Zelophehad’s Daughters

Fun With Models: Thinking More About Divorce

Posted by Ziff

In his General Conference talk, Elder Oaks discussed divorce, expressing his concern that Church members are often too hasty to divorce. I agree with his general conclusion; there probably are couples who divorce who would be better off not divorcing and whose children would be better off if they did not divorce. But I’m concerned that the model of marriage and divorce he assumes is incomplete, and that following it could induce people to stay in genuinely bad marriages.

In his talk, Elder Oaks cites the experience of a bishop who had counseled many couples having marriage problems. The bishop reported that the couples who did what he asked–committing to keep the commandments, attend church, read scriptures, and pray–were invariably able to keep their marriages together. Elder Oaks also cites a study by the Institute for American Values (IAV) that found that people unhappy with their marriages who divorced were no happier five years later than people unhappy with their marriages who stayed together.

Putting together what the bishop said and what the IAV study said, the model Elder Oaks is assuming is this: If you are unhappy with your marriage, you should be willing to work to make it better, which will increase the chance you will stay married, which will in turn make you more happy. On the other hand, if you are not willing to work on your marriage, you’re more likely to divorce, and less likely to be happy.

model1.png

But both the bishop’s data and the IAV data are also consistent with another model. In this alternative model, willingness to work on one’s marriage, likelihood of divorce, and happiness are not causally related. Rather they are all indicators of a single variable that might be called marriage quality.

model2.png

If this model is correct, people who are more willing to work on their marriages are still less likely to divorce and more likely to be happy (consistent with the data). But these relationships are not causal. Working on your marriage doesn’t prevent divorce or make you happier. It’s just that because you’re in a better marriage in the first place, you’re both more likely to be willing to work on it if times get tough and less likely to divorce.

The authors of the IAV study acknowledged this possible alternative explanation:

One might assume, for example, that unhappy spouses who divorce and those who stay married are fundamentally two different groups; i.e., that the marriages that ended in divorce were much worse than those that survived. There is some evidence for this point of view. Unhappy spouses who divorced reported more conflict and were about twice as likely to report violence in their marriage than unhappy spouses who stayed married.

But they thought this explanation was unlikely to account for their results:

On the other hand, if only the worst marriages end in divorce, one would expect greater psychological benefits from divorce. Instead, looking only at changes in emotional and psychological well-being, we found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional and psychological improvements than those who stayed married.

I don’t agree with the authors. I think the alternative model is more likely. It seems clear that the marriages that ended in divorce were worse than those that didn’t, which is consistent with the second model in which a single variable–marital quality–predicts both probability of divorce and happiness. As the authors note, violence was much more common in marriages that ended in divorce (21%) than in those that did not (9%). People who ended up divorcing were also quite a bit younger on average (37 years) than those who stayed together (44 years). This is important because, as the authors note in another context, “marital satisfaction typically declines with time,” suggesting that people who had reached a particular level of unhappiness by age 37 were probably in worse marriages (with more steeply declining levels of happiness) than those who reached the same level of unhappiness by age 44. Finally, the lack of difference in well-being between unhappy people who stayed married and unhappy people who divorced that they cite as an argument for divorce not doing people good is odd given that married people are typically noticeably happier than unmarried people, so for a group of married and unmarried people to be similar in well-being suggests that the people who divorced were actually doing well.

Although we don’t have it, I suspect that if there were more information available from the bishop Elder Oaks quoted, it would support the alternative model as well. The bishop did say that people who followed his council were able to avoid divorce “100 percent of the time.” Such a striking result, a zero percent divorce rate, seems consistent with the model where some people are in better marriages to begin with, even when they go to their bishop for help, and are therefore both more willing to listen to their bishop and to stay married.

The important question in choosing between these two models is this: Given that people become unhappy with their marriages and divorce, what would have happened if they had instead stayed together and worked on their marriages? If Elder Oaks’s model is correct, then staying together and working on their marriage will make husbands and wives happier and their children better off. If the alternative model is correct, though, only people in generally good marriages who are temporarily unhappy will be willing to work on their marriages and avoid divorce. People in chronically bad marriages, though, will derive no benefit from trying to work on their marriages or from staying together, because these variables are not causally related to happiness. This would be the case especially for people whose marriages are chronically bad because of the bad behavior of their spouses.

