The Greatest Problem from Divorce
- Wednesday, August 15, 2007
What is it about Americans and marriage? National statistics on divorce in this country are alarming. Remarriages are so common that they account for half of all marriages. This truly translates to a national epidemic when we consider that so many divorced people are repeat offenders whose actions wreak havoc and create family fissures, individual suffering, and loss of self–esteem. Yet few address why this is happening or how to avoid it.
You probably know from personal experience how painful and disheartening divorce can be. In our divorce recovery workshops, we hear every story imaginable. It is incredibly sad to hear of so many broken dreams, so much agony from confused children, and so much anger, resentment, and confusion from the parents. No other event in human existence except death is so tormenting and life changing. People sob, they rant, they blame, they plead, they scream, and, underneath, they horribly hurt. We do everything we can to try to calm them and reassure them that, in time, they will heal and life will become more normal again.
But one thing upsets us more than the immediate agony we observe in divorced people. We tell them this unsettling thought: The greatest problem from divorce is not what you think. You may feel like you will never be the same. You are in intense pain. You can't imagine that the heartache will ever go away. You have a kaleidoscope of emotions ranging from shock, sadness, anger, bitterness, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, shame, stress, insecurity, low self–esteem, to loneliness—and that's just on the first day. Then you are confronted with the seemingly insurmountable task of readjusting your life to a whole new reality. You have new financial strains, challenges with your children, even legal issues to resolve. What could be worse than all of this? you ask. We know for sure that in time you will recover. Those of us who have gone through divorce, or observed others who have, know that most of these consequences are short term, although the healing process takes time and effort. Just ask most people who have been divorced for more than five years. They will tell you it wasn't easy, but they are okay now. They have adjusted.
But that one thing we mentioned that upsets us more than seeing the trauma divorced people go through is the greatest problem from divorce. We know that almost half of these people who choose to remarry will go through divorce again.
Some people say that a repeat divorce is easier than the first one. Total baloney. Anyone who has been through multiple divorces will tell you it doesn't get any easier the next time. What do we feel?
You think you have low self–esteem after the first divorce? Imagine how you would feel after the second or third? You have lost all self–confidence. If you thought maybe the first divorce was a fluke, now you're not so sure. If you thought your ex was all to blame, now you see that you are the common denominator in these divorces. If you think friends and family had a high regard for your character, you wonder what they are thinking now.
Something's Wrong with You
Now you begin to think there really is something wrong with you. Your self–perception as a mature, rational individual goes out the window. If you felt like a loser after the first divorce, you get strong confirmation after a repeat.
Fear of Remarriage
The more times you are divorced, the more you fear trying it again. Do you want to risk that trauma all over again? Can you take another failed marriage? Can you subject your children to another broken home? Are you willing to go through the agony and cost of another breakup? Are you ready to chance that all those plans and dreams you have could go up in smoke again? A number of the people in our national survey said that after a few attempts, they were through. They wanted no part of marriage. It became too difficult, too complicated, too risky.
Today, much has been written about divorce, divorce recovery, life after divorce, dating, remarriage, blended families, and the like. Little has been written about why so many remarriages fail. We want to expose you to some theories about why those who divorce have "a not much better than even" chance of making it the next time. In general, these reasons are best summarized as divorce due to marrying people who have debilitating deficits.
There are many theories implied in common folklore about why some people have repeat divorces. One of these is "baggage." It's true. If you are divorced, you have heaps of baggage. You have emotional scars—the hurts, wounds, anger, fears, hang–ups, and skepticisms of a failed marriage. Then there is the physical baggage—the children, the debts, the ongoing necessary connection with the ex–spouse. Some believe this baggage lessens your chance that a new marriage can succeed. There is some reality to this. If you enter a new marriage refusing to let go of the past or not allowing your new mate to be first, the marriage may falter from the start. But let's face it: Everyone has baggage. It just depends on how you handle it and what you do with it. Many second marriages do succeed even with baggage in tow. If you and your new spouse recognize the realities before the marriage and decide in advance how you will deal with all of it, the past won't be an insurmountable problem. Remember, more than half of remarriages are successful.
