The other day, an acquaintance said to me “I didn’t know Mormons could get divorced.” It stopped me short, but I recovered quickly. Yes, Mormons can and do get divorced. The general impression is that we do it with less frequency than the broader population, but if you look at the numbers, we are nearly equal. There is some discussion to be had on those numbers and how the Church counts them- a civil divorce is still a temple sealing, and a second temple marriage after a civil divorce counts as two marriages but if the first sealing was not broken, as zero divorces. Parse that out however you like, but it seems when the cold hard numbers are looked at, we are divorcing only slightly less than the non-Mormon population.
Part of me likes that we are perceived as having more stable marriages, and part of me pays the price for that perception within my own community. There is a stigma, being divorced in our wards and communities— it sometimes feels like a fear of contagion. As a church and often as a people, we focus with such myopic intensity on The Family, and on our preferable idealized version of such, there can be a bit of a kickback when a family changes its dynamic and arrangement. It’s human nature to withdraw from that which we fear, and when we watch a friend’s marriage break apart, it’s harder to hide the cracks in our own lives and marriages, and we wonder, maybe subconsciously, at our own immunity. It’s scary.
At the moment, I have three separate sets of LDS friends who are navigating the choppy waters of divorce. All three are radically different circumstances, all three are vastly painful, and all three are temple marriages between decent people. No one ever wants this to happen— I don’t care who is involved or who initiates the process, it sucks. Anyone who tosses platitudes about how divorce is “taking the easy way out” or “giving up” is an inconsiderate fool. While every divorce is different, I guaran-damn-tee you, it wasn’t a decision entered into lightly, with any degree of casualness, nor on the fly. It never “just happens”, despite comfortable or popular blame narratives. There is always— always always always— years of pain and hidden struggle, despite how things may look from the outside.
Despite a divorce and a substantial reorganization, my family, my children, are not broken. What my children and I experienced in our divorce— albeit, atypical of most divorces, LDS or not— was not just the loss of a husband and a father, but the literal loss of home, safety, financial support, family and any shred of security. Most children, mercifully, will never have to go through that, even in a divorce; but I want to yell from the rooftops, with a big Moroni trumpet, that the ones who might (mine) can and do turn into fine, well-adjusted, happy and healthy young people.
It just takes time.
Jeffrey will be eleven in two weeks. He has the most memories of the last few years, and the vocabulary and maturity to express himself- and he does. In the car the other day, we were talking, and Jeffrey wondered aloud at how his friends are feeling. I asked him who he was thinking of, and he rattled off the names of the kids who’s parent’s are divorcing, and added “I remember then, when it was new, and it was scary and hard.”
I was quiet, hoping he would add something further. I find if I give him room, sometimes he is able to find more he needs to say. “How about now?” I gently ask.
He leans his head back on the seat and looks for a bit out the window before turning to me. “Now it’s so much better, mom. I’m happy. I wish I could show my friends that. I don’t want them to be scared. Things are SO much better.”
I teared up, and put my arm around my giant kid. With the pain we went through, the upheaval, the constant struggle, the mom being in school year-round, the extra responsibility placed on his too-young shoulders— this is the truth. He is happy. He knows he is loved, and he has the compassion and ability to empathize with those he cares about and try and share it.
It’s not that I recommend divorce as a way of forcing growth- that would be absurd. If there is a way to happily and healthily hold a family together, or course it’s preferred. In my case, that wasn’t possible. But we do need to change the narrative— sometimes, as counterintuitive as it might seem, divorce actually is choosing the better part. Know that if you’re facing divorce, or someone you love is, it’s truly not the end of the world. In fact, it may be the opening of a whole new world, one you didn’t know or plan for, but one that might hold happiness you never expected to find.
I know that my children are better off and happier than if I had sacrificed us on the altar of “staying together no matter what”. I know this— it’s one of the benefits of believing and knowing the power of personal revelation. The idea of staying together “for the kids” is fraught with pitfalls; what a heavy burden to lay upon your children. Two miserable people cannot raise happy children who know how to build healthy lives. Ironically (or perhaps not) my relationship with my ex-husband is better and healthier now than it would have been if we had stayed married. Getting divorced freed us from the expectations of the other, and allowed us to be who we wanted and to remember what we liked about each other, and not be swallowed in disappointment and pain. He’s my friend again.
This enables both of us to be productive and healthy parents, in ways that were likely blocked to us had we bypassed our own spirits and happiness in order to present the world an idealized imagine of The Family. We might have held onto the white picket fence and the big house, but what was inside that pretty house would have been crushed and sick from the weight of appearances mattering more than soul. I don’t give a damn what the neighbors think or what my divorce does to the statistics. Had we stayed together, I would have been a miserably unhappy woman, and he would have continued to turn to unhealthy means to cope with the weight of that unhappiness- his, and mine. Nothing will ever convince me that raising children in that environment would have been healthier— emotionally, spiritually or temporally— than what we have now.
Let’s change the narrative, let’s change the picture of a healthy family to include those of us who had to make hard choices that might not have matched up with the cover of the Ensign. Allow that if you know someone traversing this rocky shore, you probably don’t know the whole story, and if there is anything you can do take the edge from the rocks, do it. Err on the side of love and forgiveness. Embrace, don’t fear, the families in transition, and know that their path, while perhaps not yours, is just as valid. All families are valuable to the body of Christ.