Elder Oaks’s major point appears to be that the threshold of marital unhappiness for considering divorce has been set too low. While I agree that this threshold is probably set too low by some people in some circumstances, I worry that it’s still set too high by other people. People who are physically or sexually abused by their spouses, or whose spouses cheat on them, should not have to spend time feeling guilty that they didn’t work hard enough on their marriage before filing for divorce. If the alternative model above is correct, as I suspect it is, having one spouse work on a marriage that has already been horribly damaged by the actions of the other spouse is likely to be counterproductive.

29 Responses to “Fun With Models: Thinking More About Divorce”

  1. 1.

    Elder Oaks’s major point appears to be that the threshold of marital unhappiness for considering divorce has been set too low.

    Maybe what should be emphasized is that the threshold of relationship happiness for considering marriage in the first place has been set too low.

  2. 2.

    I think your title says it all, Ziff. If I start having fun with models, then my wife will start thinking more about divorce. And that’s a chain of causation that I can pretty much guarantee. :P

  3. 3.

    I think you’re right, Ziff.

  4. 4.

    I think that the talk won’t help those already at divorce. But the people who are years away from divorce? If they change now, they can avoid divorce.
    I think that couples spend years moving toward divorce. Most of them were happy earlier in their marriage. The couples I know who have divorced were making mistakes early in their marriage and I just wanted to sit them down and tell them that they were screwing things up. They couldn’t see that their decisions were undermining their marriage….mostly they just saw the faults in their spouse and seemed to just react to their spouse’s mistakes with mistakes of their own.
    What we need is for couples to start to repair their marriages earlier. They need to have good relationship habits established. It then becomes possible to avoid divorce.
    Each couple who divorces made thousands of daily decisions along the road that got them there.
    I think every couple should have a pre-nup that is renegotiated along the way. Not about divorce settlements, but about appropriate marital behavior. Couples should have rules about fighting. Couples should have rules about honesty.
    My friend who told me “we are unhappy but we are staying together for the sake of the kids…..” I just didn’t understand why she would make that choice. Why didn’t they say “We are unhappy, so we are going to do what it takes to make this marriage unhappy so we don’t have to live like this for the rest of our lives.”
    No big surprise that pretty soon the idea of staying together for the sake of the kids became impossible and they divorced.

  5. 5.

    JKS,

    I think every couple should have a pre-nup that is renegotiated along the way. Not about divorce settlements, but about appropriate marital behavior. Couples should have rules about fighting. Couples should have rules about honesty.

    Well said. Good communication cannot be stressed enough in marriages.

  6. 6.

    there’s something that’s bothering me in your alternative model. it seems like you are suggesting a marriage is always already either “better” or “worse.” and that marital quality, whether “better” or “worse,” is an unchanging variable. perhaps you don’t mean to suggest that, but i kept finding that undercurrent as a i read. while it may be true that there is not a causal relationship between either willingness to work on a marriage and happiness OR staying together/divorcing and happiness, there’s clearly a causal relationship between willigness to work on a marriage and staying together/divorcing. and it seems that there would be a causal relationship between willingness to work on a marriage and marital quality. i think it’s possible for someone to have been in a “worse marriage” and experience a change of heart that could lead them to a willingness to work on their marriage. obviously both partners would have to experience such a transformation. so maybe the likelihood is low that a marriage could change from “worse” to “better,” but i think it is possible.

    and i think the question must be asked where marital quality is established. a marriage doesn’t start ex nihilo. obviously some of its quality is going to be based on the premarital relationship. but no matter how good (and, to a less extent, how weak) a premarital relationship is, marriage brings enough significant change that the premarital relationship is not the only factor in determining whether a marriage is going to be “better” or “worse.”

    it seems that what is ultimately going to determine “marital quality” is how a marriage evolves over time. i would replace “marital quality” in your model with a couple’s ability to adapt over time. the ability to adapt, to adjust expectations and accommodate change will lead to a willingness to work on a marriage, less likelihood of divorce, and greater happiness. vice versa for an inability to adapt.

  7. 7.

    I think every couple should have a pre-nup that is renegotiated along the way. Not about divorce settlements, but about appropriate marital behavior. Couples should have rules about fighting. Couples should have rules about honesty.

