A few thoughts on marriage

I teach writing.  In the past, when student write arguments on marriage, it’s usually the typical arguments for or against same sex marriage.

This year, I’ve had more than a handful of students write arguments that marriage, whether same sex or not, is discriminatory, because it gives exclusive benefits not available to non-married people.  Marriage needs to go!

[Now, before you decide that this is a "see how the push for same-sex marriage is undermining marriage itself" post, please read on..]

In Arizona (and a few other states), there is a type of marriage called covenant marriage.  It isn’t quite what marriage was before no-fault divorce came along, but it does make divorce a little more difficult.

Anyone with a standard marriage can upgrade to covenant marriage at any time in Arizona (I’ve looked, and it’s similar in other states).  Whenever I mention this to other Mormons (and other very conservative religious types who often talk about the sanctity of marriage and the need to protect it), they get a little uncomfortable.  They may say it’s a nice option, but they aren’t going to go change their marriage to that status. Why?  Well, just in case, after all.

I sometimes think the defenders of marriage sabotaged their own argument long ago, bizarrely fighting battles they’ve already surrendered.

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About Ivan W.

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was just shy of 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has five kids and four stepkids.

51 thoughts on “A few thoughts on marriage

  1. I would change mine. Why not? The name itself seems a little redundant though? Isn’t marriage a covenant to start with? It’s just crazy what we have done to the institution of marriage to begin with. The devil is hard at work, and we need to start fighting back now.

  2. I agree. The idea that we want an escape hatch like this is an admission to holding a newer definition of marriage. No-fault divorce changed our understanding of what marriage is in a legal context, and we have largely adopted this perspective.

  3. I bet this is more small-c conservatism than any real resistance to covenant marriage per se. In other words, if my marriage ain’t broke, why fix it?

    My guess is that you’d need some encouragement for the Brethren before LDS folks start taking covenant marriage seriously.

  4. Agreed with Adam G’s comment. There are significant problems with the privatization of marriage, but if covenant marriage has some defined purpose I am sure my wife and I would consider it. We already made that “time and all eternity” covenant, so it’s difficult to imagine anything more lasting than that.

  5. I imagine that benefits of such an arrangement would not be seen in isolation—as in, my relationship with my wife would be unchanged by encoding it more permanently in the eyes of the law. Same with each of us. Particularly considering the fact that we already made that permanent commitment in the Temple, and that there are already spiritual and social ramifications for violating that commitment.

    However, encoding more permanence into marriage in the legal system would lead to an observed difference in the *aggregate.* Nobody who supported or opposed the implementation of no-fault divorce really felt that it would change the way they see their marriage. But it did change the way society as a whole saw and made sense of marriage. There were significant consequences in the aggregate.

    I take Ivan’s point in that light. Once upon a time, those of our worldview opposed no-fault divorce for many of the same reasons we oppose same-sex marriage: the social and societal consequences of redefining marriage in the eyes of the law from a lifelong commitment grounded in permanence and legally revoked only for dire reasons and with legal consequences, to something more akin to a civil contract that can be dissolved at will by either party. It was a real redefinition of marriage itself, and many Church members rightly opposed it for that reason.

    Today, however, when someone proposes we undo that change to marriage, many of us become uncomfortable. Ivan’s point is well-taken: this isn’t about preserving the status quo, this is about preserving marriage—and marriage has been under siege for half a century already. We’ve forgotten about concessions we’ve already made, and redefinitions marriage has already undergone. We need to be clearly not just about what marriage currently is in the eyes of the law—we need to be clear about what it should be, which isn’t necessarily what it currently is (even without same-sex marriage).

  6. Part of this is related to dissolution of my first marriage – I have been (and my kids still are) hurt by no fault divorce. And we had a temple marriage. However, people involved in the divorce (this is about as far as I will go in discussing my divorce in any detail online in a publicly accessible way) are conservative members of the church who loudly condemn same-sex marriage and talk about the sanctity of marriage. Yet when it came to my marriage – well, mammon was somehow more important (though they managed to mingle the words of the prophets with the philosophies of no-fault divorce).

    My current wife and I deliberately took the covenant marriage route. Not because we think our marriage is somehow likely to fail or otherwise broke, but we also recognized that second marriages (we were both divorced previously) have a very high failure rate, and if we ever did get to the point where one of us felt like we wanted a divorce, we wanted to give the other a chance to fight for the marriage. In a no fault society, you can’t fight for the marriage – all you can do is wind up subsidizing your own divorce.

    ldsphil made my point better than I could, and frankly I’m very mystified by Adam and Geoff’s diffidence to the matter. More proof, to me at least, that we lost the marriage debate long ago, and too many of us have internalized the world’s definitions without realizing it. Covenant marriage has a defined purpose – to restore the seriousness of marriage; the fact many can’t see that indicates we’re somewhat too far gone.

