Try your best to avoid a divorce
– Unfortunately, many people realize marital inequality only after some problems arose in a family. What should they do in this case – to accept a family breakdown, to divorce and build a new family or to save marriage no matter what?
– I think you should try to save your family in any case. The spiritual law is effective for everyone, whether you are a believer or not. This law says, ‘He who stands firm to the end will be saved’. An individual that stands troubles consciously, sacrifices himself, will rich a piece of mind eventually. As monastic elder Paissiy says, ‘If you give up your ego, Jesus rushes into you’. The Reverend Pimen the Great has said, ‘If we seek for peace it will run away from us; but if we run away from peace it will pursue us’. Obviously, he mentioned the idea of self-sacrifice here. Without self-sacrifice you cannot build a good family. If a person looks only for his own pleasure, he is doomed to a discomfort in his family, he is going to constantly feel dissatisfied. You see, life for a selfish individual is not easy as it is, and it’s even harder under the family circumstances.
If you think of separation, first you should understand that it takes two to divorce and both partners are to blame. Try to analyse together what is going on. If a divorce has not happened yet, pray for the conflict to cease and discuss it with your spouse. It is very important not to bear a grudge against each other. Be the one to make the first step and talk to your spouse. You can start with the words such as, ‘Come on, let’s talk! Tell me what is wrong. If I’m guilty, point it to me, explain where I’ve made a mistake.’ As far as I know, people feel a great relief after such conversations. If you don’t talk, you are going to feel distressed and out of heart. Don’t be proud, ask your partner to forgive you. I’m sure that any man being a head of a family shouldn’t feel embarrassed to come to his wife and ask for her forgiveness.
Therefore, when a divorce is about to happen you should talk it over. I’m not going to examine all the situations but if, say, a man leaves his wife for another woman, a wife should ask some questions like ‘What is next? Are you sure you want to spend the rest of your life with that woman? Are you positive you won’t leave her in some time?’ Generally speaking, a woman should urge her husband to take a sober and objective view of the situation. Whatever the case is, pray and the right words will come to you.
– You’re encouraging to save a family no matter what. However, some priests say there is no family de facto if unfaithfulness took place, and probably love is not there any more, at least from one side…
– Again, the issue of love is a very complicated one. Mark Twain has said, "Nobody can say what love is unless he has lived in a marriage for 25 years as I have".
Yes, practically you may admit that marriage is over. But you can try to restore it, can’t you? Having agreed to divorce after your spouse had an adultery means pushing him to a further sin, the mortal one! Can we do such thing being Christians?
The unfaithfulness is a hard blow if you loved your spouse. However, a divorce shuts the door for a family reunion. From the moment your got separated your partner stays with two options, in particular, repentance and chastity which is the only way to atone for the sin, or lechery. Because the second marriage even though it is permitted by church is still considered as adultery as monastic elders see it. Saints used to advise to a sinner to get back to his wife, but there is no way for a man to do it if a woman makes him unwelcome.
I knew a woman who divorced her husband because he was an alcoholic. She married another man, very refined one. In a while the latter started to drink as well, in fact he was drinking in a civilized way but constantly. When her first husband committed suicide, do you think it was easy for that woman to bear such a tragedy? She had to live with it for the rest of her life. What I mean to say is that one mustn’t think only of his/her own interests, though unfaithfulness is a very strong reason for divorce. Nevertheless, if you resign yourself and have enough strength to forgive it means you display the superior love and unselfishness.
– But where is the limit for such patience? There are cases when husbands beat up their wives damaging women’s health.
– Such a limit is probably an issue of conscience. Every woman should assess her potential to understand how much she can stand. Reverend Amvrosiy of Optina has said that our pride being touched by a finger starts to cry, ‘I’m being skinned alive!’ which means often it’s not our body and soul that hurt but pride.
Once a young woman came to me and said, "Father, you married us but we got divorced, why?" As if it was my fault! They’ve lived together just two months when her husband started to drink. The question is if the man used to drink before why did she marry him? If he didn’t, then what was the reason for him to start drinking? No one can turn into an alcoholic within two shorts months, why couldn’t she tolerate it for a while, talk to him and pursue to stop?
Another case. Spouses have lived together for twenty years. A man being a hockey player got a bad injury and couldn’t stay in his profession any longer; he went through a hard time trying to realize he won’t be able to do what he loved the most. On the first day after his comeback from the hospital he had a terrible fight with his wife to the extent of a break-up. Their pride was hurt and no one was ready to forgive. The man was the first to say the ultimate words "I’m leaving" and his wife being all nervous pushed him even further by saying she won’t beg him to come back. They ended up in divorce because both had a strong intention to teach each other a lesson by demonstrating the firm character in which they succeeded all right.
The man told me later that he respected his ex-wife for having done so. But to me, it was an evil spirit that laughed at them both. Now, visiting their parents they join the same company with their new spouses which is very awkward and unpleasant situation for the all involved. The reason for that is pride alone.