    I can certainly understand the impulse behind this proposal, as I think all of us who have witnessed divorce’s devastation can. I don’t know how seriously you were proposing it, JKS, so forgive me if I’m mishearing deliberately hyperbolic rhetoric, but if you are quite serious about it, I would have to disagree. Yes, couples definitely need standards of behavior to govern their relationships–but writing those standards into a prenup would be a legal disaster. Who’s going to enfore them, for one thing? Are we going to call the cops every time a husband or wife doesn’t fight fair? For another thing, they would likely have the unintended effect of making divorce even easier. If my prenup says that my husband can’t burp in public, put his feet on the coffee table, or leave the dishes in the sink, and he does all of these things, then I can get a lawyer and sue him for divorce on that basis.

    Law’s a pretty blunt instrument for handling the finer points of an intimate relationship. While I agree that couples should have agreements (formal or informal) about things like how they’re going to fight, manage money, raise the kids, etc., those agreements also have to be fluid. They’re inevitably going to change over time, as the relationship changes, and violations of them also have to be forgiven if the marriage has a hope of surviving. There’s just no way a couple can sit down pre-marriage and write themselves a fail-safe contract.

    Marriage involves profound and considerable risk. In a deep sense, you’re putting the rest of your life into the hands of another person. There’s no way to avoid that risk, but without it, how could there be trust, faith in one another, growth, love?

    The couples I know who have divorced were making mistakes early in their marriage and I just wanted to sit them down and tell them that they were screwing things up. They couldn’t see that their decisions were undermining their marriage. . . . mostly they just saw the faults in their spouse and seemed to just react to their spouse’s mistakes with mistakes of their own.

    We’ve all seen this, and we all sometimes feel the irresistible urge to butt in and give advice. But I think the urge to sit anyone down and tell them how they’re screwing up their [marriage/life/total makeover] is one that should almost always be avoided. For one thing, it is the inevitable parallel of the situation you describe in which someone can see only the faults in their spouse, not their own. For another, ultimately, no one knows what’s going on in someone else’s marriage. The person might not feel comfortable revealing that their spouse is being unfaithful, for example, so all you see is what seem like nit-picky little criticisms. I had a close friend divorce her husband for very painful betrayals that she has chosen not to advertise (to spare his reputation), but because she did not broadcast the specific nature of his sins, she came in for considerable criticism. Some assumed she was divorcing him over nothing.

  8. 8.

    I think maybe the marriage advice we get in the church suffers from some of the same troubles as the Commitment Pattern that missionaries are (were?) taught in the MTC: it was created by observing missionaries who were successful, then trying to turn a descriptive model into a prescriptive one. Similarly, much of the advice about marriage seems to be based on observation of successful marriages: we see that couples who stay together work hard at their marriages, they have good communication skills, they pray together, etc. We conclude that those things we have observed are the things that make the marriage successful, although of course, such observations are far from providing even a robust explanatory model, let alone evidence of causality.

  9. 9.

    Eve, I interpreted the idea of pre-nup as hyperbolic, like an understanding within the marriage (we don’t use sex as a bargaining tool, for example)
    I want to comment on the idea that many couples don’t rescue their marriage early enough. As a young married person in Wyview, I was surprised to see “Free Marital Check-ups” signs posted all over the buildings. After talking to a friend in the grad psych dept, she said that they were very successful, that many young couples were fine, but a few were in serious trouble rather early in their marriages and it was an easy and benign way of getting some of these couples in to see a counselor.
    With this in mind, after 6 years of marriage we had hit a bump due to a move, new baby, new job, etc. I convinced my husband to see a counselor just to get better communication and coping strategies. Her comments echo Ziff’s, she said, “Most couples come to counseling 5 years too late.” I assured her we were not in a desperate situation. We went to 2 or 3 sessions which I found helpful because I learned important things about my husband that I hadn’t discovered before. Interestingly, though, my husband resisted the therapy because he thought it would look bad if he ever wants to work for the government, apply for life insurance, or do anything where someone would examine your medical/mental health records. (he still has this concern) I am curious if anyone else has come across these objections. I think therapy can be good, especially for those who hit small snags, I have less faith in it for those at the end of their rope. But, I wonder how many people are deterred for the negative connotations it can bring.