Bad Boys and Girls
When divorce attorneys ask their clients what led to the breakup of their marriages, addictions and other bad behaviors are mentioned in a list of the top ten. If a divorced person has a drinking or drug problem and isn't able to get this under control before his or her next marriage, is it any surprise that the second marriage will stumble? Other addictions such as gambling or sex likewise create risks to the repeat offender. Some people have spending or eating compulsions or similar hang-ups. If you have any of these types of problems that led to your divorce, you need to get clean and fixed before even considering remarriage. Telling the new fiancé the truth about your problem is also a must.
Needless to say, if you marry someone with such ongoing problems, you're being foolhardy.
Another theory about why multiple divorces occur is that some people just can't stick with anything they do. They're quitters. This is the belief that there is a certain type of person who is quicker to quit than to tough it out. In contrast, it's believed people who marry and never divorce are more committed to the institution of marriage or to their spouse, or both. Another version of this theory is that the hurt and cynical attitude created by the first divorce makes you less likely to stay in a marriage given the eventual ups and downs. It goes like this: After seeing that you survived the first divorce (and you're already branded a divorced person), it's easier to bail out the next time. If your next marriage is difficult, you may feel it's easier to divorce again because you know you will recover. Reality check: While it may be true that divorce is less scary the second time because you know what to expect, who wants to go through that entire trauma again?
The premise here is that those who divorce multiple times tend to be failures in many other facets of life. Are divorced people just losers? This theory can't fly since 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. There aren't that many losers in the world! Still, anyone who has been involved in the dating scene can probably confirm that there are a few out there.
Our research tells us that these reasons—baggage, addictions, hang-ups, quitter-types, and the failure–prone—are not the major reasons for so many multiple divorces. No doubt some remarriages fail because of these various reasons. Some people probably are not the marrying type, and they won't stick it out through the ups and downs. Then there are the complexities of remarriage with children where blood is thicker than water. If the kids, even adult children, pose a problem, some parents may choose them instead of the new spouse. Financial issues also add a layer of difficulty to a remarriage. When people get married the first time, few have any possessions. In contrast, people in their 40s, 50s, or 60s have a lot. They feel the need to protect their money because they do not have time to earn it all over again.
No, the answer for why most subsequent marriages fail is that divorce creates circumstances that cloud our judgment and may lead us to remarry before we are ready, and we may do so for the wrong reasons. We may even choose one of the four "ill–equipped for marriage" types just mentioned as our next spouses. When we are still adrift in blame–shifting, stigma–fighting, and emotion–sorting, we do not make great mates and we are not in a good position to select one. Unfortunately, we forget that having gone through a divorce means we need to take some time to reempower ourselves. And what we do not need to do is plunge forward mindlessly into dating, mating, and another marriage.
Many a divorced person does not have a clue what went wrong the last time he (or she) recited vows, but he doesn't let that keep him from lining up at the matrimonial scrimmage line for another shot at the end–zone. The marriage–challenged have a hard time seeing the truth. They thrive on love, courtship, romance. They want someone to fix their problems. They quickly end up married again. Bottom line, if you go forward with remarrying when you are still just as clueless as you were the last time you chose a mate, you are very likely to make another marriage mistake—the last thing you want to happen.
Not all redivorces involve marrying the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Some remarriages that end in divorce were not due to bad choices. A woman in our divorce recovery workshop said she was happily remarried for more than 30 years, had four beautiful children, but then her husband had a heart attack. This event pushed him over the edge, and he left her to pursue a new life. Clearly this was not a failed remarriage on her part.
If a remarriage ends within three to ten years, this is generally a sign of marrying the wrong person for the wrong reasons. A recent study reveals that among all remarriages, 25 percent end in divorce or separation within the first five years and 40 percent within ten years. There is ample evidence that many remarriages occur because people were not ready to remarry, resulting in finding the wrong person from the start.
We welcome your feedback and brainstorms at: SinglesNewsletter@ChristianityToday.com
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