It’s easy to point fingers in divorce. Society claims there are two sides to every story. It claims no one is innocent in Marriage. Friends and family repeat harmful phrases about everyone deserving to be happy.
What makes those phrases so wrong? There is truth in each of them after all. We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. Mistakes one spouse makes must help drive the other away, right? We assume that if someone we love isn’t happy, it can’t possibly be their brokenness. A spouse must have driven them to unhappiness.
These quiet, unspoken, implied accusations damage society, tempt foolish, self-focused spouses, and deeply harm innocent spouses. Despite beliefs many had as a naive young brides, we now realize all too well that there is often an innocent spouse in divorce.
There is no perfect spouse, but there is often an innocent spouse. Since the passing of no fault divorce laws, the majority of divorces are low-conflict divorces where one spouse simply thought the grass was greener somewhere else and leaves for those distant swamplands. To make matters worse, the one who walks away who is often awarded in divorce. It is the leaver who generally has a lover waiting in the wings egging him on. It is he who has the job, the retirement, and the ability to make additional income. It is he who has the anger and distance to propel him forward through legal proceedings.
Worst of all, it is the abandoner who wants to be a part-time parent. The part-time parent is satisfied splitting time with children and his new responsibility-free life. Society is satisfied that this part-time parenting and paying inadequate but court mandated child support make one a good enough parent.
We have again lowered our standards
and not cared enough to change it.
Part of that lowered standards is because we don’t recognize the innocent spouse in divorce. Married couples cannot imagine divorce happening to them. They cannot imagine the taint of unwanted divorce. They cannot imagine be victimized by an abandoning spouse or an unjust court system. The victimized spouse is too overwhelmed, and emotional to speak truth for herself, and the abandoning spouse needs others to believe he is the victim. If others truly understood the selfishness of his actions and if damage done to a family’s soul was measured in physical blows, the divorcing spouse would be viewed differently.
But others don’t understand and wounds of divorce remain internal. They are unseen but can pop up in children and innocent spouses even decades later.
I am going to keep using the term “innocent spouses” because, while no spouse is perfect, my work with the abandoned has taught me without the shadow of a doubt that there is often an innocent spouse. These are the loyal, left behind spouses who do everything in their power to stay in the Marriage, the spouses who love their partners despite wrongs done to them, the spouses who would go beyond making it work “for the children” to show those children real Joy and Love are choices we make moment by moment.
Innocent spouses know divorce reaches beyond nice phrases society uses about it taking two to tango to a more accurate description of the problem:
It takes two to Marry,
but only one to divorce,
especially with current no-fault divorce laws.
When you’re an innocent spouse, it’s easy to point fingers at the one who betrayed wedding vows and the pledge made before family, friends, and God Himself. It’s easy to hurl angry words about a partner’s infidelity, selfishness, and weakness. It’s easy to see the other woman for the trash her actions make her to be.
It’s easy to sit high on a throne and feel wronged but better than your ex and his adulteress because you are!
At the same time, that feeling better than a cheater, an abandoner, or a home-wrecker isn’t saying much about yourself. You need to be more than that.
The Parable or the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
In Sunday, October 22, 2016’s Gospel we see two men, one a Pharisee and one a tax collector. We assume the Pharisee is a well respected, educated, religious man of good standing in society and in the Temple. We assume the tax collector is scum, a cheater who steals from the citizens and his government, who lives the high life and looks down on others.
The Gospel of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector gives us a different view however. In this Gospel, Jesus shows us the arrogant pride of the Pharisee as he stands before God spouting his own greatness contrasted with the humility of the tax collector who sees his imperfections and stands before God seeking the Lord’s Mercy.
A little of the Pharisee and the tax collector live in each of us, and each of us have the potential to bring out more of either. In divorce, it is easy to spout about the wrongs done to you, by making yourself seem better, and by falsely building yourself up. Unfortunately, this false building up only lasts a short while. As with all man-made greatness, it is artificial and crashes down eventually. This type of greatness is a close relative to the greatness that allowed your selfish ex to believe he was better than others and walk-out on the beauty of Marriage.
Beware of the selfish greatness of the Pharisee. Choose to become the humble tax collector.
Look in the mirror. Discover and humbly admit what you did to contribute to the downfall of your Marriage. Recognize patterns that might arise in future relationships. Look to the 10 Commandments and see how you twisted or justified them to meet your requirements. Review things you said, did, or thought but shouldn’t have and those you didn’t say do or think but should have.
Go back to your dating relationship. Which Commandments did you break there? How did that lead you to the altar? How did that altar become one you sacrificed your children on rather than the one you Married at? Before you get into a new dating relationship, look back at all the good and the bad that led you to where you are now. You are innocent in the ending of your Marriage, but not necessarily innocent in getting into an ungodly relationship in the first place. There is power in that.
Seek forgiveness when possible.
And then go home exalted.
Many people go one of two ways when they are innocent in divorce. They become like the Pharisee, exalting themselves and their greatness or they become sort of like the tax collector in the temple, staying at a distance, afraid to get involved again, afraid to risk financial and emotional well-being a second time around. They laugh among crowds but stand in the shadows. They don’t raise their eyes to heaven in humble prayer, but keep them lowered afraid to trust the Light. They don’t beat their breasts in defeat rather than in humility. They see the wrongs they’ve done and those they do now as they succumb to financial fears, emotional exhaustion and spiritual solitude. They jump into new relationships in hopes of finding self-worth and stability and are surprised, dismayed, and further defeated when these relationships do not work out either.
The overlooked part of the Parable is that the tax collector was not defeated. He was humble. There is a big difference between humility and defeat.
We know the tax collector was not defeated by how he went home. Jesus says it right there in Luke 18, verse 14. The tax collector does not remain in the shadows of the temple area. He walks back out through those doors into the sunshine. He takes the temple with him into the world where he is no longer locked away in self-condemnation but where he is free to love and spread God’s mercy to others.
That is what you, as the innocent spouse in divorce, are called to do as well.
Before getting into a new relationship, before spouting out in anger and self-righteousness, approach the Lord with your mistakes. Humbly seek His Forgiveness, His Mercy, His Love, and the Strength and Worth He gives you and then go out into the world and bring that to others.
To skillfully move on after abandonment and divorce, we must not exalt ourselves as the Pharisee did or stay in the shadows beating ourselves up over our past or our mistakes. Instead, we must humbly approach the Lord through Confession and prayer and seek to reunite ourselves with Him without succumbing to defeatism. We are called to lives of humble strength and undying love even when it is difficult. We must be the humble tax collector returning to our homes and the world exalted and praising the Lord’s Love and Mercy!
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