  10. 10.

    there’s something that’s bothering me in your alternative model. it seems like you are suggesting a marriage is always already either “better” or “worse.” and that marital quality, whether “better” or “worse,” is an unchanging variable.

    You make a good point, Amelia. I guess what I’m saying is that once a couple (or a person) has reached the point of considering divorce, the background quality of the marriage, whether better or worse, is probably already set. Or in other words, as Jessawhy’s counselor said, once you’re considering divorce, it may already be too late. I completely agree with you, though, that marital quality in the beginning is typically under our control, and willingness to work on your marriage in the first place can make the top causal arrows in my alternative models run backwards.

    And this is the point that JKS made, and that Elder Oaks made near the end of his talk: the best time to prevent divorce is when you’re deciding who to marry or when you’re first married and your marital difficulties are small.

    Kristine,
    Thank you. That’s exactly what I was trying to say, but you put it much more succinctly.

    Kevin,
    Thanks for your vote of confidence.

  11. 11.

    Eve, I interpreted the idea of pre-nup as hyperbolic, like an understanding within the marriage (we don’t use sex as a bargaining tool, for example)

    Jessawhy, I think you must be right. Sometimes I’m both tone-deaf and garrulous. A fatal combination. I’d better check these tendencies now before I become one of those old women who accosts people with her cane and prattles on at great length. ;)

  12. 12.

    I’ve been staring at your models and the thing I can’t get my head around is what makes a marriage better or worse in the second model, assuming a person married another by their own free will, or there have been no sudden brain injuries, etc.

    The difference between having a tough patch in a generally happy marriage and contemplating divorce is significant, but part of the same slippery slope, I would assume. Certainly one of the ways of getting off of the slope is honest self-assessment and ‘working on the marriage.’ So isn’t there a cyclical aspect to the model that is more accurate?

    This reminds me of Orwell in 1984: the proles will not revolt until they have consciousness, and they will not have consciousness unless they revolt. Likewise, a marriage will only be happy if spouses work on the marriage, and spouses will only work on a marriage if they are happy.

    Or is the point that people talking about divorce have reached a critical mass of unhappiness in the marriage that they have exited the cycle altogether? The bishop’s (vague) evidence suggests that one can remain in or return to that cycle.

    The dangerous aspect comes from leaving it, either through massive changes in one of the spouses or the lack of awareness of the marriage and the work that needs to be done on it. Oaks seems to be addressing the second eventuality but does not deal with the possibility of the first.

  13. 13.

    arareandradiantmaiden,

    I think most professionals who observe and work with couples would tell you that some people who marry of their own free will nonetheless make terrible, terrible choices of partner. There are plenty of serious problems that just won’t show up until after a marriage–sexual incompatibility, radically different ideas about parenting (or how many children to have), effects of childhood abuse or other oddities of upbringing… I don’t see why it should be so hard to imagine that some marriages are mistakes, and that divorce in those cases is not just allowable, but the best thing for all concerned. The more I learn about marriage, the more I think that there is a great deal of luck involved in picking the right partner, and, sadly, the more I’m convinced that many–maybe most–people endure mediocre marriages, and only a few lucky *and* hardworking couples have truly great marriages.

    (This is not to say that there aren’t many cases where divorce can and should be avoided. As Ziff says, we live in a culture that overvalues personal fulfillment and undervalues commitment; people are inclined to set the bar too low for the level of unhappiness that justifies divorce).

  14. 14.

    I’d suggest a third set of models, which are also consistent with the data. Suppose, for present purposes, that level of happiness is a pretty stable long-term personality trait — rather than a mostly situational one. Perhaps, when basically happy people get married, they get along well and stay married. When basically unhappy people get married, they blame each other for their inherent unhappiness and get divorced.

    I’m not claiming that this interpretation is true, but it is as consistent with the data as any of the models under discussion. The evidence here isn’t strong enough to answer any of the most important questions, I’m afraid.

    I do always enjoy it when general authorities justify religious advice on the basis of bad social science, though. When I was at BYU, one general authority speech involved an argument against pro choice political positions on the basis that, in survey data, relatively few women who got abortions admitted having been raped or having gotten pregnant through incest. Which is fine and good. Except that we know both of those factors to be badly underreported in survey data, because people don’t want to admit them or discuss them with strangers. In some studies, the underreporting can be by as much as a factor of 10. So does that make pro choice political stances more morally justified?

