion. I think marital desertion is the worst of treachery.

If you've checked any of these, then you have a permissible reason to divorce. You do not have "necessary cause." In other words, you are not required to go through with a divorce. But you may.

I would add, however, that if there is any danger to you and especially to your children, then you should separate immediately and ensure the children's safety; and yes, you should think about divorce. I have little hope, this side of eternity, for anyone who engages once in sexual abuse, and physical abuse in a domestic environment requires nothing less than long penance.

Those are the few "permissible reasons" for divorce. There are only three. There is a gaping dichotomy between these three tragic rationales, and the lewd miasma of the divorce-cult we see around us.

Divorce is like leprosy to me. I know, or have worked with, too many children who go home to more than one house; who answer to an amorphous set of parents and step-parents, grandparents and step-grandparents and guardians ad litem and counselors (like I was); who really have no sense of hearth or tradition; who play with any one of an infinite number of permutations of siblings and step-siblings (depending on custodial arrangements and which weekend it was); who cannot "do nothing," who cannot play in the yard in the sun and shade; but who are damned overbooked in play rehearsals, dance lessons, music lessons, track teams, football teams, swim teams, cheerleading teams, T-ball, softball, baseball and soccer.

Meantime, the font and spring of childhood -- the marriage that conceived them all -- is dying of gangrene. And all this over-booking, I fear, is like a drug to hide the decay.

Did you ever think of marriage this way, as the source of childhood's happiness?

So in my lonely war against marital decay, here is a checklist of impermissible reasons for divorce.

In other words, if any of these rationales are your real complaints, then you are simply not allowed to divorce. You'll go through with it, of course. But Somewhere, Someone has already said no.

  • Boredom. Nonchalance. Lack of arousal. Lack of fun. Ennui. Lack of sex.
  • Boorishness. Inability to communicate. Silence. Distance. Incompatibility. The suspicion that the relationship would never have been approved by the robots at eHarmony.
  • Financial disaster. Financial idiocy and even irresponsibility of the spouse.
  • Ugliness. Presence of irritating habits. Flatulence, eructation, bromidrosis, apnea, socks on floor, toothpaste tube squeezed in the middle, hair in the drain, messy closet.
  • "Spiritual differential." You know what this is. You're like hovering at the third stage of spirituality, like at communion, and your lagging partner hasn't even begun purification yet. You want to live "as brother and sister," but he doesn't want to, the satyr. Or, you want to go to Athos, but she's busy reading Cosmo. You could fly so high if you weren't tethered so low.
  • The TV says so. The View says so. The Web says so. The movies say so. The Enquirer says so. The celeb's say so: look at them, they're mostly all divorced and some of them are serial divorcers. "They look okay. It didn't hurt them. The Church is wrong again. I know what's best for me."
  • Career. Listen to this insurmountable logic: "We must have two incomes. He/she has to move because of their job. I don't want to, or can't. Therefore, we must divorce. It's not our fault. We must have two incomes to afford our house and lifestyle. We can afford a divorce. We can't afford notto divorce, since we need two incomes to afford our house and lifestyle." [how can anyone argue with this sort of linguistic self-lobomotization? the "logic" is insurmountable only because it is not logical]
  • Verbal sparring. Idiotic arguments that perpetuate themselves, and the course of the fight becomes a cage you can't escape, and you know there won't be any winners, but you cannot stop (for God's sake, can't you recognize demonification here?). Conflict over even substantial issues. Irreconcilable differences. "Anything is better off than this hell we're putting ourselves through" (you know, "don't waste time feeling hurt/ we've been through hell together," as Todd says).
  • Inability or unwillingness to become an adult. Many people don't like marriage because only adults can tolerate marriage. Kids, as likeable as they are, have a hard time overcoming their feelings. "Bigger kids" -- older than 30 and much less likeable -- not only refuse to overcome their feelings: they turn them into a god, or an "orientation," or any word with the suffix "olic."

The dirty secret of marriage counseling is that a lot of it just doesn't work. And the reason why it doesn't work is because marriage counseling is not what is needed.

What is needed is faith and works. The Way of the Cross and the Receiving of Grace. What is needed is a condition of self-emptying, even starting with only one of the two partners. What is needed is for husband and wife to learn to control their own thoughts and emotions first through prayer and fasting. Their own lack of faith is played out treacherously and splayed out in the manifestations of these "impermissible rationales" – each of which bear a striking and spooky resemblance to logismoi (i.e., demonic insinuation).

I suggest that what marriages really need, in order to prevent divorce, is exorcism– but exorcism in the manner of catechism and spiritual works, of being trained to refute these horrid insinuations and to speak in the language of servanthood, charity and forgiveness.

The Lordship of Christ and Orthodox "psychic order" (i.e., kenotic self-sacrifice, and a mutual desire for peace and beauty) are what is needed. Marriage is oneness of flesh: it is a mysterious icon of Christ's union with the Church. Only an adult woman and an adult man can know each other well enough. Too many overstuffed and plasticized children with playboy bodies and mattel heads marry in sex outside the shadow of the Cross, and wonder why they cannot survive the witching hour soulish interrogation.

Without exorcism, all marriage counseling turns out to be is a business of negotiation – and negotiation, in matters of the heart, is like bean-counting on the Altar.

The reason why there is so much divorce today is not at all because there are so many real reasons for it. It is not because of the first short list. It is only because of the second list of inanities – a list, tragically, that is often translated into the language of the first.


  1. excellent post. as wife, mother and clincal social worker/life coach.

  2. Nice Checklist. I appreciate you for sharing such a useful information. The below are the specific divorce checklist for women. Hope it may add some value to the post.

    Get a Health Checkup, this is especially true for cases of infidelity or adultery

    Obtain Financial Records

    Consult with a Divorce Mediator and if needed. Hire a Lawyer

    Keep a Journal

    Limit Your Interaction

    Source: Utah Divorce

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