Over the past four months, I’ve been to a couple of weddings and a funeral, commiserated about a friend’s divorce and celebrated my own wedding anniversary. The exposure to new beginnings, longevity, and the middles in life got me thinking. Not that anybody’s asking for advice, but I believe there are only three acceptable reasons for divorce.
1) Secret sister wives. Sister wives are weird to me. But a secret second family, or even a clandestine fling, can be a rational reason for either partner to end a marriage. Infidelity can be forgiven, worked through, and avoided in the future. But if your life partner insists on the kind of excitement an affair delivers, you’re better off without him. Or her.
2) Physical or emotional abuse. Whether it’s related to drugs or alcohol, or plain old mean-spiritedness, a man (or woman) who insists on physical punishment or constant belittling to control their partner ought to be left behind without guilt.
3) Total obliviousness. Equal partnerships are difficult to define. It’s almost impossible for two people to prove that their contributions to a marriage are of the same value, and it would be detrimental to try. Two people rarely bring home the same size paycheck. But if one partner works full time, then comes home to a honey-do list, while the other has been watching television, playing video games, or chatting with friends most of the day, something’s off balance. The person with fewer work or study hours or a smaller paycheck ought to be pitching in with the never-ending domestic chores common to all households. It’s called love when you want to lighten your partner’s burdens. It’s called mooching when you enjoy the benefits of a roof over your head with little or no effort. Teenagers can get away with it. Adults can’t.
All three of these bad situations are difficult to avoid, and that’s why I think it’s acceptable to pursue divorce. You can look for warning signs, but you can’t always predict that your domestic partner will take on a lover, hurt you in anger, or be oblivious to their responsibilities. Any of these situations can be worked out–but only if both agree there’s a problem and agree to work on it.
The likelihood of success depends on the depth of commitment. You can’t always know. But there may be one question two people can ask each other–and themselves–before they embark on that walk down the aisle. Can you shrug off the knowledge that this relationship could end in divorce, and go forward anyway?
If your answer is yes, stop now. You’re not ready to commit to the hard work of fidelity, kindness, and sharing that marriage demands.