  15. 15.

    I don’t envy the GAs. The church needs to express a strong and unequivocal endorsement of marriage, but simultaneously recognize the need for divorce. The situation is begging for some nuance, but nuance is hard to do in an 8 minute conference talk. I admire Elder Oaks for saying this:

    When a marriage is dead and beyond hope of resuscitation, it is needful to have a means to end it.

    There is no question that our culture takes marriage too lightly. When Oaks mentioned starter marriages, I thought of the guy I used to work with who spoke of dating as the process of “interviewing my next ex-wife”. And I know LDS people who think of the temple as not much more than the church’s version of a Las Vegas drive-thru wedding chapel. It’s simply the place you need to go in order for sex to be legal, and that attitude produces people who are serial adulterers. To the extent he was denouncing this kind of behavior, I applaud him.

    I think the reason we don’t quite know how to understand his advice is because nobody quite knows exactly how to make a good marriage. All we can do is increase the odds, but it is still an enormous risk. So sure, repentance and greater charity and prayer are always good, and I don’t know anybody who couldn’t use a little more of all three. But there are no guarantees and ultimately individuals must make their own decisions.

    Also, I must say that I found it somewhat disquieting that an apostle was citing a random bishop as an authoritative source. Nothing against bishops, I’ve liked and admired every one I have ever had, but when we are making generalizations that are meant to apply to the entire church in an area as complex as marriage and divorce, I don’t have much confidence in the homespun wisdom of my next-door neighbor. A stake president I personally know told me that, over a two year period of time, every one of the eight bishops in his stake, along with their wives, came to him for help with their marriages. Scary, huh?

  16. 16.

    Kristine,

    I would downplay the notation that luck MUST play a part. Certainly LUCK can play a part, and does, but I don’t think its a necessary ingredient. Early communication is essential, and necessary.

    The way I had marriage explained to me, is that it is a process. We are climbing a mountain, or crossing the desert, whatever, it is the process that is important. It is not like finding the right cog that matches the right widget.

    Mark IV, you said “I think the reason we don’t quite know how to understand his advice is because nobody quite knows exactly how to make a good marriage. ” I strongly disagree. Certainly HF knows how to make a good marriage, and knows how to make our marriage good. Spencer W Kimball once stated that Any two righteous people can be married and have a successful marriage. While I don’t think random pairings is any good, the principle is that with mutual compromise and communication, a successful marriage can be made. The problem is that we are too focused on what we, as an individual wants, so that this mutual sacrifice doesn’t seem attractive. I don’t espouse submission to domineering spouses (of either gender), but do believe that we all have to be willing and able to sacrifice completely for our spouse.

  17. 17.

    even more disturbing for me than citing a random bishop, was the story he shared about a woman who decided that if marriage is between her, her husband and god, then she could make it in her “intolerable marriage” if at least two of those three (namely herself and god) were contributing in productive ways. what an awful example of a marriage and reason for continuing a marriage. and i personally do not think that that is the best approach to serving the children.

    i was also troubled that he mentioned seeking counseling from a bishop without any mention whatsoever of professional help. i’m very confident that spiritual acvice can address many, many marital problems. and i’m confident that if couples would follow some very basic, very wise spiritual counsel, they could do much to improve their marriages. but there are some problems that simply cannot be fully addressed by bishops. hopefully those bishops are advising people to seek professional help when necessary. but i don’t have a lot of faith in that.

  18. 18.

    I’ve been staring at your models and the thing I can’t get my head around is what makes a marriage better or worse in the second model,

    Thanks so much, that was my same reaction and I thought I was just stupid. I think it is really very difficult to come up with objective criteria for what is a “better” or “worse” marriage.

    For more than 10 years, my brothers and sisters and friends were convinced that I had a terrible marriage. They made fun of my husband and complained a lot about what a scumbag he was. My husband is a scientist, with all the stereotypical absent-mindness, etc., whereas my dad was a businessman and my brothers mostly engineers, businesspeople, etc.

