It is that time of the year when couples tie the knot and declare to each other that they will love, cherish and be faithful “till death do them part”. I have witnessed the joy and sincerity on people’s countenances as they exchange their marital vows. Their passionate kissing tells it all. The display of the left figure donned with a gold or diamond ring is done with a certain aura of having attained one’s dream. It is every man’s dream and every woman’s dream to be bound in a matrimonial union with a companion fit for him/her. This dream is divine; it was planted by God right at that creation moment when He declared that it is not good for a man to be alone (Gen 2:28).
The beauty of marriage is that it brings not just two individuals together; it is an act which brings two families together for indeed one marries not an individual but a clan. Marriage as an ideal is perfect and blissful. However, marriage as a lived experience is not a smooth-sailing experience. The path is strewn with thorns and thistles. That is the reality of marriage. It is full of challenges.
Marital challenges differ from family to family. While some struggle with challenges of compatibility, where two individuals come from extremely opposite backgrounds and they fail to reconcile or compromise in some areas of life, others struggle with challenges of sexual morality, especially infidelity. Still some struggle with the challenges of family interference while others struggle with biological issues like absence of the fruit of the womb.
Sadly, some couples, and indeed many of them, have separated due to marital challenges. But more saddening is the fact that society seem not to know how to handle divorce. Not just the civil society but the ecclesial (Church) society as well.
As a marriage counselor I deal on a daily basis with people who are undergoing or have undergone divorce and their experiences are heart-rending. The first experience that divorcees have to endure is that of alienation and rejection. I counseled a woman who was experiencing multiple rejection; from the man the she had stayed with for more than 5 years, from her family, from her community and from her Church. The father of her children did not want to see her, ever again. Her family did not want to see her because she had disgraced the family name. The community did not trust her because “divorcees are husband-snatchers”. At Church where she thought she will find comfort, she was judged and blamed. This kind of rejection and ostracization usually leads to a victim mentality as well as a self-blaming attitude. One ends up blaming himself or herself and taking all responsibility for the separation. In the eyes of society this woman failed because society does not care about the circumstances surrounding her divorce.
People who undergo divorce have a lot to deal with. The transition from being a married man/woman to being a single parent needs wise and compassionate accompaniment. There are a lot of adjustments to be done and in that process, one needs wise counsel and honest support. Without wise counsel and gentle support, one may make haste decisions which will later lead to regret. I have seen people reacting in an unhealthy way to divorce by quickly entering into and committing themselves in a new relationship without dealing with pain and disappointment from the previous relationship. In most, if not all, cases these people experience the same pain and disappointment, in their new relationship, that they experienced in their previous relationship.
Some have lost trust whatsoever and have stopped believing in love. These people cannot give, neither can they receive love. You can imagine an untrusting heart that is completely shut from love! These have been trapped in the pain of the past and cannot move on. They are full of anger, bitterness and even hatred. They need healing of memories so that they can recall their past experience without feeling the pain of the past. This in turn will able them to forgive and move on.
One of the very sad realities is that no one gets married to divorce. No one wants to go through divorce; it is terrible for the couples as well as for the children. Children are traumatized especially those that are too young to understand. If no one marries to divorce, should one be punished for divorcing?
It is high time that both the civil and ecclesial societies accept divorce, not as a societal ill but as a social reality. Society needs to present itself as a safe haven for divorcees and provide platforms for the rehabilitation and resocialization of those who undergo divorce. Society, through Churches and support groups out to reach out to the divorcees and listen to their stories in a non-judgmental manner.
The process recovery from divorce is made easier by compassionate family members and friends who understand what you are going through. Compassion is a gift. Compassionate family members and friends have to be able to stand by you and be able to pray with you in this difficult moment. They should not find themselves as messiahs or miracle workers but rather as friends who are with you in this journey of recovery.
It is not everyone who has this gift of compassion and sometimes it’s difficult to figure why some do not have it. You do not need a classroom to be compassion. It’s a virtue. Let’s remember that compassion manifest itself in solidarity. There is a Buddhist proverb which says “Though our skins may be of many colors, our blood runs the same hue.” The divorce can make someone feel that he/ she is the only one going through such experience of suffering, pain, fear and uncertainty. Support groups are places of solidarity to show the one going through divorce that he/ she is not alone. Genuine compassion comes only from prayerful reliance on a God who has chosen us to make healing present in this world as we embrace each other.
Support groups are very important societal component. We can define support group as a gathering of people to help each other to deal with stressful life. It’s a “little church” an ecclecisiola in Latin. Remember the words of Jesus when he said “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). We need to share our lives with one another and find God speaking to us in our experiences. Our words everyday should become bearers of God’s comfort and challenge to one another. The divorced are very important in our communities because their witness of broken lives, healed and restored by faith can be important beacon to the rest of the community of the Lords mercy. They are able to tell the world that despite the situation that they find themselves in we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to be people who go out and look for the lost sheep. We need to accommodate the divorced in our communities and treat them with a brotherly love. Like the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine and go out and search for the one which is lost. A support group has to reflect that kind of an image to the world. A support group has a serious mandate to fulfill. They have to be able to give hope in hopeless situations, provide encouragement and give support to men and women who are divorced.
In the last analyses, divorce is not the end of life but rather the beginning of a new life without your spouse. Like I said before, nobody pre-meditates divorce once they marry or get married. It’s a situation where you say “My marriage did not work out”. To those who are still holding on to their vows, take in cognizance that divorce can happen to anybody and any day. It is not meant for certain people. Married couples have to invest a lot in their marriages. Like I usually say, love is like a tree where you have to nurture it, put manure, put water and even prune it so that it can grow. Marriage is not certificate to say you have graduated to be called “Mrs so and so”. In one of my past articles I once asked “Is the Wedding or the Marriage?” We invest a lot on the wedding NOT on the marriage. Couples have to work together to make sure that they safe-guard their marriages not to invite what is cable of destroying their marriages. We better invite what can build the marriage. We are to blame for breakdown of our marriages. Instead of avoiding, we let ourselves. Never ever make a decision in a crisis. Some couples have regretted their decisions after divorcing. God cannot give you something that you cannot handle. Ask God to give you the grace to be able to handle those life challenges of marriage. And above all pray for your husband, pray for your wife. May the good Lord who has called you to marriage life be the one who brings it to completion not human power.
Tshiamo Stephen Takongwa