Reflections on the Divorce Rate

March 9, 2015 (Updated Jun 29, 2019) by — Intended Audience: , .

Series: Love Talk Film Festival, Expert Panel (2015)
  1. Reflections on the Divorce Rate
  2. Ideas for Keeping Relationships Vibrant
  3. Facing the Unfaceable: Reflections on Challenging Work
Reflections on the Divorce Rate Video

Video: 6 Minutes

One of the reasons we (in our culture) can too quickly pursue divorce is that we mistakenly believe a spouse can resolve certain internal struggles for us, which in actuality can not be resolved by one’s spouse.1 This sets up a fantasy expectation which we can end up perpetually chasing, believing that if we can just find the right person, then we will feel complete, loved, etc. Unfortunately, this dynamic often makes it harder and harder for us to see that the resolution to our pain, loneliness, etc. actually resides within ourself.

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One area we often try to resolve through our partner is places of wounding from our background. Everyone has brokenness–no one had a perfect childhood–and so wherever we are in our journey towards healing we all tend to default towards trying to get our partner to be the one to heal those places in us. We consciously and unconsciously want (and expect) our partner to be different than our parents in whatever ways our parents failed us. So if your parents were often not around you may long for a spouse who is always available. Or if your caretakers were harsh and/or silent you may long for a partner who often affirms you. The basic idea is that we tend to enter into marriage with a feeling of, “You will finally be the one who loves/accepts/treats me the ways I’ve longed for, unlike how my parents2 did not (or were not able to)!” And as much as we are putting this expectation (consciously or unconsciously) on our spouse, they are likely doing the same with us.

Another area we try to resolve through our spouse is aspects of our personality mix and/or abilities where we don’t feel gifted, strong, etc. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The degree to which we relate to our weaknesses out of shame3 instead of love influences how much we will seek out a partner whom we perceive to be strong in the ways we feel weak, in order that they can be a surrogate, a stand-in, for those parts of us (which our fantasy tells us will finally make us good enough, lovable, etc.). However, these struggles can’t be resolved in this way.4 It is only through learning to face the shame we feel about the “weak” parts of us, and embracing and owning those parts of us5 that we can start to experience peace and love there.6 And that internal work is something that no one, especially our spouse, can do for us (though thankfully it is work that others, especially a mentor or counselor, can walk with us and help us through–we don’t have to do this work alone!).

Regardless of what we’re trying to resolve, the implicit fantasy that one’s partner is the answer, in conjunction with divorce being more logistically and culturally possible, can incline us to side-step doing the hard work we need to do within ourselves because we are stuck believing the “answer” is perpetually outside of us. Thus it seems likely to me that these patterns are a contributing factor in the current divorce rate.

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The above video, along with the other videos in this series, are from the 2015 Love Talk Film Festival Expert Panel, of which I was a participant. You can watch the panel discussion in its entirety (~55 minutes) on YouTube.

The following is a short segment (~3 minutes) by fellow panelist, Aaron Bacue, M.A., ABD, a communications instructor at James Madison University, where he builds off of some of what I shared in the above video. Aaron touches on:

  • The high expectations we tend to place on marriage.
  • The reality that relationships change over time, and have to adapt to changes in life circumstances.
  • The tendency to focus exclusively (or primarily) on getting married, without giving much attention to what it will feel like to be married.

Aaron’s points highlight the importance (and benefit) of good premarritial counseling, and in particular counseling which helps both parties begin to grapple with themselves, as well as with their relationship. Many of the ways relationships struggle are rooted in the individual dynamics that each person brings into the relationship (and then how each person’s struggles interplay with their partner’s).7

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  1. I realize that there are many and complex reasons that couples divorce. My goal in this post (and video) is to speak to some common themes and dynamics in our culture. But even when these dynamics are present there very well can be additional factors at play. For example, toxic patterns such as abuse are an additional layer, that while very important (and worthwhile topics), are beyond the scope of this post and video. 
  2. and/or other significant caregivers growing up 
  3. i.e., a feeling that we are bad, worthless, etc. 
  4. And this pattern can also create some potentially toxic dynamics with one’s spouse, especially if they are playing out the same pattern with us, which they likely are. 
  5. e.g., that there are things we are not good at, and that is okay 
  6. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12 where he talks about how the parts that are considered worthless are actually precious. He is using the metaphor of the human body to address how we can devalue those in our community, but I think the principles apply just as well to our “inner community”, to how we relate with different parts of ourselves. 
  7. As a side note regarding an example Aaron gives about a couple disagreeing about how to discipline children: It is never good to shame children. As I talk about in other blog posts, shame is an ineffective (and horrible) way to try to bring about change in another person (or oneself). 
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