In this article I intend to discuss a wide range of aspects concerning divorce, including demography, the past conceptions and ways to cope nowadays. I am not a sociologist and neither a psychologist but I do indeed have great respect for demography and the so called “Holy Books” and will thus take into account these sources to develop this consideration.
Divorce, what is it?
The idea of divorce may be known to many but I do find it appropriate and necessary to state the proper definition of this term so that the further content may be fully understood. The Merriam-Webster defines divorce as: “the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage”. This explanation is clear and renders the idea of divorce in a very direct manner. In English the term divorce derives from the latin word “Divertere” which translated means to turn in different direction, to turn aside. This definition is indeed appropriate as it does emphasise a common past followed by a separation, a following of different ways. This can often happen in a mental and psychological sense, and when left uncured, can lead to a physical sense, that is, our modern idea of divorce.
Divorce, the numbers
Divorce seems to be already very common in our day. When considering the divorce-to-marriage ratio, that is the number of divorces in a country in a given year divided by the number of marriages of that same year, we notice an interesting and common fact: divorce is a strong and competing opponent in comparison to the marriages. Let us look at the numbers concerning a few countries:
according to the “marriage and divorce statistics” by Eurostat, Portugal had a ratio of 71% in 2016 (that is 71 divorces every 100 marriages for the year 2016), Belgium had a ratio of 54% in 2016, Denmark had a ratio of 56% in 2016 and so did Finland, Germany had a divorce ratio of 40% in 2016 and so did Switzerland. The Netherlands had a ratio of 53%. According to the “CDC: National marriage and divorce rate trends” the USA had a ratio of 46% in 2014. Other countries, many not economically developed like the Western countries do normally rate a little better in such a sense: according to the United Nations statistical division, Azerbaijan had a ratio of 15% in 2011 and Armenia of 17%. According to the BRICS joint statistical publication 2012, Brazil had a ratio of 17% in 2009 and South Africa as well. Why are these rates so high? Divorce is clearly caused by a number of factors but one of these may well have had a big impact on the increase. Before the 70’s this legal act wasn’t easily granted. One of the spouses had to be at fault and the other had to have a valid justification such as adultery, cruelty, physical abuse or intoxication. From the 1950s onward some states began to abolish this requirement and to legalise divorce without a valid reason for being at fault. Therefore obtaining a divorce wasn’t such a difficult task as it used to be. The website marriage.com lists a number of common reasons for divorce, many of which are known and experienced by many marriages each day. It lists infidelity, money, lack of communication, constant arguing and lack of intimacy. I will not consider these aspects in detail but it is indeed important to keep these in mind as we move on with the consideration.
Divorce seen from the Holy Books
I clearly don’t have the time to consider the content of every sacred book but will take into account the two most common as the Western and partially Eastern world are influenced by these. You might easily think that Harry Potter or Fifty shades of Grey might be the most read books, but, for a fact, it is the Bible. Writer James Chapman based himself on the number of copies that each book has been sold during the last fifty years and came to this odd conclusion. This fact may seem surprising, seeing the immoral course taken by the newer generations nowadays that greatly deviates from the christian doctrine. Certain countries have in fact turned away from religion or any affiliation. 50.1% of the Dutch population declared itself unaffiliated in the year 2015 according to Hans Schmeets, “De Religieuze kaart van Nederland, 2010-2015.” Although many stop attending Church as they have lost their hope in modern religion, they still do indeed turn to the Bible to comfort as they believe the words contained in it can give them strength at times. I will therefore begin by taking the Bible’s and the Quran’s view on divorce and then comparing it to modern and practical advice.
When on earth, Jesus Christ gave clear indications as to when a divorce could be considered a moral and legal act. At Matthew 19:9 we read his words: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (NIT). The christian message concerning couple life is thus clear: adultery, considered a sin, is the consequence of divorce outside the grounds of sexual immorality. Many translations use the word fornication as an equivalent for this sinful lifestyle. What did Jesus mean though when referring to these acceptable circumstances?
When considering certain Interlinear Bibles (a word to word translation from the language in which the text was originally written, Greek, in to English), I will refer to the “Text with Critical Apparatus Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ from Eberhard Nestle, the Greek word that appears here corresponds to “Porneia”. The pornographic world will likely come to mind and we do indeed enter into this sphere to understand better the point emphasised by Jesus. According to the King James Version New Testament Greek Lexicon, it refers to “illicit sexual intercourse” which includes different categories of relations among people that have a different social status:
adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse among unmarried individuals and relatives, bestaility, Therefore, according to the Christian viewpoint explained by Jesus himself, if infidelity is included (like the website mentioned above stated), a sexual departure from the spouse, a divorce can be legally and divinely accepted. Other grounds, such as constant arguing or lack of intimacy, would thus not be tolerated by the canon.
Is sexual immorality the only accepted ground for a divorce in the Bible?
