A friend of mine recently e-mailed me an article written by a clergyman, in which he discusses the idea of irreconcilable differences. It was a revelation to me, and got me thinking about the way marriage is going in our country these days: Downhill.
Before we begin, let me just say that there certainly are circumstances in which a divorce is permitted in the minds of even the staunchest Christian. No one believes that you must stay together when your spouse has committed adultery, and if you have been abandoned without word for years, this also qualifies as a reason to be divorced. I personally also adhere to the belief that when one spouse becomes abusive physically, this is a deal breaker. However, in the first case, that of adultery, I have worked with many couples who can repair their marriages through counseling and spiritual work, and this is a good thing, since divorce really is a horrible thing, most notably on the spiritual level.
The premise that was set forth in the article was this: Men and women by nature, are created to have irreconcilable differences. They are made to complement one another, to join together in a mystical union. If we look at the book of Ephesians, this mystery of union is compared to the joining of the human and Divine natures of Christ. Those two natures simply cannot be joined together, since they are qualitatively different. And yet, it happens: A mystery. This is the highest view of marriage possible, and one which obviously has pretty much disappeared in our self-absorbed society. So, while this view has obtained for thousands of years, it is suddenly non-functional. Let’s look at why this might be.
What is the Purpose of the Family?
No one can doubt that the family is the basic unit, the fundamental organism of society. Without stable families, a situation unknown until our present times, society will begin to come apart. Without stable families, people become mere individuals, living for themselves, unable to invest in others, unable to sacrifice for others. We see this process happening all over our society, and few have understood that this situation is an entirely new societal formation. Families are no longer required in order to have children. Families are no longer stable multi-generational groups who live in love and care. All is fragmented, broken, disjointed. Of course, there are millions who still adhere to the old ways, but over time, the preponderance of those prizing the individual over the family will tip the balance, and families will go the way of the horse and buggy. Replacing them will be various assortments of people living together with little or no commitment to the family’s health. Of course, all will suffer, but especially the children. We can already see this happening right now.
Myths about Marriage
In order for this breakdown of the family to occur, it is necessary for alternate theories to dominate the national psyche. While families were relatively stable until the Twentieth century, when divorce laws began liberalizing across the western world, there is at present very little non-spiritual incentive to stay together. Even though researchers have demonstrated that children of divorce have trouble in their own marital (or non-marital) relationships, this fact has done little to stem the tide of divorces. Why?
There are many myths which swirl about in the ether, and they are both powerful and seductive. Some of them are:
- I have a right to be happy in my marriage. If I’m not happy, I can pull the plug and move on to someone who makes me happy.
- I need to find my soulmate. My current spouse is not on the same wavelength as I.
- My spouse and I are as different as oil and water. We are just different people, and we need to find new spouses have similar interests.
- I don’t love my spouse any more. There is someone else whom I feel attracted to, and I want to love that new person.
You’ve all heard these arguments for divorce, and over them all, like a banner are the words: Irreconcilable differences. Yes, you and your spouse do have irreconcilable differences, because that is the essence of marriage. That is the basis for the sacrifice you are called to make in forming a family made up of those who have different wills than our own. Bridezillas aside, we don’t always get our own way when we marry. It may be necessary to submit our will to that of another: a spiritual exercise of the highest order.
The ideas that there is someone else “better” for us out there is a temptation to be resisted at all costs. We have chosen our spouse, and failing the major impediments to marriage mentioned above, our job is to find a way to live joyfully within those boundaries. It is certain that no children desire their parents divorce, unless there is criminal behavior, such as assault, being demonstrated in the home. Is there drunkenness or other substance abuse? This is another spiritual matter that needs fixing, and it may promote the need to separate until it is dealt with.
But, since men and women are different qualitatively, it is ludicrous to bemoan that fact, and cite it as grounds for divorce. It is actually grounds for marriage! The desire to join together in union with another soul different from our own is the basis for marriage, and the programme is this: I will spend my life serving this person, and will be faithful to the other until death. It is a serious vow one makes, and finding it difficult is no cause for release from it. Temptation to do so is all around us, but if it is recognized as such, we can fight against it.
The only other thoughts which this idea of the “rightness” of irreconcilable differences brought to my mind was this: If these differences are the essence of marriage, according to God, what does this say about those who try to bypass these difficulties by marrying another person who is very similar? I am referring, of course, to gay marriages.
The idea of marrying someone alike short circuits most of the inherent struggles faced by those following the mystical plan of marriage instituted by God. These couples can never know the fullness of the mystery of union between a man and a woman, and the homosexuals’ decision to call what they do “marriage” does not present a comparable struggle. Can I unite myself to another whose very being is mysterious to me? Can I take a chance and see if love can flow from this union, if children will be sent us through this mystical union? This is the dignity and grace of marriage as instituted by God, and no other arrangement contrived by man can compare.