We all know the statistics about divorce:
- nearly 50% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce
Statistics you may not know about divorce:
- the average length of a marriage ending in divorce is 8 years
- the average age of couples going through their first divorce is 30
And finally, God’s heart for marriage:
Jesus, quoting from Genesis 2, goes on to explain even further the importance of marriage in the face of divorce. He says, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” -Matthew 19:4-6.
What we don’t often speak about is the divorce rate among couples facing trauma.
It’s nearly 68%.
That means out of ten couples facing perhaps the most difficult trial of their lives, roughly 3 of them will weather it together. The others will choose to face their pain without the person who swore to uphold them in sickness, poverty, and when life throws its worst.
Why? The simple answer is that grief is hard. The difficult answer is that healing can be harder.
The idiosyncrasies that can rub on a good day will bury you in bitterness on a bad one. The crazy-making way that neither of you will be on the exact same page with the emotional ups and downs of processing your trauma will wear you thin. The need for connection and intimacy are nearly forgotten as you are thrown into survival mode for days, weeks, months, maybe even years. And what can initially be seen as a season of difficulty becomes an all-encompassing battle just to keep your head above water.
Joseph and I are no strangers to difficulty and the ways it can impact a family. We are both products of divorce. Alcoholism, mental illness, addiction, abuse, and relational narcissism are all well represented among our four biological parents. And our step-parents didn’t exactly bring relational capital into the equation – ending in more brokenness and often divorce.
So, my entire marriage, all 21 years to date, has been spent working to avoid the pitfalls into which our parents fell. It took a significant amount of work and sacrifice not to mention some necessary counseling and a rock-solid commitment to communicate. And while I believed we could weather any hardship together (and before now did weather financial difficulty, miscarriages, in-laws, job loss, and the daily grind of life), this current season truly put that belief to the test.
My marriage is an area of joy and strength unparalleled to anything on earth. I can say, with absolute conviction, that outside of Christ, Joseph and our relationship are the things that bring me the most peace, strength, and sense of belonging.
But here are a few ways that our heartache truly tested our marital resolve and what we did to overcome the temptation of turning against one another.
- Recognize, from the earliest possible moment, that Satan is out to destroy your marriage:
- I distinctly remember a conversation Joseph and I had in that first week of pure shock. My husband embraced me and said, “I know this is going to be so hard, but we have to stay connected to one another. We need to fight for intimacy. This horrible sin that Asher walked in doesn’t define us – or our marriage bed.” That small statement made a significant impact upon me and my ability to maintain my relationship to Joseph as his wife and not simply his partner in legal administrivia and co-parent to our children.
- Be real about where you stand in the grief cycle and lavish grace upon your spouse who is, doubtless, not in the same place as you:
- If I stopped and took inventory, I could probably count the number of times Joseph and I were in the same emotional boat during our first year on one hand. That’s 5 times out of 24 hours of 365 unique days. It’s not a lot. Ideally, this universal truth works in your favor. When one spouse is down, the other can bolster and encourage or vice versa. But it can quickly turn ugly when encouragement lacks sensitivity. All too often, what was needed by the down partner was simply a listening ear and the grace to remember how we felt when we were in that same place – probably just 24 or 36 hours earlier.
- Trust your spouse’s relationship with Christ:
- I needed Joseph to trust that when I raged about the pain of God’s sovereignty in the midst of our tragedy, I was not questioning His goodness or His salvation. Nothing can throw you into an argument faster than to have your character questioned by someone you love. It would have been marital suicide if every time Joseph shared the vulnerable underbelly of his fears regarding the plan of Jesus to redeem our family, I shot back some bible verse that made short work of “convicting” him over the sin of unbelief or faithlessness. Trials are hard. People cry out under the pain of them. Read the bible. Questioning God’s design or purpose is not sin.
- Acknowledge that you need outside support – both individually and as a couple:
- If you are facing unparalleled challenges in your first year of marriage, before building a solid foundation of understanding and trust, then I implore you to seek counsel early and often. But even after years of learning one another and weathering the inevitable ups and downs of life, nothing can prepare you to learn that your son is molesting his three younger siblings. You need outside perspective and help. Both of you. This is not a, “she needs to talk to someone so she’s meeting with our pastor/counselor/therapist/friend,” kind of deal. You must communicate through the steps of healing otherwise you will drift apart rather than together. And because you will each face different demons in your trials, it is also important to seek individual support. But always bring those conversations back into your marriage. A broken heart is ripe for connection. Making discoveries in personal healing without involving your spouse is a sure way to grow distant and detached.
- Give yourself and your spouse permission to fail:
- It doesn’t matter what you are facing, according to God’s word it is not outside of His purview. So, take off the pressure to be perfect at everything. Remember when you were a first-time parent and it felt like the brand of pacifier (or whether to even use one!) was tantamount to negotiating world peace with North Korea? Time and perspective hopefully allowed you to see that your child’s success in life will never be determined by such a small decision. Now, I’m not suggesting that the decisions our family faced in light of Asher’s crimes were on par with Gerber Nuks. But no single decision effectively ruined or accomplished all the goals. Should I have been harder on Asher during that one visit? Did I speak too sharply during Georgia’s last emotional outburst? Are we expecting too much or too little from our children during triggering events? I don’t know. I trust God to make my weakness perfect in His own strength. And I trust Him to do the same for my husband.
- Find ways to laugh and cry together:
- Lastly, I cannot tell you how important it is to share the physical aspects of the emotional journey. Seek out ways to laugh. The absurd, sometimes macabre facets of our current season absolutely lend themselves to occasional hilarity. It’s ok to laugh at them. And when the situation itself bears no humor, then find a movie or comedian that can give you that outlet. Similarly, do not be afraid to cry with one another. Grief is an isolating experience. No single person can truly walk it with you. So take advantage of those moments when you can at least share the outward trappings of your internal pain. It reminds you that you are in this – for better or worse – together.
Jesus boldly calls us to let no man tear asunder what God orchestrated to bring together. We must be vigilant to realize that includes the very people inside the marriage. And in times of trauma, it is even more necessary to guard the precious union of husband and wife.