Imagine for a moment that you are at a funeral for someone who suffered a long illness. The difficult decision finally had to be made by a husband or wife to disconnect life support. It is highly unlikely that you or anyone else would weigh in on whether or not this was the right choice, understanding the pain that must have been involved and that it was a very personal decision influenced by many factors.
Imagine another funeral for someone well-loved, but someone who did not take care of his health the way he should have and could have prolonged his life if he had eaten a more healthy diet and had been more physically active and sought medical care sooner. Would you comment on that, at this most difficult time for his family? Of course not!
Now imagine that you are for a funeral for another someone. Nobody is really quite sure what happened to her. They are waiting for the results of the autopsy to determine the cause of death, and they may or may not share the results with everyone. Do you ask a lot of nosy questions or do you mind your own business and show sympathy for the loss?
Now reimagine these scenarios as the death of a marriage. I am writing this article for a friend of mine who has struggled for the better part of a decade with a husband who was addicted to porn. Although he made a pretense of having conquered this problem, she was painfully aware of the reality that he had not and troubled that he had convinced everyone else that he had no further challenges in that regard.
Finally she made a difficult and painful decision to leave the marriage, for the good of her children, for her own mental health, because past experience had shown her that nothing was going to change. That decision for her might have been equally as difficult, if not more so, than the decision a family member would make to pull the plug on the life of a loved one. She may feel that every intervention within her power to make has been made.
While fellow church going friends might hesitate to remind someone of the sanctity of life if they make a decision to withdraw life support, few shrink from reminding her of something she already knows, that marriage is sacred and ordained of God and should not be terminated lightly. From what they are able to see, she is married to a good man who has addressed his problems, if they were even aware that they existed, and she should overlook the fact that he does not pick up his socks or that he forgot her birthday. At this time when she feels she is hanging by a very thin thread, it seems every other person wields a large pair of scissors.
Although the law has come up with something called “no-fault divorce,” there is likely no such thing. There are always ways that each party could have tried harder and done more and usually there is fault on both sides, because there is fault on both sides in marriages that last. Sometimes there may be an act that becomes the last straw. We often set ourselves up as judge and jury. While no one wants to condone sin, we all acknowledge the difference between someone who breaks into a home to steal out of greed and a hungry child who swipes a piece of fruit. Even when you can clearly see a misdeed that has ended a marriage, you may not know of the years of emotional starvation someone endured that left them vulnerable to the attentions of someone outside their marriage. Marriages can die of malnutrition, too. They can be assaulted by outside forces. They can be beat to death from within, and though the scars may be hidden from sight, they still exist.
Sometimes you are close enough to be able to see what is going on, or perhaps you think you know what is going on when what appears to be the case is not truly the reality of the situation. There are many who are quick to pass judgment without any acquaintance with the facts.
If someone is still among you at church, that means they are in there trying. You likely have no idea how hard it is to continue to be active in the Church when you feel you have failed at the single most important undertaking of your life, second only to your duties as a parent. It may be that a person’s stewardship as a parent played heavily into the decision to leave a marriage. Is it harder to decide when to let a loved one slip away than to determine when having their other parent in the home with the discord and contention and possibly physical or spiritually damaging situations is more harmful to your children than helpful? Unless you, or someone very close to you, have struggled with that decision, you cannot know how very difficult it was to make.
Consider this. If you are not close enough to the person to know the details, you are not close enough to pass judgment. Even if you feel you know enough to see where the fault lies, it is not necessary or even helpful to verbalize your feelings. As with a death, “I’m sorry” is always a safe thing to say. It can mean anything it needs to say.
“I’m sorry your marriage ended and for the heartache and struggles involved.”
“I’m sorry you and your husband were not unselfish enough to make things work.”
“I’m sorry your wife ran off with the mailman.”
“I’m sorry your husband put you through a living hell.”
“I’m sorry your priorities were all out of whack.”
When a marriage ends, it is a tragedy. It is a time when that extra measure of love needs to be shown. A hug and an “I’m thinking about you” or “We love you” goes a long way. On the other hand, your judgmental comment may be the last straw for a woman who has endured years of emotional abuse from a husband who appears to be kind and loving to the rest of the world. It may be a slap in the face to a man who could never provide enough for a woman prone to excesses.
My husband is a family therapist, and he often says that “anger management” is an incorrect term, because often people with an anger problem are very well able to control it in public settings and take it out privately on their loved ones. We simply do not know the inner workings of anyone else’s marriage. Even when we think we know, we can be missing a big piece of the puzzle, and most of us are influenced and biased by our relationship with one of the parties involved.
I often wonder about hearings where people have character witnesses who work with them or know them from the community who are intended to comment on things that may have taken place in private. It is possible for someone’s private behavior to be very different from the public face they show the world.