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Who Has a Stake in Your Marriage?

Al and Tipper Gore wedding photoImage via Wikipedia

Al and Tipper Gore are calling it quits after forty years, and journalists and pundits are taking the opportunity to all write fluff pieces about divorce.

In one New York Times article, Deirdre Baer, an "expert" in late life divorces, says:

Divorce is easier now. Our retirement years are longer and healthier. Both men and women often have enough money to make changes. And the stigma of divorce has long since faded. A century ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it a “social earthquake.” But several decades later, Margaret Mead thought every woman needed three husbands: one for youthful sex, one for security while raising children and one for joyful companionship in old age. In the 21st century, Margaret Drabble, the British novelist, calls life after divorce “the third age.” The heroine of her novel “The Seven Sisters” says, “Our dependents have died or matured. For good and ill, we are free.”

So let us not feel shocked or sad about the end of Al and Tipper Gore’s marriage. Let us instead wish them well, and hope that they might enjoy their third age, individually and in peace.

You can read the rest here.

Forget for a minute about whether or not what she's saying is true--that people can benefit from late life divorce. What shocks me when I read this is that people think that divorce is a "victimless crime", so to speak. You do it because you need to. You have no choice. You need your freedom, or your happiness, or your control. And somehow we should all applaud you for your self-actualization.

What about the spouse who is left reeling? What about the fact that you broke a sacred promise? Does that not matter?

Or let's assume that a divorce is mutually agreed upon. Even so, does that make it all right? What about the children and the grandchildren of this couple? Do they not have a stake in that marriage? Any divorce is devastating, and it's especially hard for the offspring, even if they're adults, and yet somehow we're all expected just to be happy for the couple who's splitting, because at least they're doing "what's best for them". I've never heard of anything so selfish.

But let's assume that this couple doesn't have any kids. They're in their sixties, they both want to leave, and there's no children to feel badly for. Is it okay then?

I would still say that this divorce is something to mourn, because society itself has a stake in the marriage. The institution of marriage teaches selflessness. It teaches compromise, and commitment, and it forces people to step outside of their own personal wants and consider others. It makes us better people, and society benefits when people learn to think of others.

It also keeps people from fooling around. When sex is by and large confined to marriage relationships, then these people aren't having one night stands, spreading disease, breaking hearts, having affairs with married people, or using others. I have known couples who have divorced where one has headed to the bar almost immediately, and over the next few months has slept with a string of new partners. That's not good for anybody, and it's in society's best interests to steer us towards one partner for life. Everything is more stable, there's less heartache, and less dysfunction at home.

And marriage teaches the value of working hard for something and sticking it out. If we bail when things get tough, then what does society learn? There is no benefit to working at something that is difficult. We should always do what is best for us.

Imagine a society where everybody operates that way. Imagine what the world would be like when people did not take commitments or responsibilities seriously. Imagine what the work world would be like, or the church, or families. Marriage calms society down and steers people towards responsibility. Each divorce, on the other hand, is the death of a small civilization. Many divorces lead to the ultimate death of a large civilization.

When people divorce, I mourn. All of us have lost something. Sometimes divorce is the best thing in different circumstances, but it should never be something to applaud. We should always feel remorse for what could have been, should have been. If we fail to feel that remorse, then we've given up on the cornerstones of what makes society function.

For decades our society has been sputtering along on fumes--we have no gas in the car anymore to make us be good parents, be responsible spouses, honour our commitments, pursue right rather than fun. We have lost the worldview--Christianity--that used to keep us rooted. But we have enough of the cultural leftovers of that Christianity that at least we tend to agree on certain things: people shouldn't sleep around on their spouses; kids do best with two parents; people should honour their commitments.

It won't be long before those fumes die off, and our society gives up those values that it once had simply because of Christianity. And articles like this one, applauding late life divorces as if no one else is affected, are hurrying up that trend.

I hope you will stand with me, and the next time you hear that someone is splitting up, you will express your regret. Let us never take joy in the end of something which is so important. Let us instead pursue what is good in the world--and that includes protecting and strengthening the institution of marriage, starting with our own.


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At 9:39 AM , Blogger Megan said…

I read the quoted article when you shared it on facebook, and have been thinking about it since then -- especially the Margaret Mead quote. I think in a sense that she's right. But figuratively, not literally. We do need three husbands, but they should all be the same man maturing with us into each new stage of life. I think when a man (or woman) leaves a marriage because the spouse doesn't "fit" this stage of life, it represents a denial that you are in fact entering a new stage.

I agree 100% that divorce is always a cause for regret, even if the marriage was abusive and there is also reason to celebrate. It is the death of hope and a dream. A dream that is worth fighting for.


At 10:51 AM , Blogger WWAHHMpreneur said…

@Megan -- so well said, the three husbands we should have are the same man maturing right alongside us as we also mature.

You have both said it so well.
All I can say now is:
Thank you for speaking up.


At 10:57 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Reading this sortof solidified in my mind why I felt such sadness when I heard this story on the radio.

It is because society has a stake in marriage as an institution, and with every increase in the demise of marriage, we all lose swomething.

Thanks for speling it out for us.


At 11:35 AM , Blogger Ellen said…

great comments ladies! It's kind of ironic the fact that in this day and age divorce is no big deal, almost common, and yet what makes the headlines? If it's no big deal, how come it sells papers and magazines? Are people looking for excuses that if 'they' (the rich and famous) can't do it, than we shouldn't be expected to make it either? I agree that it's very sad - even more-so when it's a couple that has made it so far!


At 2:22 PM , Blogger Kimberley Woodhouse said…

Well said! Thank you for sharing this post. We all need to speak up.


At 2:37 PM , Blogger Lynn said…

Hi Sheila,

Well said indeed and spot on. Think I will add this article to my FB page. Thank you.


At 3:55 PM , Blogger Jamie said…

Great post. As one who has been there on several sides, I was nodding all the way through.


At 10:37 AM , Anonymous Funkidivagirl said…

Great post and I agree with everyone's comments. Divorce is always a tradegy for the family, extended family, friends and society at large.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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