  7. Crazy logic. Heteros have already made a mess of marriage so why all the fuss over SSM? That’s an admission that SSM is a bad thing. And so what that *ought* to mean is that we have another front on the battle field — not that we should throw our hands up and walk away from the fight.

  8. I am not suggesting we throw up our hands and walk away from the fight. However, I am suggesting we’re fighting the wrong front.

  9. Really, why should Mormons, married in the temple, ever have tried to relate to Gentile marriage till death? An eternal marriage lasts for so many eons longer than a Gentile marriage. The value and length of a Gentile marriage is laughable from an eternal perspective. The value of a same-sex marriage is just as laughable. Why get jumpy about what the Gentiles want to do with their pittiable time on earth, and how they want to define their authority-less, powerless rituals?

    I don’t understand why Mormons try to mingle with the world on this issue. We are not of the world. We have our own thing, and it’s so far superior to anything the world offers, that why would we even think of comparing them, or getting upset if the Gentile’s apostate marriages wants to become even more apostate?

    We are supposed to be IN the world, but not OF the world. Our marriages are not of this world. They have been ratified and seald by the Holy Priesthood of God, not by the pathetic authorities of this earth, the remnants of Nebuchadnezers idol, which will be smashed and destroyed.

    Sure we have to make friends with the Mammon of unrighteousness, be compassionate sometimes and help out our Evangelical neighbors in their apostate crusades, since they asked us. But that is not the mission of the church. Our mission is to seal up God’s family in the Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, not fuss around with and get upset about the rituals of apostates. Heaven knows, they wouldn’t return the favor if we started practicing the fullness of our own covenant with Polygamy.

  10. Nate, I think it’s because civil law and societal norms shape our collective understanding of morality. Our collective understanding of morality has serious consequences and ramifications in our civic and family lives. When we have a say in those laws and norms, we have the prerogative to ensure that they reflect the values we cherish as a society (or should cherish).

    Consider if the issue was the sanctity of human law: imagine a fictional scenario in which some of us are concerned about a dissolution of laws that respect the sanctity of human life, because we are concerned about the societal ramifications of such a move—ramifications that affect all of us, and more particularly our children and grandchildren.

    Then imagine that someone comes along and says, “Sure, we as a Church believe in the sanctity of human life—but why should that mean that value should be encoded into our societal and legal traditions? After all, we are supposed to be IN the world but not OF the world. Why should we fret over the legal traditions of Gentiles?”

    How might you respond? Could you not respond that Gentile governments shape our common sense about morality, and that drastic changes and evolution is social, societal, and legal norms have a dramatic impact on our lives, and even on how we make sense of our own religious beliefs?

  11. Ivan, I think part of it is that we all know people who have divorced, and many of us have done it ourselves—and we are loathe to imply that the tool so many of our loved ones have taken advantage of shouldn’t be as readily available—or at least in its current form. I think many of us assume that if no-fault divorce shouldn’t exist—that is, that divorce should only be granted for demonstrable and dire reasons, with legal penalties for the offending party—then those of us who have used no-fault divorce in the past are somehow condemned as sinners.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily the case—we can condemn a widespread practice without necessarily condemning any particular participant in it. For example, I condemn the aggregate neglect and dismissal of prophetic advice against watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, without condemning any particular person who does so (since I cannot judge any particular situation). I can condemn how widespread the practice of shopping on Sunday is without implying that any particular individual is sinning by being in a grocery store on the Sabbath (since who knows why they are there and I can’t judge their particular situation).

    The same is true of no-fault divorce. We can say that no-fault divorce shouldn’t exist, and if it does, should not be considered a particularly viable path for us as Latter-day Saints (after all, divorce—particular one involving celestial marriage—involves serious sin or covenant-breaking on the part of at least one party), without implying that every single person, or that any particular person, is a sinner for having divorced their spouse using that legal mechanism.

  12. LDSP, those are certainly good points. Your example applies with abortion certainly. Abortion and same-sex marriage are the two main examples where the church has interfered in the politics of the Gentiles.

