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A second chance?

It is written in the Talmud that when spouses divorce, the altar in the Temple drips with tears. However, it is not only God who deplores broken families. Research confirms that divorce always leaves deep and lasting trauma in the psyche of husband and wife, and, above all, it breaks the lives of their children…

A second chance?

It is not that God wanted to complicate our lives and therefore He forbade divorce. Rather, it is that God has planned for us happiness in marital unity, and that divorce is the tearing apart of “one body” composed of husband and wife. No wonder that wounds after such a tear hurt for life. Two Ameri- can women,Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, conducted an extensive study among divorced couplesand their children. They wanted to know how such people go through life and how they take advantage of a second chance, so the study included people who had experienced divorce ten years earlier. They expected that time had healed wounds, and that people had new lives and new problems and joys. However, it turned out that it was not so optimistic. The mental wounds were so deep that many even refused to be interviewed or to fill in questionnaires. Given this state of affairs, the American researchers extended the time that had elapsed since the respondents’ divorce to twenty-five years. And what happened? Their book Second Chances (2004) begins with a statement made by a thirty-oneyear- old man who was six when his parents divorced: “If I started thinking about it, I would probably be thinking non-stop. I would prob- ably not be able to think of anything else. Therefore, I do not think about it at all.” (p. 9).

Divorce is the tearing apart of “one body” composed of husband and wife

Wallerstein and Blakeslee state: “As late as the eighties in the twentieth century, we lived with the comfortable illusion that divorce is only a temporary crisis, that kids will always adapt and after a year or two at most, every member of a divorced family will calm down and life will continue on. We thought that since divorce is only a certain change, therefore mother, father and children will definitely come out of the crisis and will begin a new and better life – adults will not repeat previous mistakes, and children also will be better off when at least one of the parents will be happier. Our research has shattered this optimistic belief. Women, men and children whom we spoke to, continued to suffer deeply due to the divorce, even ten and fifteen years later. […] However, our saddest discoveries were related to the children. Although they were trying to cope with the experience of their parents’ divorce, they all retained vivid memories of those events. The children we studied had never forgotten the day when one of their parents left home, they also remembered the feeling that accompanied the event, one as if the end of the world had come.” Based on the research, the authors warn that “very few adults can predict what their life will be like after divorce, although it is mostly more difficult and more complicated than we could imagine. […] However, people who are getting divorced are convinced that they will overcome their own misery. Nevertheless they face such experiences that they have never had before and which are difficult for them to understand.” Many cannot cope with the inner tearing apart, but the worst fate befalls the children. “For a family where there are children, divorce is incomparable to anything else. In some respects it is nearest to the death or loss of a beloved person.” The authors emphasise: “In most emergencies, such as an earthquake, flood or fire, parents instinctively save their children and try to move them to a safe place. During the divorce, mothers and fathers turn away from them, and are primarily concerned with their own problems.”

“Very few adults can predict what their life will be like after divorce, although it is mostly more difficult and more complicated than we could imagine”

These findings have dispelled a number of myths associated with divorce. Often parents seeking to divorce argue that when they are happyin a new relationship, they will give happiness to their child from the first relationship. Wallerstein emphatically states: “Unfortunately, it does not agree with my experience. It is true that it is difficult for an unhappy adult to be a good parent — a sense of his own misery may in fact weaken his or her concern for children and the ability to understand their needs. But this does not mean that a happy or happier adult will surely become a good parent. This attractive theory does not fit the actual relationship between children and parents.” And she continues to share with the reader an extremely important observation that parents “may not agree on how to solve the problems, but generally they agree that the problems exist.However, children can be happy even if the marriage does not give happiness to one or both parents.” As you can see, if parents were concerned with the happiness of their children more than their own, they would certainly find a solution to their problems, and solving marital problems, they would find the happiness which they desire. Happiness lies in the fact that we live in harmony with our own nature and in harmony with God who gave us that nature. If God has joined together a man and a woman in an indissoluble marriage, any relationship outside marriage can only give temporary joy and pleasure, and the illusion of happiness, but in reality they lead to eternal death. The Lord Jesus explained this in a very simple way: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11–12). In Luke’s Gospel, these words are even more radical: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18). Anyone means anyone, without exception.

“The best thing a father can give his children is a lifelong, faithful and pure love for their mother.” (Jacek Pulikowski)

And because we know that adultery is a mortal sin, we should understand that it cannot bring true happiness. King Solomon also spoke about this: “For the lips of a loose woman drip honey […], but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.” (Prov. 5:3–5).

One cannot hide this fact: God is right to warn us against adultery and divorce. That is why Wallerstein and Blakeslee, although they are far from Catholic teaching, having completed a thorough investigation, state: “Children are losing something fundamental for their proper development — the family structure. It is the scaffolding upon which children climb to the next level of development, from infancy to adulthood.” It would be great if they could quote at this point a well-known statement by Jacek Pulikowski: “The best thing a father can give his children is a lifelong, faithful and pure love for their mother.” Wallerstein, based on years of research, says the same thing, but in a different way: “Divorce is the worst harm that you can inflict on your child.”

“The best thing a father can give his children is a lifelong, faithful and pure love for their mother.” (Jacek Pulikowski)

Yet parents divorce, ignoring their children. The authors of Second Chances unanimously emphasise: “Children of all ages experience a strong sense of rejection when their parents are divorcing. […] Children are angry at their parents for breaking the unwritten rules of parenting, according to which it is the parents who should make sacrifices for children, and not expect this from them. […] Angeris accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. Children feel that they are not listened to, that there is no way they can affect such a significant event in their lives.”

If parents were concerned with the well-being of the children, they would try to avoid divorce at all costs. “The children of divorce often experience a persistent, poignant feeling that the disintegration of their family is not final, that maybe it is even possible to fix things”, the authors of the book remark. “Perhaps what most helps children sustain the hope of parents’ reconciliation is their overwhelming need to think about mother and father as affectionate for each other and inseparable. […] Children do not treat divorce as a second chance. They feel that they lose their childhood forever. Divorce is the price that they pay.”

Children desperately cry out to parents: “be united!” Jesussays: “What God has joined together,let not man put asunder”. The prophet Malachi declares: “For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Mal 2:16). St Paul writes unequivocally: “To the married I give this command — not I but the Lord — that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10–11). What else do we need to hear or see to be convinced that divorce is not the solution to the problem?


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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