I do believe that one must try to keep the family no matter what unless there are life-threatening circumstances.
And yet, we shouldn’t forget about the power of prayer. The sincere prayer can solve many troubles. Let me give you one example. One of my classmates, a candidate of science, had a weakness for alcohol. It got to the point when he ruined himself with drink so at last his wife decided to go to Serpukhov to the icon of the Mother of God "The Inexhaustible Chalice". Having prayed there, she took home the holy water and started to add it into the meals. In some time the man had given up drinking. Although that woman wasn’t too religious, she had a very strong desire to help her husband and God answered her prayers.
When we think our spouse is offending us, we must remember one more spiritual law which Joann Zlatoust the Saint expressed as follows, "Check whether you planed something evil against some woman when you were young, because the insult of one woman is avenged by another and your wife is heeling somebody else’s wound. Although she might not know that, the doctor, which is God, knows. As The Holy Scriptures says, a bad wife is a scourge for your own sins, she is given to a sinful husband as a bitter medicine exterminating sinful basics". So let’s recall our mistakes and humble ourselves.
Actually, pride is the most dangerous enemy in the family relationships. If there is no humility, a normal family life is impossible in principle. The most important thing in a family life is patience for your spouse, and that is not easy. To be patient with someone in some situation is one thing, but standing the imperfections of other person for many years is something very different, it takes a great labor and cannot be done without God’s help. That is why the church consecrates a marriage in a wedding ceremony. The Lord grants His grace in this sacrament without which a normal family is rather impossible.
If you happened to fill offended, try to understand why, sort out the reason. Don’t stick to a grudge by harping on something like "how dare you, it’s more than I can bare, that’s the last straw!" I recall one woman who was crying indignantly about her husband being disrespectful. I asked her if he hit her. She said he didn’t but he raised his hand against her right before their children’s eyes. Yes, I agree, it was wrong enough. However, if a woman blows such things out of proportion, the results are going to be even worse. Children shouldn’t be shown that their father is a bad person. That man made a mistake but after a while he could realize this fact and feel sorry. Very often such mistakes end up with divorce only because they become an "idee fixe" for women.
You’d better learn that the most essential in a family is patience and not your own pleasure. In this case, love that once became a reason for two people to create a family transforms but never dies. Some other sides of love develop such as respect, rich experience that spouses have been through. I like Russian traditional wish for just married ‘live in love and harmony!’ which reflects a great spiritual wisdom because if there is a harmony between two loving people love will not go away. In order to attain that each of them should sacrifice his/her own interests for the sake of other.
– There is a situation when husband and wife having lived together for 10-15-20 years suddenly realize they were total strangers to each other and got nothing to talk about. What is the reason for such alienation? Is it because people had nothing in common from the very beginning or their love has gone?
– It means they created nothing. Again, what is love? In Greek there are three words designating love. Spiritual love is called "agapi", physical is "eros". The spiritual component is a must be thing between spouses because the physical part tends to fade away with years but the spiritual side only gets stronger and richer if it was a basis between two people. So, what kind of love do spouses mean when talking about their feelings being gone? Obviously, eros, - the physical love has died but the spiritual has never even came! Or, it was not there at all, and this is your fault alone because God said, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another". Therefore, if someone does want to love someone else, God never fails to grant it.
What to do if one of the spouses has fallen in love with somebody else?
Sometimes in a lifetime we meet people that are more attractive, bright and interesting than our wife or husband. The Lord allows such things to happen as a test for us so we could develop our Christianity because if you keep faithfulness to your family you keep it to God.
– Often mothers or girl-friends of a wife/husband become a reason of divorce.
– In my sermon after a wedding ceremony I always quote the words of apostle that a family is ‘a small church’. Church is saint and chaste, and so nothing that threatens the integrity and sanctity of your home church should get in. Both spouses must protect their small church in every way. They shouldn’t be too open discussing their problems with others. In particular, it’s absolutely inadmissible to talk over a family issues with female friends, especially the unmarried ones because a seed of a future break-up can be planted in such conversations. The same goes for mothers. I know a few cases when mothers were the reason for their daughters to divorce their husbands. The main problem of such mothers is a bad habit to have a total control over their daughters and sometimes, envy. Unfortunately, unmarried woman can unconsciously envy her daughter’s happiness and shutter her marriage. I know one family that is not falling into pieces only by a miracle. You see, a retired single mother having the only daughter cannot imagine her life outside the child’s interests, she has nothing else to do but to interfere in her daughter’s family. Her son in law is a rare example of proper man,- very nice, talented, kind, reliable, and yet she hates him. That guy is in desperate condition, he doesn’t know what to do, how to act because the woman keeps saying out loud "I wish you to die!" Being a believer the young man holds himself back from divorce, otherwise he would have done it a long time ago. However, to say the truth, he married that girl after they’ve had intimate relations and the girl wanted to have an abortion.
