So many broken homes … so many broken lives.
I don’t know if my impression is valid or not, but it seems to me that over the last two decades, the proportion of marriages collapsing and failing has increased. Certainly, the Coptic population in Sydney has increased over that time period, so it would be normal to expect that the mere number of broken marriages would have increased. But it also feels like the percentage is increasing.
Marriage break ups can never be pleasant. They are so painful that I wonder how anyone can bear to go through the experience. Certainly, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would purposely choose for that to happen. When a marriage beaks up, everybody loses.
The couple themselves lose a relationship that they had hoped would sustain and nurture them for the rest of their lives. Often there are feelings of betrayal and of isolation. There is the whole issue of how to break the news to the extended family. There is the financial insecurity and the social stigma. And of course, there is the unavoidable uncomfortable feeling that one has failed in some way (although some people handle this feeling by laying all the blame on their partner and none on themselves).
The community loses, for if we are truly united, then that which hurts one member hurts us all. All sorts of awkward issues arise: do you invite them both to your birthday, or only one? And if only one, will the other be offended? Generally, a divorced couple are severely limited in their ability to serve. They feel unable, for example, to stand in front of children and teach Sunday School. All too often, the result is social isolation and estrangement from the Church, just at a time when they need the support of their friends the most.
But of course the ones who suffer most are the children. How agonisingly sad it is to see innocent, angelic little souls being gradually hardened and scarred by the horrible experience of watching the two people they trust the most fighting with each other. Children look up to their parents. Children learn from their parents; not from what they say, but from what they do. If parents live their lives with anger or malice constantly in their hearts, the children grow up never knowing what it is like to live in peace and security. For them, the world is a cold, hard, scary and lonely place. Is it any wonder that such children often seek the love and acceptance they crave outside the home, often with disastrous results?
Studies have shown that when a couple are having serious marriage problems, but they stick it out and stay together, their overall happiness is much higher in the long run than if they separate. Other research has shown time and time again that the breakup of divorce leaves a worse long-term emotional scar on children than if they remain in a united but troubled home. Of course, such research cannot take into account every single individual situation, but as an overall view, it is compelling. There is every reason for a married couple to honour the commitment they made before God in Church on their wedding day and to strive to submit to one another in humility and love.
If there is hard-headedness involved, then what is required of the Christian spouse is clear: soften that hard head! If not for your own or your spouse’s sake, then at least for the sake of your innocent children! And if not for their sake, then at least for the sake of the salvation of your own soul!
One wise Father I know always says, “You can never solve a marital problem without genuine repentance.” How true his words are! Without accepting that grace of God that empowers a person to boldly say: “I was wrong”, the couple will have a lot of trouble resolving their differences. Yet if each of them seeks their own personal inner sanctity, their own personal relationship with the loving and merciful Christ, the problems that divide them would melt away.
Perhaps it is wise to be very, very careful in choosing who you marry, for it is a commitment for life. As a Church, perhaps we need to offer more guidance and counselling to young people thinking of getting married, and to couples after they are married. The problem is that when things are going well, the couple do not feel the need for guidance, and when things deteriorate, the couple are in no state to listen to any guidance!
Perhaps we also need to start with people very young, helping them to develop ‘marriageable’ personalities in the first place. If a person learns from a young age to be patient, kind, forgiving, thoughtful … they will take those traits with them into the marriage relationship and very likely make it a success. Some marriages fail because one or both of the couple are simply not fit for marriage: they lack the skills or the personality necessary for a marriage to work.
Maybe we could bring in a marriage license, something like a driver’s license? You’d have to learn the skills and then pass a test before you were allowed to marry. But then you’d be set for a life of safe and comfortable marriage. And then, perhaps we need a parenthood license…