It might not be the only one. At Malachi 2:16 we read: “For I hate divorce”, says the LORD (YHWH), the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong and violence”, says the LORD (YHWH) of hosts. “Therefore keep watch on your spirit, so that you do not deal treacherously (with your wife).” Amplified Bible
Dr. Pocock offers an interesting translation and analysis of this passage. Because of the custom of various eastern writers and of the words of Moses at Deuteronomy 22:30, the wife and feminine figure is here often compared to a garment. Malachi thus teaches us two things:
God hates and absolutely doesn’t approve of divorce (unless such is done, as stated above by Jesus, according to Scriptural grounds)
God also hates men and women who practice violence on their spouses (it is still debated today whether, according to the Bible, this is a legitimate reason to request a divorce. What is sure is that such a practice isn’t divinely approved and represents an enormous sin).
Let us now take a look from the standpoint of the Quran and compare the two.
The root of Islam is also quite explicit when it comes to explaining such matters, and although the process of dealing with a separation is indeed different from the Biblical procedure, it does share a similar idea.
At An-Nisa 34 (Quran 4:34) we read the marital arrangement ordained by Allah:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all)” - Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
We do notice a different viewpoint from that of the Bible: a man who would beat his wife would commit no sin but would act according to the will of Allah, trying to restore the relationship. The general message that enters into the mind of the reader though is evident: a man must strive to keep the marriage alive and not permit it to fade away (even to the point of resorting to sexual depravation and even light beating). All efforts are to be spent so that the marriage may blossom a second time. This concept is repeated in the same Surah in the verse 128 where we read: ”If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband´s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men´s souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do” - Abdullah Yusuf Ali. The message for all muslims is clear: marriage is explicitly stated as being the “best settlement”, the best path to follow. When fearing sexual desertion or lack of intimacy, the two should try to reach a reconciliation, for this arrangement would be best for the couple who has their marriage at stake.
The Holy Book then adds a tip of originality not expressed by the Bible at the Surah Al-Baqara verse 226:
“For those who take an oath for abstention from their wives a waiting for four months is ordained; if then they return Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful” - Abdullah Yusuf Ali. “Healing is a matter of time”, stated Greek physician Hippocrates and so does the Quran share the same idea: a waiting period of four months is to be respected to try to establish a restoration of the loving relationship or, as many translators intend it, to “cool off”.This procedure could be a valid solution for divorces caused by constant arguing: giving time to each other could help to settle the differences and restore the agreement. In our modern world today, we could say that a period of marriage counselling, when given the time and every effort to such an activity, could be beneficial for a couple.
In conclusion it might be said that the priority stated by the two writings is to honor the marriage agreement under almost all costs, spending all means of time and effort to achieve this purpose. The procedures stated vary greatly from the influencer of the Western world and that of the Eastern, but divorce is in both cases greatly discouraged and allowed only under certain grounds.
Divorce has victims
Divorce seems to cause profound consequences on children and family members. Leila Miller, who is the editor of “Primal Loss: The now-adult children of divorce speak”, interviewed adults who had to face divorce as young children. She could then visualise the effects that the separation had on these children and how they reacted going into adulthood. Here are some of the first hand comments she could list:
from a 50 year old wife and mother:
“I was devastated as a child when my dad drove away, and I will never forget standing in our front yard literally screaming, ‘Come back!’ I didn't understand what was happening, and my three-year-old sister certainly didn't understand…I would honestly say I ‘survived’ the divorce, but the fall-out wasn't pretty: Lots of acting out and ‘unsettled’ behavior. It really skewed the way I looked at guys and what I thought ‘love’ was. If marriage wasn't forever, why should anything else be?”
- Words from a 55 year old wife and mother:
“I believe [the divorce] instilled a fear of abandonment in me with regard to all of my relationships. I developed problems trusting people to be there for me, believing that when the going got rough, people would leave me. I never learned any skills for solving conflict in relationships. As much as I desperately craved intimacy and love, the closer someone came to me, the more terrified I was of getting hurt, or worse—abandoned. I unconsciously sabotaged relationships, as I didn’t know how to receive and accept real love…”
- A 50 year old woman who introduces the concept of a lost first family states:
“It hurts. But worse is your [the parents’] desire to ‘move on’ and pretend that my first family never existed and that half of me no longer exists. You take the photos of the other half of my family tree down, and you imagine I don’t notice or care. I do notice, and I do care. That’s half me; that family really did exist, and it really is important to me. Just because you want to move on doesn’t give you the right to erase half my family.”
- A 35 year old editor express the following conception:
“A parent might be able to totally start over with a new spouse, experiencing freedom from the first marriage and only minimal contact with the first spouse. For the child, however, their worlds will forever be fundamentally split. Forever. There is no starting over with a clean slate; things are now complicated and fractured. Divorce starts a family onto two different paths that, as the years unfold, grow further and further apart. It's not a one-time event, but rather an ever-changing and ever-widening gap that only the children are really tasked with straddling and reconciling, season after season, change after change.”
