Divorce today has become the most common psychosocial problem that assails the institution of marriage. It is the end of a dream of 'living happily ever after,' and makes a mockery of the marriage vows of staying together 'till death do us part.' Young people rush into marriage without proper planning or preparation. As Bernard Shaw said, "Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity."
Before plunging into matrimony, couples would do well to ponder over the reasons for doing so. Are they looking for security? Or perhaps escape from parental domination? Do they find age catching up and fear they may have to spend the rest of their lives alone? Or is it really love and not just lust? Pre-marital counseling would help examine their individual motives for marriage, their compatibility and their expectations. Are they fit, ready and qualified to make an unconditional commitment to another imperfect human being? Are they prepared for the emotional responsibilities of marriage?
A good marriage is built on the 'Reciprocity Principle.' Spouses have to share space, money, resources and are accountable to one another. It is a constant state of adjustment, and partners need to take pride in each other and build each other up. There is much wisdom in the Church's exhortation that marriage must not be entered into "unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly," but "reverently, discreetly, soberly and in fear of God."
We live in an age of self absorption and selfishness. People who are not ready for the practical and emotional responsibilities of marriage quickly dispute its sustainability. Lawrence Kudrek says, "Most married couples experience a gradual decline in marital quality for a four-year period after tying the knot." This is because partners see each other in their true colours, warts and all. The chemical which makes lovers irresistible to each other gradually declines.
Since 1970, divorce rates have trebled in the age groups below 30 years, within the first few years after marriage. Statistics show that 20% of all marriages end in divorce, 20% live in a hostile and violent relationships, and 20% continue in 'petrified marriages,' where couples stay together without mutual feelings of togetherness, just for convenience or security or for the sake of the children.
Howard Markham a Professor of Psychology says that in 9 out of 10 cases it is possible to predict divorce in the premarital period, when the couple is contemplating marriage. Trading insults, lack of communication, refusal to see the other's point of view, are sure signs of a doomed relationship, even though the partners profess to love each other deeply.
Another dangerous period when divorce is likely to take place is in middle age, when children have flown the nest, and time hangs heavily on one's hands. Restlessness creeps in. Each wants to follow his or her aspirations, and seeks adventure and fulfillment elsewhere.
Every marriage has the potential for divorce. Reasons range from serious to ridiculous. A famous Hollywood couple divorced because the husband was always glued to the sports channel on TV, whenever he was at home. Some men file for divorce because their wives don't serve coffee to their friends, or don't dress in the way they want them to. Basically this smacks of immaturity in the couple, who have neither the patience nor the commitment to sustain a stable relationship. "Psychological Immaturity is the key to marital failure," writes Jack Dominion, in his book 'Marital Breakups.'
Frustration due to unrealistic expectations from marriage is another common reason. Anyone expecting marriage to be a permanent state of bliss is soon disillusioned. Everyday brings its own challenges.
Couples who are forced into an arranged marriage may find that incompatibility is driving them apart.
"To be faithful is not a favour. It is a privilege you bestow on yourself." But 40% of men and 30% of women cheat on their spouses because they are dissatisfied with spousal sex. When caught, they rush to the divorce courts.
Women who discover that their partners are gay don't want to hang on in such a relationship. Many parents in a bid to hide their sons' preferences, force them into marriage with unsuspecting girls, and are even ready to bribe the girls to stay on in such marriages.
Bad habits like overindulgence in alcohol or drugs, lack of hygiene, chronic illnesses, are other reasons. Domestic violence and emotional abuse are serious issues that can rupture the marriage bond. Overdependence of one partner or extreme possessiveness also don't augur well.
Finance is an important area of conflict. About 57% of divorces are due to quarrels over money matters. Low earning capacity, extreme thrift, extravagant spending lead to much bitterness. The changed status of women who are economically independent is another factor. Such women don't want to be tied down to domesticity. Working outside the home exposes them to a larger world with many temptations. A clash of egos occurs.
In about 40% of marriages, barrenness becomes an issue, as also intolerance of in-laws. Many break-ups especially in eastern countries are due to interference by in-laws.
Long distance relationships, shift duty, travel, international business, stress, overwork and sexual burnout, are triggers that might precipitate a rift between partners.
Absence of religious constraints and declining moral standards can be also held responsible. The "Casanova Charter" is when divorce is granted to those who urgently need it. There may be no proof of infidelity or no mud slinging. The couple mutually agrees to part, but remain friendly.
Divorce is breaking up of an exclusive conventional union. It rips apart the 'one flesh' relationship. The reactions that follow are akin to a post-bereavement scenario. Shock, anger, desire for revenge, are followed by loneliness, loss of self esteem and feelings of guilt. Men call their wives 'alimony drones' who live off the bounty provided by their innocent husbands.
Many times, one parent takes revenge by preventing the other, access to the children, or influencing them adversely against the other parent. Prenuptial agreements have become common among the rich and the famous, reducing the sanctity of marriage to a corporate enterprise. There is much bitterness and mud slinging in public.
Divorce can be messy. But absence of divorce is not an indicator of a successful marriage. A rocky relationship can cause damage to the health and well being of both parents and children. But if properly managed, it need not be a disaster, and may actually bring release for the spouse who feels trapped in a loveless marriage. Both parents should try to stay involved in the lives of their children. There should be no blame game.
When parting of ways becomes a necessity, parents should use their emotional skills to see that children are not traumatized. They should be assured that they are in no way responsible for the split. Both parents should be jointly responsible for their welfare. This will prevent them from becoming cynical and distrustful of adult relationships in later life.
Divorce may not be a sin, but it can be a tragedy if improperly managed.