    I love my husband, and think our marriage is fine. It’s different, though, I’ll admit that. My husband has been gone three nights a week with church callings for 10 years or so. But he is also fiercely protective of our Thursday lunches together, which we’ve done for years. Everyone he works with knows they can’t bother him or schedule him for meetings during that time, and I know I can count on that time for just the two of us.

    He travels a lot for work, but we try to travel with him when we can. He had a conference in Palm Springs, CA during our childrens’ spring break from school; we’ve traveled to south and central america. We’ve done couples-only trips to Europe and Asia. Typically, we spend a month of every year traveling together as a family, with one couple getaway as well.

    So now as we approach our 30th anniversary, my old best friend who was most critical of my husband is now divorced. My family became more accepting when they realized how famous my husband is, and how my contributions helped his career. My brothers were excited to hear him on NPR, my brother-in-law was amazed at the article in Business Week. To me, I find this attitude a bit lame; one shouldn’t judge him as a spouse based on how popular his accomplishments are; he’s still the same person I married as a graduate student.

    Anyway, they admitted later that while they wouldn’t want to be married to him, they could understand him better, and why I thought he was worth some effort.

    That’s the problem, I think, in looking at a marriage. You might not want to live like that, but does it work for the partners involved?

  19. 19.

    I didn’t mean an actual legal document. I meant that normally when a couple goes to the temple to marry, they currently don’t scream obsenities at each other, or say very hurtful things to each other. Perhaps they spend money without the other person knowing….I don’t know.
    Anyway, from Day 1 of marriage to divorce, what changed? How did they get from treating each other well to hating each other, or not being able to work together, or not wanting to share their lives? It is little choices. You cross a line. You cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
    The time to decide not to cross that line is before it happens. Decide what you think makes a good marriage, and what the two of you need in a marriage and then stick to it.
    The marriage commitment shouldn’t be, “We won’t ever get a divorce.” It should be “We won’t get a divorce, and if we are unhappy we will fix our marriage until it makes us happy again.”

  20. 20.

    Maybe I’m way off, but my reaction to Elder Oaks’ talk was that he is primarily concerned with trying to get the idea across that there is more to supporting “traditional marriage” than being anti-gay-marriage. Either that, or defensively responding to the critique that it is hypocritical to spend so many resources on the opposition of gay marriage while at the same time virtually ignoring high divorce rates.

    I saw the sermon as an attempt to inoculate the church (and Elder Oaks) from charges of hypocrisy. It seemed to me that it was more motivated by concerns about the perception of the church in relation to homosexuality than concerns about divorce. This is especially so since Elder Oaks has been a bit more active and vocal on the subject that most of the brethren.

  21. 21.

    Arphaxad, I think that is a good reading of Elder Oaks talk. I’ve had a problem with the anti-gay-marriage issue because it seems that we don’t really support marriage/families in our communities, we just want to prevent homosexuals from having their own.
    I can definately see his talk framed as a way to stem appearance of hypocricy.

  22. 22.

    Hmmm–I definitely didn’t love the talk, but I think it’s too cynical to read it as exclusively, or even primarily, an innoculation against charges of hypocrisy. I think there’s probably some real sense of desperation about the failure of traditional family forms, particularly within the church. There are plenty of things to be perturbed about in this talk, but I’d be inclined to be a bit more generous about the motivations behind it. President Faust’s home teaching message last month was also about avoiding divorce. I suspect these are just the first in a long series…

  23. 23.

    Although I don’t agree 100% with much of what has been said, this thread has helped me put a few things in perspective. I have just discovered that my convert husband, who I thought believed in the Gospel and the Church, does not. I have never pictured myself in this kind of situation, having gotten here through trying to follow what I believed was God’s will, and have no idea how to deal with it. Thank you for posting this now.

  24. 24.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical. I think it’s a pretty smart move. It does seem hypocritical to make “supporting marriage” for all practical purposes the functional equivalent of opposing gay marriage while ignoring soaring divorce rates. The perception only increases when we consider that Jesus spoke out against divorce and said nothing (at least, nothing we have recorded) specifically about homosexuality.

    If you want to find scriptural support for the idea that divorce is too prevalent, you don’t need to look far. If you want to find scriptural support for the idea that gay marriage is wrong, you won’t find anything from the savior; you’ll have to go to Paul and some oblique references to “the sin of Sodom” (which Ezekial asserts was not sodomy, but a lack of concern for the poor). Against this scriptural background, it would make sense that church leaders would want to re-evaluate the focus on opposition to gay marriage and ramp up efforts to preserve marriage per se.