At the end of her research, after having completed the gathering of conceptions, opinions and views from 70 contributors who had to deal with their parents divorce as young children, Leila Miller came to the following conclusion:
“Parental divorce is never “over” for the child. Even though the pain from the divorce remains largely hidden or purposely disguised, the devastation continues, often in new and unexpected ways as the children get married and form families of their own.” The author of “Primal loss: the now-adult children of divorce speak, thus believes that divorce will have an everlasting impact, on the life of the child. Sure, the pain will become minimal and the effect will soothe with time, but not to completion, the rash won’t heal: although “disguised”, it will still be present.
Some modern research seems to agree with the viewpoint expressed above:
Author Linda Waite, who focuses her studies on social life, health and even ageing, took advantage of the “National Survey of Family and Households” to prove that divorce doesn’t have a better effect than striving to keep a marriage alive as far as the level of happiness is concerned. The families that underwent a divorce didn’t show more signs of happiness compared to those who stayed together: based on such a study, the famous fork in the road “Should we keep an unhappy marriage or simply separate?” would be answered, but the final conclusion to such a question would have to take into account a numerous amount of factors that vary from couple to couple, from individual to individual. Another interesting analysis has been published in the past years on “The Journal of Nervous and mental disease” with the title “parental divorce or death during childhood and adolescence and its association with mental health”. This study compared the effects of death of a parent and those of divorce and these may seem at first to be analogous: the victim has to deal with a loss in both cases, someone or something that can’t be restored, that happily mental state that can’t be achieved a second time because what was, now is no more. In both cases, there is the hope that the pain will eventually pass, that time will cure that big wound, that emotional emptiness. However, there is a difference: the research highlighted how recovery from the death of a parent is smoother than that of a divorce. The same level of happiness is normally found a second time in children who have lost a parent in death, while it can’t be recovered when a divorce is concerned. Again, the illness can’t be completely cured, so to speak. The causes of this difference are many and I will thus limit myself to highlight one that might be probable and valid. As far as death is concerned, the mind and heart of the living one is stable and at rest, as the person is assured that, despite everything, the person has lost his or her life. Nothing can be done to bring that person back to life and the mind thus deviates from causing feelings of worry or anxiety, feelings of guilt, as if something might be accomplished to restore the life of that one (at least, such an effect will most likely apply itself with time after the loss). With divorce the situation is different: the separation has occurred, true, but the two are alive. Although divorce has occurred, reconciliation is not impossible, the mind of the child still hopes in a restoration still after many years. The victim might feel that he could possibly do something, finding a solution to bring his parents back together: but when such a situation isn’t achieved, he or she might be overwhelmed by guilt, feeling that more effort must be put into the matter.
According to the article “parental divorce and premarital couples: commitment and other relationship characteristics” published in the “Journal of marriage and family”, a child who is a victim of divorce will have lower trust in future relationships. The child normally takes the life of his parents as the greatest example to follow and will thus be more inclined to live a life where non-durable relationships are the norm, according to the philosophy that “nothing lasts forever”. Why even bother to marry if we will divorce anyhow? A close relationship can’t last 50 years or more can it? As humans we can’t stick to only one person for our entire lives, we will just get annoyed and bored by that person’s habits and lifestyle. Some children, when grown up, might start to think this way, admitting that happiness in a marriage isn’t possible, or that it only belongs to the few gifted ones. Loyalty and integrity thus seem to be thrown in the garbage disposal to be far removed from many today. This is certainly a cause to why the divorce to marriage rates considered previously seem to be so high. When beginning a marriage, with such a thinking and lack of seriousness when establishing vows, the results are often evident. It should not come to our surprise then, that the rates, especially in the western world, seem to be so high.
Divorce also seems to have some negative influence on the health of those involved. According to a study found in the Journal of men’s health, men and women who underwent a divorce have higher mortality rates, greater tendency of depression and illness compared to married people. The study highlights how, people with a divorce behind them, are more likely to get colds cases of flu due to a weaker immune system. Higher chances of cancer and heart disease belong to such ones, changes in the weight (both a gain and a loss) are more common, heart attacks and strokes are more frequent than with married men. One last figure is quite shocking: the mortality rate of divorced men is almost 250% higher than that of married men. Women do show the same tendency in such a respect, although the numbers differ. According to Matthew Dupre of Duke university, women who experienced at least two divorces have a higher chance of heart attack of 77%! Divorce does, in some cases, produce many victims. It somehow may be compared a machine: the individuals who enter into it, do not exit it the way they went in. Their life has changed, and they have permanent marks on themselves. The situation may become better, seeming that a complete restoration of the old man and woman might occur, but that machine had a lasting impact on them anyhow.
