This is part 3 in a multi-part series that starts here.
When I imagine divorce I see in my mind a common person balancing in the center of tightrope. They balance precariously, looking from one platform to the other, wondering which journey to make, the one towards marriage, or the one towards divorce. It is safe to assume that both routes carry risk and associated dangers and now that I think about it, neither platform is really, truly "in sight". There is a haze masking them from view.
It takes great determination for this person to stay still and maintain balance in the middle of the rope, let alone move in a direction. So there they stay, legs wobbling, airplane-arms outstretched, physically and mentally paralyzed.
How does a person in such a predicament move in any direction, let alone the one towards marriage? By process of elimination. A judgement call must be made here. One of these two paths must be the better, and therefore the other must be the worse.
If you want to save your marriage you must first believe something very unpopular and counter-cultural about divorce.
3. Believe That Divorce Is Worse
Marriages die. They don't dissolve or evaporate or otherwise disappear without a trace. They die and they leave their rotting, stinking carcass for all to see. We try to mitigate the smell with aerosol cans full of sympathetic eyes and listening ears and affirming nods but the stains are still there, plain as day, long after the haze of benign advice has evaporated without leaving streaks.
One of the noteworthy things about death is that loved ones closest to the deceased are changed forever. If you are a child of divorce, or if you are married to one, then you know this is true. There will be fallout and it will ricochet through lives like a pinball thrust down a chute and slammed mercilessly around a machine.
Again I refer to C.S. Lewis:
Christianity teaches that marriage is for life. There is, of course, a difference here between different Churches ... [but] they all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment. What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else.
I think most married couples fool themselves in the end. They "legally separate" and find a comfortable routine with less fighting and more harmony. First they think to themselves, "This isn't so bad." And that leads to, "It will probably look like this after the divorce, too." Those thoughts are reenforced with "Surely this is better than the hurtful words and fighting and tears before we separated!"
The fallacy here, I believe, is ignoring the reality that when you divorce you trade in one set of problems for another, while still retaining key behaviors that contributed to the divorce in the first place. And lets be realistic here, you really are gambling about which set of problems are worse. It is easy and foolish to assume that problems will be removed and that is all. It takes almost no effort to overlook the reality that divorce is not a removal at all, but actually, an exchange. In fact, divorce is a life-long trade made with insufficient information during a period of mental exhaustion and emotional duress.
How on Earth can a wise decision be made during, or immediately following, a period of such magnificent handicap?
I have watched men and women, whom I love, sprint towards divorce and the whole time I'm thinking NO! NO! NO! Do NOT sprint towards divorce! Run the marathon of forgiveness! And grace! And love! This is not a simple readjustment of partners, don't you realize that you are about to undergo surgery and neither you, nor your loved ones in the waiting room, will ever be the same again?
In light of all this it is my argument that in most cases I've witnessed, and as a default position, divorce is nearly always the worse decision of the two.
If you are considering divorce right now please ask yourself this question. Am I trying to make things better? Or am I trying to make things easy?