    I don’t mean to say or imply that Elder Oaks is being insincere. He probably is also concerned with divorce, but I think it is likely that the impetus for the concern with divorce had more to do with a concern about gay marriage than with a concern about divorce itself.

    BTW, Anonymous, I am sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine what you must feel. There isn’t really anything that I could say that wouldn’t come off as condescending, but my prayers are with you. My wife’s brother-in-law joined the church to marry my sister-in-law only to leave the church (though not formally) a few years later. After about two years of being decidedly against the church, he is now returning. He just took my sister-in-law to the temple again. It was extremely hard for my wife’s family, but there was hope.

  25. 25.

    Arphaxad, I hope you are right. But I fear that the hostility to same-sex marriage may be so strong and so deeply felt (by which I mean felt viscerally, at a level not susceptible to reasoned critique) that it really wouldn’t occur to anyone to worry about whether that opposition looks hypocritical to external observers. It would be nice if the emphasis on divorce were part of some carefully thought out strategy to balance the opposition to gay marriage, but I’m not convinced.

  26. 26.

    I was kind of worried by Elder Oak’s talk as well. While I was glad to hear it presented as an egalitarian relationship, I know that the issues my husband and I had in our early relationship were directly related to a supposed hierarchical relationship viz. the temple covenants. From there, our relationship spiraled into different forms of emotional and physical abuse on both sides. For us, the thing that saved our marriage was professional help–learning how to communicate our views in non-inflamatory ways and how to identify what usually started our fights. Elder Oak’s reluctance to mention professional help scared me for other couples who may not feel comfortable going that route and so are unable to learn how to heal and move past severe emotional injuries. Of course, in our marriage, we were both willing to try–if one spouse isn’t, then really, the other spouse can really only do so much.

    Anonymous, speaking from the perspective of the spouse who is having belief issues, more than likely, your husband is probably aware of the betrayal you might be feeling and knows that he is causing you pain. At least in my case, it isn’t anything against my husband or the promises I made to him, and it causes me pain to think that I might be hurting him, I just can’t seem to accept some of the things I used to. I’m not trying to be condescending either, I’m not even trying to defend your spouse or judge you, I’m just letting you know that usually testimony issues don’t change the fact that a spouse loves you and wants to be with you. I hope this is helpful, it was meant with the best of intentions.

  27. 27.

    Anonymous,

    I am so sorry for you and what you’re going through. I am going through the same thing from the other side of the deal (like Lessie,) and I know it’s very painful all around. I was an RM when I married my husband, and I’d been a very strong member all my life.

    Now I consider myself a nondenominational Christian, but I still attend church and the average member probably doesn’t know about my changed views. I felt like I had to share my new feelings with my husband because he was my best friend and soul mate, and I needed his love and support no matter what.

    Of course, as I predicted, it broke his heart. I think he’s still suffering from it about 3 years later. In fact, it may have been what first sparked the sex addiction that I discovered a couple of weeks ago.

    It turns out that he’s been going to massage parlors (yes, that kind) for three years and he’s gone to brothels in other countries.

    He says that the fact that I’m trying not to divorce him or give up on him helps him to feel my love and helps him to realize that God loves me even in my errant ways. The irony, in my opinion, is that in his mind I think my “crime” was of about equal severity as his.

    I don’t know if we’ll make it or not, but I think the fact that we’re both willing to try certainly means something. I think it just means we’re in love.

  28. 28.

    By the way, the “errant ways” is my wording, not his. He’s been more gentle and more hurt than outwardly judgemental.

  29. 29.

    Having been married for 40 years I can attest that marriage takes a lot of give and take, tolerance, forgiveness, patience, and a whole host of other qualities.
    There is no way to explain why anyone would divorce after 40 years of finding their way around another person’s heart. But here I am, with the big invisible D in my forehead. It was not something I necessarily chose but was forced into.

    What I see missing from discussions of divorce is mental illness. It’s a whole other ballgame that affects marriage, and/or alcoholism which forces a spouse to choose whether they care enough about themselves to remove themselves from an emotionally and/or physically abusive marriage, after patiently enduring through the years.