    I think as long as it is understood within the proper context of the church’s mission, it is OK. What is the church’s mission? Proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, perfect the Saints. Where does the battle against same-sex marriage fall? I think it falls under “perfect the Saints” because individually, the Saints are commanded to help their neighbor and get involved in good causes among the Gentiles. As you said in an earlier post, Prop 8 can be considered an example for the saints individually to follow, in order to be good neighbors in their community, to help out Catholics with Prop 8 because we were asked.

    The problem is that Prop. 8 was not just “being good neighbors.” It was a political and spiritual crusade where we joined hands with apostate churches in order to fend off some kind of fearful moral apocalypse, as if our mission was to hold up the world from it’s innevitable demise. And that is clearly not our mission. “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” We don’t fight. We invite.

    It’s fine for members individually to fight for things like Prop 8. But it falls outside the mission of the church as a whole, which is why that approach was abandoned after it was seen to have backfired. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword. Are we bombing abortion clinics like other churches do? No. We throw in our two cents, and then we go about our business of building the kingdom, letting the Great Apostasy work out it’s desolate course.

  13. “It’s fine for members individually to fight for things like Prop 8. But it falls outside the mission of the church as a whole, which is why that approach was abandoned after it was seen to have backfired.”

    I take my cues about what the mission of the Church is from the leaders of the Church, and they clearly felt that it was within their stewardship to initiate this campaign.

    Also, we’ve talked about it before, but I think you have a skewed perspective of subsequent events. I don’t see that Prop 8 “backfired” at all in any way, and I don’t see that they abandoned that approach.

  14. I live in a state with covenant marriage and am an elected public official who regularly (as in 10 or so a month) performs ceremonies. In the 10 or 12 years since we passed covenant marriage laws, I haven’t done one. That isn’t to say couples aren’t electing to do it, but it appears it is mainly a function of couples using a religous leader to perform their marriage. If I had to guess (and it is just a guess), I’d say only 5% of marriages are covenant marriages. I sometimes think we’re battling the wrong front, too, but I acknowledge 15 prophets, seers and revelators can see the forest for the trees, and if they oppose SSM, I think they see problems we don’t. I do think we’ll have SSM in all 50 states within the next 15 – 20 years, and view it as just another sign of the latter days.

  15. As an aside, my wife of 30 years and I haven’t given a thought to “upgrading” our marriage because we already made covenants in the temple. Quite frankly, if either/both of us ever get to the point that we’re contemplating divorce, I would consider it a breaking of covenants much more important that the state could ever impose. Therefore, I haven’t given the “upgrade” to a civil covenant marriage much thought. I think the same can be said for most non-Mormon couples. Once you get past that 20 year or so mark, then the kinds of things that would cause of divorce would probably not save a marriage, not matter if the delays for obtaining a divorce were in place.

  16. “Once you get past that 20 year or so mark, then the kinds of things that would cause of divorce would probably not save a marriage, not matter if the delays for obtaining a divorce were in place.”

    Yet, statistically, no-fault divorce did lead to an overall increase in divorce, even amongst long-time married couples. So this isn’t quite true.

  17. I filed for no-fault divorce at the advice of my lawyer, and here’s why.

    Domestic violence would have been the reason for me to for-cause file, and it’s generally considered a good reason. Not only that, but he pled guilty in criminal court for a reduced punishment, so whether or not he actually committed it is a non-issue. (Criminal court rulings are stricter than civil court, so they affect the outcome, unlike vice versa.)

    However, while part of me would have preferred to file for-cause, it would have required increased exposure to his abuse and forced me to drag his name through the mud in order to get away safely. This would have likely increased the intensity of the post-separation abuse. Rather than the terrifying but ultimately small threat of danger, I, my children, and/or my property would probably have been seriously damaged. This is why the lawyer suggested I file no-fault. At the time, it was very hard. I wanted validation that there was good reason for me to break my covenants. But with 20/20 hindsight, I’m VERY, VERY glad I didn’t have to live through that. Revenge, justification, and validation in the eyes of the law isn’t worth it.

    There is law, and there are morals. They are not the same thing. And there are often good reasons for doing something one way legally that does not reflect reality. Only someone who has lived through or had a very close loved one live through a nightmare with certain similarities to mine can truly understand that. All the ideological “justice” or “fairness” in the world can’t measure up.

    I know and the Lord knows what really happened. The law isn’t solely about fairness or about morality. It must balance reality with both. The image of the blinded Lady Justice is meaningless if by supposedly achieving justice, the victim is further damaged by the law.

