After Divorce, Have Compassion
Marriage is not easy, and sometimes it simply fails. Tshiamo Stephen Takongwa, a marriage counsellor, argues that Church and society should be compassionate towards divorcees, helping them to heal.
Summer! It’s that time of the year when couples tie the knot and declare to one another that they will love, cherish and be faithful, “till death do them part”.
I have witnessed the joy and sincerity on people’s faces as they exchange their marital vows. Their passionate kisses tell it all.
The display of the left finger with a gold or diamond ring is done with a certain aura of having attained one’s dream. It is most men’s and most women’s dream to be bound in a matrimonial union with a companion fit for them. 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 not just that it brings together two individuals; it is an act which brings two families together, for one marries not just an individual but a clan.
As an ideal, marriage is perfect and blissful. However, marriage as a lived experience is not a smooth journey. 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—perhaps in temperament or when two individuals come from very different social or cultural backgrounds and cannot reconcile or compromise in some areas of life.
Others struggle with challenges of sexual morality, especially infidelity, or financial shortfalls. Some have to contend with the challenges of family interference while others suffer biological issues such as a difficulty or inability to conceive new life.
Sadly, many couples separate due to these and other marital challenges. But more saddening is the fact that society seems not to know how to handle divorce—nor does the Church.
Divorced from society
As a marriage counsellor 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 those who divorce have to endure is that of alienation and rejection. I counselled a woman who was experiencing multiple rejection: from the man whom she had stayed with for more than five 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 by having a divorce. The community did not trust her because, supposedly, “divorcees are husband-snatchers”.
And at church, where she thought she would find comfort, she was judged and blamed.
This kind of rejection and ostracisation usually leads to a victim mentality with a self-blaming attitude, even 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 or woman to being a single parent needs wise and compassionate accompaniment.
There are a lot of adjustments to be made and in that process, one needs wise counsel and honest support.
Without such wise counsel and gentle support, one might make hasty 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 the 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 which they experienced in their previous relationship.
Some have lost trust altogether and have stopped believing in love. These people cannot give, neither can they receive love. You can imagine the state of an untrusting heart that is completely shut from love!
These people are 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.
A social reality
No one gets married with a view to divorce. No one really wants to go through divorce; it is terrible for the couples as well as for the children. Children are traumatised, especially those who are too young to understand. If no one marries to divorce, should one be punished for divorcing?
Of course, the Church has teachings against divorce (though, since it does not acknowledge the validity of civil divorce, these teachings refer more specifically to remarriage while the first spouse is still alive).
Nevertheless, these teachings present no obstacle to being compassionate towards those who have not been able to live up to these teachings.
it is high time that both the civil and ecclesial societies accept divorce as a social reality.
Society needs to present itself as a safe haven for the divorced and provide platforms for the rehabilitation and resocialisation of those who undergo divorce.
Society, through churches and support groups, ought to reach out to them and listen to their stories, in a non-judgmental manner.
The process of 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 needn’t be messiahs or miracle workers but rather 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.
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.
A Buddhist proverb says: “Though our skins may be of many colours, our blood runs the same hue.”
Support groups are very important societal components. We can define support groups as gatherings of people who come together to help each other to deal with the stresses of life. It’s a “little church”, an ecclecisiola in Latin.
In forming such groups, 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).
Witness of the divorced
We need to share our lives with one another and find God speaking to us in our experiences. Our words every day should become bearers of God’s comfort and challenge to one another.
The divorced are very important in our communities. Their witness of broken lives that are healed and restored by faith can be beacons of the Lord’s mercy to the rest of the community.
If they find healing, those who went through divorce are able to communicate that, despite the difficult situation in which one be, we are still brothers and sisters in Christ.
As Christians, 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 99 and goes out and search for the one which is lost.
A support group has to reflect that kind of an image to the world. It has a serious mandate to fulfil: to give hope in hopeless situations, provide encouragement and give support to men and women who are divorced.
Divorce is not the end of life but rather the beginning of a new life. As I said before, nobody pre-meditates divorce when they get married. It’s a situation where you say “My marriage did not work out.”
Keeping marriage alive
Ideally, it shouldn’t come to this, even if some marriages simply were not meant to be.
Married couples have to invest a lot in their marriages. Love is like a tree which you have to nurture—with water and manure, and even pruning, so that it can grow.
We invest a lot on the wedding, but sometimes not enough on the marriage. Couples have to work together to make sure that they safe-guard their marriage, and not invite what can destroy it.
Here is my good piece of advice: Never make a decision in a crisis! Some couples have regretted their decisions after divorcing.
As Christians, we should always bear in mind that God won’t give us anything that we cannot handle.
Ask God to give you the grace to be able to handle the life-challenges of marriage. And above all pray for your husband, pray for your wife.
May the good Lord who has called you to the vocation of married life be the one who brings it to completion.