– How to manage a hard time if divorce is unavoidable?
– Always remember one simple thing,- on creating people God granted them a free will, we all are free human beings. Even a child has every right to live the way he wants, being your flesh and blood he is not your slave nevertheless. Even more it’s true for spouses. Your spouse is free to be a master of his/her own life, even to ruin it and you’d better to accept it. Yes, the recognition of this fact can cause you pain but that the way things are.
A marriage combines two people in one flesh but a divorce tears it apart, which is very painful. If someone was injured in a car accident or developed a dreadful disease it’s also a great pain but people can learn to live with it. The same way one has to learn how to survive without a spouse. Anyway, a break-up will affect you much harder if you foster the injury and blame either your spouse or your bad luck or even your destiny. Mostly it’s our pride that prevents us from overcoming the situation, we like to think "how could he/she prefer another girl/guy to me?! I’m not stupid and I’m attractive, then why?" It’s a common situation when one partner leaves a family for someone less beautiful, not as rich, etc. It’s something to think about, isn’t it? Maybe the one that was left behind unintentionally became conceited, was preoccupied with him/herself? I know one couple where the wife is very educated and the husband is not. They got married early and have two kids. But all of a sudden the man left for someone of easy virtue and the wife was really surprised about that fact. I pointed out to her that maybe the reason for his leaving was her superiority, maybe she let him feel his imperfections.
– One of the typical questions women ask themselves when a divorce took place sounds like this, "I gave him everything, I lived only for him, how could he do such thing to me?"
– This is a question of pride. Actually, woman’s pride is much stronger then man’s because women are more emotional, it’s much more hard for them to control themselves. Therefore, when it comes to divorce a woman has to realize her mistakes and abstract away from emotions. If you can humble the pride and admit your own shortcomings (they also could be a reason for divorce, couldn’t they?), you will certainly feel better. You see, when we justify ourselves we lose God’s grace as monastic elder Paisiy says. Without this divine grace, how could we survive some troubles, sorrow and disease? On the contrary, if we regret our acts and repent our sins, at least before our own conscience, we feel better because God grants us His grace in this case. There is a story about two monks who were at odds with each other. One of them wishing to follow the Gospel decided to apologize first but the other didn’t even want to talk to him and so their conflict went on. When the first monk asked one elder why his apology didn’t work, the latter gave him a piece of advice such as, ’If you are ready to say sorry you should mean it. When you were going to ask for forgiveness, in your mind you justified yourself and blamed your brother. Now, try to do it the other way round’. So he did. When this man was approaching his brother’s cell he saw him waiting by the door with his arms stretched out. God’s grace had touched the second brother’s heart.
The same is true for a family life. You should try to win God’s grace by being humble and by admitting your fault in case you were guilty because disregarding the spiritual laws leads to suffering. Mind that these laws do exist and their effect is just as inevitable as the law of gravity.
– How can we apply to ourselves the words of Apostle Paul "But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband"?
– You need to assess your abilities and choose the lesser of two evils. If you’re unable to keep chastity, the second marriage will be your choice. But it’s better to remain single, even if it was not you who committed an adultery but your spouse. Because your partner might regret his sin and want to come back. But whatever the case is, the keeping of chastity is always advantageous in a spiritual respect.
We had a case recently. A man in his forties left his wife for a young girl that has just graduated from college. I was trying to bring him to his senses by saying that after some time, maybe in 20 years, the girl might leave him as he will grow old. And what would have happened if a baby was born? The situation could become even more complicated. I was confident that temporary insanity wouldn’t last long. Well, in a year she left him, right on the Lent; and so the man got back to his wife. I can only guess how hard that situation was on her because she developed a heart disease and aged a lot. But anyway, she accepted her husband back which was very lofty and right from the Christian point of view. It was also reasonable. You see, your husband or wife is someone you know well, but you cannot be sure that your new partner will stay with you for the rest of your life. It may happen that you’ll be left alone in your old age. Moreover, your children may refuse to take care of you, they may ask, "Where were you when I needed your help? Why weren’t you there for me and my mother when we needed you the most?"
So, that man has been through some difficult ordeal; now he has to admit his mistake and make up for it. Maybe, if he acquires some humility he can become a better husband then before the affair.
– Sometimes such situation can turn into its opposite, especially when it comes to young people. A man can take advantage of it knowing that his wife will forgive him no matter what. He can have affairs one after another and every other time it’ll be even easier to do.
– Yes, there are some conscienceless people. The degree of a moral lapse can be different. In some hopeless cases it’s better to break up with unfaithful husband because there is nothing you can do about it and love is no longer there. You see, each family is unique, with its own problems, and so there is no universal remedy to be given that would suit everybody. Any recommendation we have discussed here should be taken as a guide only. Listening to your heart is the most important.
Sergey Nikolayev, Archpriest
Surviving Divorce: It's hard to be civilized but possible (Maxim Tsvetkov)