  18. “The law isn’t solely about fairness or about morality.” Legislatures pass laws, and you are correct that said laws aren’t solely about fairness or morality. Which is why, when SSM supporters are screaming about equality and rights and fairness, I have to say even our hetero marriage laws aren’t “fair.” In my state, unless it was for “cause” (adultery, abuse, conviction of a felony, etc) it took 3 years living separate and apart. Then 2 years. Then one year. Now, for non-members, living separate and apart for three years without having sexual relations (because technically that would be adultery and would change the grounds and impact alimony) I can see why the push for a shorter time. In theory, the same for faithful LDS. Do we really want a couple of adults to not date or have any other romantic relationships for 2 or 3 years while waiting out the requisite period? Would such a long period simply encourage people to stay married in name only, but commit adultery and hope not to get caught? In my mind, if the parties haven’t managed to reconcile within a year, then it’s probably time to cut it all loose. As for increasing instances of divorce among older couples, I think the statistics can be interpreted many ways. Maybe women are leaving because they’re in better positions to provide for themselves. I think many women (and some men) historically stayed in loveless marriages strictly for financial reasons. Anyway, it’s a tough call with no easy answer. If my daughter was in an abusive marriage, I would want her to get out ASAP, regardless of children. Other than that, it’s hard to give a carrot encouraging couples to stay together and a stick to beat them with if they don’t.

  19. There are always good people that no fault divorces have helped, I would never deny that.

    In the total, though, it’s been bad for society and marriage – and having been through the hell of a no-fault divorce, well – I don’t like using the “you can’t understand me unless you’ve experienced my life” card, since it tends to shut debate down and make it so we can’t discuss the issue without hurting someone’s feelings. I like ldsphil’s idea of condemning the practice in general while recognizing there are always exceptions, but the damage the divorce did to my kids will not be easily undone (if ever).

  20. Keep in mind that in countries where divorces are very difficult to obtain, we see another problem–people separating for long periods of time, finding love elsewhere, and living in adultery.

    Besides, proving that, say, adultery happened can be pretty difficult to do. A wife can know her husband’s having an affair, but proving it in court in order to get a “fault” divorce is another matter. Many divorce complaints read, for example, “adultery, and, in the alternative, no fault…” meaning that the person asking for divorce would prefer to have it be “fault.” In reality, though, the vast majority of these settle as “no fault” because “fault” is hard to prove, and people just don’t have the thousands of dollars it would take to prove fault in court.

  21. Ivan, I didn’t say you can’t understand me. I said that you can’t truly understand that law is not fair unless you’ve had to go through a situation where getting your justice would actually harm you more. Are you arguing against that?

    Thank you, Tim, that a better job of illustrating my main point. Adultery is hard to prove, abuse is even harder. Unless there is a long, protracted medical case history of severe—not mild—injury, they don’t even consider litigation. And if the mother is being abused in any way, even emotional, the children also suffer. Always. I believe it should be legally considered child abuse if spousal abuse is proven—though I know why it isn’t.

    I don’t think that allowing no-fault divorces caused the decline of moral society. I think it’s the other way around, that an increasing inability to take responsibility for our obligations (a decline of morals) has led to an increase in the numbers of no-fault divorces.

    My divorce didn’t convince me to take this stand alone, but I don’t know that I would enter into a legal covenant marriage. My covenants to my God are enough to keep me in it unless He once again told me to get out. In the improbable event that I married again, and was yet again a poor judge of character (as has been the case for nearly every romantic relationship I have had,) I would want the ability to protect my children first and foremost. A no-fault divorce allows the victims of for-cause cases to get out without having to try to destroy their partner or endure years of horror in the process.

  22. Elder Packer said, in the Ensign “Marriage” May, 1981:”This glorious, supernal truth teaches us that marriage is meant to be eternal. There are covenants we can make if we are willing, and bounds we can seal if we are worthy, that will keep marriage safe and intact beyond the veil of death.” I don’t want to take him out of context, but what marriage is he talking about? Marriages sealed in the temple? Marriage performed by PH leaders? Remarriages by and between widows and widowers? Marriages performed under civil authority? Marriages performed by other religious leaders? Or, did he really mean “all marriages.” When we say marriage is ordained of God in the PoF, do we really mean it, or do we as Latter-day Saints only consider our temple sealed marriages as legitimate? I think many of us look down our noses at “gentile” weddings as if those relationships and committments mean nothing. Just because they terminate at death doesn’t mean they don’t matter, and since we’re trying to seal all those marriages vicariously in the temple, then it would behoove us to do as much as we can to strengthen all forms of marriage since, as President Packer said, all marriages are meant to be eternal. As an aside, I think that applies to remarriages of widows/widowers, too. Understanding that concept might be the key to understanding plural marriage in general.

