Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It’s Not You, It’s Me

With the rise of no-fault divorce laws came a new set of acceptable grounds for divorce. Previously, one partner would have to demonstrate that the other had been unfaithful, abusive, or downright awful. Now they just have to allege "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage."

It's a convenient phrase that stops us from feeling guilty about our failure to succeed at making the marriage work.

"There is something deceptive about [the phrase 'irretrievable breakdown']. The passive, impersonal structure, the dry legalities of the language, conceal a lie. It suggests that a marriage has an independent organic existence. It exonerates us by portraying us as merely the clinicians pronouncing the body dead. But at what precise point does the breakdown of a marriage become irretrievable? The moment we declare it so, and no sooner. And the marriage doesn't just break down. We disconnect the life support. While it requires will to make a marriage work, it also requires a quite horrifying act of will to bring one to an end." (Taylor, John. "The Death of a Marriage." Sunday Telegraph (Australia), 30 May 1999, 13; as cited by Hafen, Bruce C., "Covenant Hearts," Deseret Book 2005, p. 236)


I think it's awfully sad to see marriages and relationships break up over petty things. But it's even sadder to see the parties refuse to take responsibility for their choices. I yearn for the days when, among the Nephites, "every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins" (Mosiah 29:38).

I submit that there is only one major reason for a marital breakdown (or any relationship breakdown, for that matter), and that is this: one or both parties decides that they do not want the relationship enough, or that they do not want the other person enough, to do what it would take to make the relationship work. Very few people will say this. They will say, "oh, we did not get along," or "we fell out of love," or "we weren't compatible." But in each case, what they mean is, "One or both of us decided that the costs of this relationship were greater than its benefits, and thus we were not willing to pay those costs."

And although I posit this as a catch-all reason for divorce, I won't go so far as to universally condemn it. The wife of an abusive man may decide that the costs (e.g. the pain caused by her husband's constant battering) are greater than the benefits of her marriage (e.g. the chance to have a father for her children, or her husband's income or position), just as the cuckolded husband may decide that the costs (e.g. the pain caused by his wife's constant infidelity) are greater than the benefits of his marriage (e.g. the meals she makes or the company she provides), and perhaps rightly so.

But barring such extreme circumstances, alleging irretrievable breakdown seems like a pretty cheap cop-out. If a marriage broke down, it’s because someone chose to do things that would destroy it, or neglected to do something that would have preserved it. As prophets have warned, “individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

May we, as the Relief Society Declaration proclaims, “seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost,” and having done so, more fully “dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes,” that we may be a force for good and truly come to “rejoice in the blessings of the temple,” which bind our families together forever, if we remain faithful.

Picture from http://electexiles.files.wordpress.com


  1. Hi Amy,

    I came accross your blog looking for a picture of Christ at the Pool of Bethesda. A love that picture and use it frequently to teach, then frequently give away the picture. Anyway I love your thoughts on the story from the scripture. However, I now am unable to find where you wrote it! I do hope all is going well. Dory

  2. I told my new son-in-law when he asked for Dau #2's hand in marriage that he must decide to be married each morning when he wakes up if he expects to be successful at it. Marriage is a daily covenant. Each day we have, we must commit to make our spouse the center of our thoughts and actions. To the extent I do that, My Beloved and I manage to achieve happiness. It's a worthwhile endeavor. Many people, though, are unwilling or unable to see the hope and reward behind the promise. Alas.