Both marriage and divorce are often made even more complicated by the very institutions that claim to have the best interests of the family at heart.
I am a notary public. In Maine, a notary can perform wedding ceremonies. I have performed several marriages since I’ve been a notary. I have also notarized divorce forms. I have, however, occasionally questioned the wisdom of the State of Maine in allowing me to do so. Seriously, what business do I have being involved in any way with other people’s marriages, I who have had such a disastrous track record in my own personal experience with marriage?
The short answer is that as a public servant, my personal experiences, choices, opinions or beliefs have no place in my role as a notary. Additionally, the choices, personal histories or belief systems of the people I am serving are absolutely none of my business. It is my job to perform the task required of me in the office I hold. This is why it seems so illogical to me that the same government, who tasks me in this way with heterosexual marriages, feels the need to define marriage for same sex couples and why when marriage equality becomes a reality in this state I will be gladly offering my services!
That being said, it is no secret that the overall institution of marriage itself is in trouble. More and more marriages fail every day. The reasons for this are probably too complex and varied to cover in this format but I can assure you it has nothing to do with same sex couples asking for basic rights. It is unlikely we will ever all agree on the reasons marriages succeed or fail. Many have proposed that, to stop the flood of couples ending their marriages, we should make divorce harder to get.
I could not disagree more. Forcing couples to stay in a union that has disintegrated to this level is not good for anyone. It is certainly not good for their children. In fact, very often, in cases of abuse, it could be down-right deadly. The sad truth is that by the time a couple has reached this point it is usually beyond hope of reconciliation. The time to repair the damage would have been in the months and years preceding.
Another problem is that divorce is often very profitable for the professionals involved. Many don’t always have the best interests of the family at heart. Lawyers often take a couple who thought they were going to have a relatively simple divorce, and turn it into a nightmare of arguing over assets and children. Each hour racking up profits for the lawyers involved and certainly not motivating them to seek a quick and less painful solution. While many states have enacted “no fault” divorces and many now require mediation before they will even hear most cases, there is still much change that needs to happen. It does no one in a family any good to spend hours in court arguing over who did what.
There are few things more painful than a divorce. One of the reasons it is so gut wrenchingly painful is because it involves people who, at one point, loved each other very much. Maybe churches, instead of focusing only on ways to prevent divorce (or sadly on ways to prevent some marriages) could instead find ways to help families through these life adjustments. Maybe they could help find ways that are less hurtful and less damaging. Divorce does not end a family, it simply renegotiates it. Whether a couple has children together that they now must co-parent in a new way, or whether they have years of history and shared experiences, they are forever connected, there is no way around that.
One of my grown daughters recently recommended a television show I had not yet seen. “Happily Divorced,” is a very funny look at life after divorce based on the real life story of a Hollywood couple who had to renegotiate their relationship when he realized he was gay. Of course, it took them a lot of heartache, tears and therapy to eventually reach the stage where their failed marriage was ready to be a sitcom! That doesn’t mean it can’t be done however. Personally, I have been relatively successful at maintaining a working relationship with my first husband, my children’s father, but it took many years before we got there. I have not been as successful doing so with their step-father, but that could be because our divorce is still new and somewhat raw. Being uncomfortable with the connection, however, does not diminish it. Again, divorce does not end a family, it renegotiates it.
On a happier note, a fellow blogger celebrated 24 years of marriage this week in his post “How to be Happily Married.” Blogger Jim LaPierre shares what worked and what didn’t work for him and his wife. Of course, every marriage is different but the bottom line is they kept at it and overcame the obstacles. And Jim seems to be very willing to admit when he was wrong, which is a great quality in a husband if you can find it!
The point is that marriage, whether it lasts or not, is hard and complicated and very messy. It can be the most beautiful thing you have ever done, as well as the most painful thing you have ever done. Often it can be both of those things in the very same day! It should be entered into with great forethought and reverence. To me, the time for counseling and lots of prayer should be before the marriage, not only when it has reached the point of failure. Before the ceremony is the time to pause, think hard, and seek the sage advice of those who have gone before you. But all of this contemplation and prayer should take place between you and your potential partner, in your own family, and if you choose, with your own church.
Whether a couple is starting a marriage, negotiating the challenges of a marriage, or ending a marriage, it is a decision that the government has absolutely no business in. I don’t think the rest of us should have to discuss it, or debate it, or vote on it because it is nobody’s business but that of the two people getting married. It affects no one else’s marriage; it undermines no one else’s belief system.
It is that simple. Or at least it should be!
For more information on marriage equality in Maine please visit Equality Maine’s website.