  23. “I do think we’ll have SSM in all 50 states within the next 15 – 20 years, and view it as just another sign of the latter days.”

    Uh, it ain’t happenin’ in the state of Geowgia, anytime soon…. /Southern drawl off/

  24. *ldsphil made my point better than I could, and frankly I’m very mystified by Adam and Geoff’s diffidence to the matter.*

    I think you mean ‘indifference.’ I am rarely diffident.

    And I’m not indifferent on this matter either. I’m offering an alternate, and I think more correct, explanation of why Mormons don’t go big for covenant marriage. And even more correct explanation might be that most Mormons haven’t even heard of it, which fits pretty well with your point in the comments that gay marriage isn’t an unprecedented attack on marriage. Worse things have already happened.

    I’d be more interested in hearing about your covenant marriage, what the process is and what your understanding of the legal consequences are.

    I would consider covenant marriage if it were available in my state. I am no friend to no-fault divorce.

  25. SilverRain – I’m sorry if that comment came off as aimed at you. I was more discussing my own temptation to play that card. I often want to just go “You don’t get the hell that divorce was! You talk about marriage but you haven’t been through what I’ve been through!” and I have to constantly fight that temptation.

    Tim – well, I went bankrupt due to the divorce, and I payed out thousands, and it was a “no fault” divorce. I guess maybe, in the aggregate, no fault makes divorce cheaper, but I really don’t know. In my time experiencing the oft ignored realm of divorced LDS men, quite a few went bankrupt after their wives left them over no fault divorce. But I really have no idea how much more expensive a fault divorce would be. If anyone out there has some experience or knowledge, I would be interested.

    Adam – yes, indifference is what I meant. What a weird typo/Freudian slip on my part. Your comment deserves more than I have time for right now, but I should have some time tomorrow to respond.

  26. One interesting thread in this discussion:

    A lot of supporters of same sex marriage argue “same sex marriage does not affect my marriage or my views on marriage or make me view marriage as any less important or sacred” (a view that was, I think, dealt with very well by Megan McArdle – preserved for posterity by Adam G. here: http://www.jrganymede.com/2013/02/26/learning-from-history/ )

    Compare that sentiment with what a lot of people are saying about no fault divorce here and elsewhere.

  27. Ivan,

    Two things typically drive up the cost (and length) of a divorce. First, how close it gets to trial. If it goes to trial, or doesn’t settle until the week of trial, it’s probably going to be a lot more expensive, take a lot longer, and be a lot more emotionally draining. For the record, the vast majority of divorces don’t go to trial, and most settle before or during mediation. Second, and related, is the attorney you use. Some attorneys like taking things to trial because it means more money for them. Some simply charge a lot more than others.

    We’re talking about the difference between a $1,500 divorce (or cheaper, if it’s uncontested) and a $40,000 divorce. Even “cheap” divorces that end in trial are at least $5,000-$8,000 per person (assuming the parties have an attorney).

    No one wants a divorce decree–a public record, by the way, and accessible to anyone–to state that the divorce was due to their abuse, adultery, whatever. People are going to fight that as much as possible. If we take away the no-fault option, and make divorce contingent upon proving or stipulating to fault, a lot more of those divorces will be fought out in the courtroom, a huge added expense for both the husband and the wife.

  28. Actually, it does. Because they take it out on the ones they perceive doing this to them, the ones they have the power to hurt. The only ones who benefit are the government and the lawyers.

  29. SilverRain,

    You have the unfortunately far too common perspective of someone for whom a no-fault divorce is the only real option, despite the existence of abuse in the relationship.

    I can talk about realities all I want, but I don’t have that background of being in such a marriage, and so my communication skills are limited. Your point of view is necessary in such a discussion, and you’re doing a great job of sharing that point of view with people who have never had your experiences.

  30. Thanks, Tim. If only perspectives such as mine got more respect, instead of being written off as an exception, a rarity, biased, or plain crazy.

    There is a reason people with experiences like mine and far worse stay silent in these sorts of discussions. Which is why I’m not. Even when I know I will be dismissed or worse. I have the benefit of having been taught to do what is right, even when it hurts me. Even when it risks me being lumped in with people who truly have an agenda, or are out to hurt other people.