What about the children? Are there any consequences concerning their health?
Although children seem to struggle greatly with behavioural problems in life (“the effects of divorce in America”, The heritage foundation), there also seem to be some physical variations.
Researchers from the university of Santiago de Compostela found that there are health issues in children connected to this event, but not directly:"It is not the break-up in itself that has negative effects on the children's health, but improper handling of the situation by the parents. This is indicated in the scientific literature and validated by our data," said María Dolores Seijo Martínez, a researcher at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC).
The conclusion of their study was the following: children of separated parents are twice more likely to develop genitourinary, gastrointestinal, dermatogical or neurological issues than children of married parents.
Divorce, how can you cope?
This is probably the most difficult section to discuss as opinions vary greatly: you will surely find many debated and contradicting solutions reading the web. So divorce has occurred, it unfortunately could not have been prevented, what now? Should I mourn about it all year long or should I just move on with my life just as nothing has happened? Needless to say, people are different, no one is the same, we all have different personalities. Thus, no relationship can be compared, no divorce is the same, everyone goes through it differently. I will thus refer to different suggestions deriving from people who went through a divorce themselves but, seeing that we as humans are different, keep in mind that not all will work for you. Some might and others surely won’t.
Be prepared to go through the emotions
Zina Arinze, who is now a divorce coach and who was married 12 years before the separation states: “I went through a plethora of confusing emotions, sometimes all at once. At first, I was shocked by the deep sadness I felt, especially once I had received the divorce papers from my ex-husband’s solicitors. I was incredibly unhappy during the marriage, and yet when the divorce process commenced, I went into denial mode.I was angry with myself for mourning “us” even though we hadn’t really been an “us” for many years”. Different emotions will arrive, just like waves, the flow will give you an emotion after another. Accept them as they are, don’t turn them away. To be yourself, you must recognise that you are firstly a human being: these feelings don’t belong exclusively to your personality, they belong to every man and woman. Don’t push them away, embrace them as being part of your nature.
Explain the future arrangement to your kids together
“Wherever possible I recommend trying to break the news of the divorce to your kids together.Reinforce the message that you both love your children very much and that it is not their fault the marriage is over”, says Zina. Nicki Rodriguez, who is going through a second divorce, tells us: “Never speak badly about the other parent in front of your children”. This will help the children not to look badly toward one parent and to thus take sides. It is also of vital importance that the children do not feel blamed for what was happened, or that feelings of guilt don’t overwhelm them.
Search for good company
“When I first got divorced, I spoke to my friends, and that was useful because they listened and shared numerous boxes of tissues with me when I couldn’t stop crying” says Zina. As Aristotle once wrote, we are “social animals” and must therefore socialise and search contact with others to survive and lead a psychologically healthy life. Your course doesn’t end when you divorce: you should rather view it as a new start, as spring giving life to nature, as an animal that just woke up after a long period of hibernation. Reach out, get out there and search for new friends, old ones, people you can trust. In this connection you might also want to try some new hobby or activity that isn’t associated with your previous spouse: something that can distract your mind and keep you busy during your free time.
Don’t make kids the messengers
“Never question the child on what they have heard when they have been with the other parent” says Nicki. Zina agrees: “Whatever you do, don’t use your children as homing pigeons to carry messages back and forth with each other.”
It is important for the children to stay out of any communication between the two parents. They must not believe the illusion that the marriage can be restored, that everything will return to place because, in most cases (let’s just face it), it won’t. When realising after many years that all that belief was just an illusion, they will feel even more pain than they did at the time of the divorce.
Last but not least: Hope and believe it will get better
“Be forgiving and compassionate to yourself, give yourself time to heal and don’t isolate yourself” says Zina. “It does improve over time and you will get through to the other side better and bolder.”
You and your kids must hope and believe that things will get better. You will not be completely healed from this experience, but time will take care of your wounds. It may be difficult to see the way out, but just know, it is on his way. It takes time to move on, to just focus the mind on the future and not the past, so that one’s own life can continue without the presence of the one person. Spend time with your children, if you have them, and focus yourself on some new activity, innovation or passion that can kill the time you would normally use to mourn about your failed relationship.
Children can also apply some of the counsel that is found above as they too will face similar emotions.
In conclusion it might be said that the two Sacred Books mentioned at the beginning of our discussion have proven to be very wise: prevention is better than cure! All must be done to save even a so far unhappy marriage: just remember that, with some adjustments and new attitudes, a relationship can really improve. Many social studies and experiments have proven that in many cases an unhappy marriage is better for the future and welfare of men and women. If a marriage can’t be saved and a divorce is necessary, just remember that things will improve. The wounds might still be visible, but know that time will make things easier and smoother. You are powerful and can defeat and set aside these feelings to create a new start: always hope that you can do it, and you will!