    In my case my husband was bipolar. But I did not know it for what it was. For 30 years I did not understand about mental illness. That’s not something that is talked about in the church. I think it was Elder Uchtdorf who said in one of his conference addresses, of wrong behaviors, to “just stop it.” In the case of mental illness a person doesn’t just “stop it” when they are acting in damaging ways. Because they are often not self aware enough to know that their behaviors are hurtful.
    I took blame for my husband’s hurtful words and irrational and insensitive
    behaviors, figuring I must not be the kind of wife who could
    let those things just roll off her back. I figured I was not prayerful enough, sexy enough, forgiving enough, so I tried harder. The real him was loveable, generous, witty, kind, very intelligent and creative, and good. Therefore, I thought there must be something wrong with me. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t completely trust my very intelligent husband who was always obsessing about living the law of plural marriage? He could make a case that could convince God of the rightness of his reasoning.
    Why couldn’t I just agree to let him have more wives? Over the years his logical mind was working to convince me that all was not well in the church ( well I still believe that, in some respects), and constantly tried to convince me that he needed two or three other wives. It all came to a head when he started in on it, when he became manic. But this last time, when I refused to let him go out and pick this or that teenager from the ward (as if she would say yes to plural marriage!) I said no. That blew him away. How dare I refuse what he knew was something that he should live. In his God-complex mania he believed plural marriage was something God wanted him to live.

    I was not the one who wanted divorce. But try reasoning with a bipolar manic who stayed that way for months at a time, and even when he was “normal” was still
    narcissistic. Over time his episodes got worse, even though he was basically a good man. One time our local GP put him on Valium to bring him down after he had not slept for a week, and he always remembered that feeling he got from being on that pill and refused to ever take a pill for his problem, again.

    I learned to live without that normal intimate sensitivity that I knew was suppose to be in a marriage. He often told me, in response to a feeling I expressed and expected some empathy for, “Well, I can’t be a woman. I can’t be all feely.”I understand that men and women feel things differently, but now I see that it was much different for him. Bipolar people often do not have some of the sense of empathy or normal social interactions that others have.

    I prided myself that my marriage was basically good. We had several kids, many grandkids, and basically a good life, despite its ups and downs. I was committed no matter what. I never considered divorce as a way out of the irrational times. So it has been devastating to me that I am divorced by default. I was the one who had to retain a lawyer because he left me and left me nothing to live on, told lies about me to my kids and neighbors, and refused to get medical help for his bipolar problem. And the sad thing is that often a person who has been manic and has done irrational things during that time do not even remember what they said or did, so when they do come back to some normalcy they do not believe they have done anything wrong.

    You can’t reason with someone who refuses to acknowledge the problem. The ripples of this tidal wave of divorce has gone on and on. The hell of divorce is not something I would have ever chosen for myself, nor would I lightly advocate anyone being divorced after building a life of so many years around one’s marriage partner. Being divorced in a family church brings other pains. Being divorced after being a couple for so many years confuses ward members and friends who looked to you as a solid couple. And if they believe the lies told by a bipolar manic spouse, then you are the one who is the bad person.

    I do think many couples divorce much too quickly when things get rough. But then, I’m not in their shoes so how can I judge.
    In my case, I have struggled for three years to find closure and have endured so many different emotional pains. One can’t be angry at a sick person and feel justified for their divorced status. Because I never even got to fight for my marriage, never even got to have a “normal” discussion over what was wrong, and because my spouse –when he left–said he didn’t want to “fix it,” our marriage, I feel like a failure because I could not save what I did not want to throw away. And even now, when he is more “normal”, according to some of my kids who speak with him often, he doesn’t express any remorse for what has happened and is even now planning to marry again.

    So when people condemn divorce, one needs to realize that there are truly situations where a person may be better off, in many ways, if they remove themselves from a situation that is hurtful and damaging, and that in some situations, mental illness comes into play and you are left with no recourse if the mentally ill one refuses to acknowledge their problem. You can’t force the mentally ill spouse to get help if he refuses. As my church therapist said, people have an emotional, a spiritual, a physical and a mental side to them. Any one of those areas can go haywire and need fixing. In the church we tend to simplify things down to a single equation. Many times life is more complex than that.

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