  31. I might add that you get more respect for your voice because it doesn’t come from personal experience. Which is why it is so welcome to me and others like me. It’s very nice to know there are a few people out there with the power to listen, despite never having had to go through the fire themselves.

  32. I’m not sure that the argument “no fault divorce has benefited some people” trumps the “no fault divorce has hurt a lot of people.”

    Tim seems to be arguing “because no fault benefits some people, it’s totally worth it” – yet those of us grievously hurt by no fault divorce (which I think, but can’t prove empirically, vastly outnumber the ones benefited) apparently must just suck it up and live with it, or something.

    I feel my perspective is often treated like garbage, yet there are a lot more support services (formally and informally) for divorced women than divorced men.

    Here’s an interesting article:
    http://www.openmarket.org/2007/12/04/the-economics-of-divorce/
    “But there’s no reason to assume that men fare any better in a divorce than women. If they did, it’s more than a little odd that two thirds of divorces are initiated by the wife over the husband’s objection (typically, no-fault divorces), according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, and several studies cited by Arizona State University’s Sanford Braver in his 1998 book, Divorced Dads. Moreover, male mortality rates rise after a divorce, both in absolute terms and relative to women’s. . .
    There were, of course, a few studies, some quite old and outdated, that did claim that men benefit financially from a divorce. But they all had obvious design flaws. Some of them simply ignored income that is not treated as income for purposes of federal tax laws, such as child support, which is not reported on the custodial parent’s tax return, is not taxable, and is not deductible on the non-custodial parent’s tax return. But tax-exempt income is even better than taxable income for your standard of living, since you don’t have to pay taxes on it, and can enjoy all of it, without deducting any taxes. In states like Massachusetts, most of the income in a custodial parent’s household is typically child support, since child support is typically 25 percent of a middle-class father’s gross income for just one child (more than a third of the father’s after-tax income). Yet this income is entirely ignored in those studies, which treat a mother receiving $100,000 a year in child support as a pauper because none of the child support qualifies as taxable “income.” Similarly, in 2000, a Virginia study (the JLARC study) claimed Virginia’s child support guidelines were too low only because it compared apples and oranges. It compared just one part of the state’s child support guidelines (the “basic” schedule, excluding statutory add-ons for health insurance and day care expenses) to all child-rearing costs, making the guidelines appear artificially low.”

    Divorce is mess for everyone. I’m fairly sure if “fault” divorce was the norm, my ex would have opted for counseling instead. I can’t be sure, though, so perhaps I dodged a bullet.

  33. It’s almost inevitable that the comments would go in a personal direction, though that wasn’t my intent. I was hoping for more of a discussion on what the first few comments dealt with

    It seems like we all often feel our emotional experiences aren’t validated enough, and I’m not sure how to deal with that or ameliorate the problem. I really don’t like getting into my emotional trauma trumps your emotional trauma debates. There’s not good way to figure out who’s really right.
    Back when I was a theater major, our acting textbook mentioned that humans tend to compete over who has suffered the most. In our modern society, we tend to act as if the person who suffered the most is the one who is right or “wins” the argument.
    I’d rather take ldsphil’s idea to discuss the issue in general terms without condemning specific instances, but that may be unavoidable. Divorce is inherently emotional.

    That said, I may have to bow out soon – or at least bow out of one strain of the conversation. I once swore to never discuss my divorce online – not even anonymously, pseudonymously, or pseudo-anonymously – and I’m really pushing the boundaries of that vow. It’s getting to emotional for me to skirt the edges of a far too painful experience.
    I still plan on responding to Adam’s query above about Covenant marriage, but I’m not sure I can stay on the personal suffering level much longer.

  34. Child support is not the income of the custodial parent. It is merely a transfer of money to support the children. But that is an unrelated tangent.

    I’m going to try to respect your desire to not discuss your divorce. At the same time, I think perhaps our experiences represent an important dualism in divorce experiences that can help us navigate wisdom in creating and applying law.

    If I read between the lines, I perceive that you feel injured by no-fault divorce, Ivan. You seem to feel that because divorce was easier for your ex-wife to obtain, that it somehow caused it to happen. Can you see how that is similar to banning baseball bats because they are used in many assaults? It isn’t the no-fault divorce that divorced you. Your wife did. It was her choice not to attempt counseling, her decisions and her nature that convinced her to behave as she did.

    I know nothing about your specific circumstances. So let’s take a generic theoretical example of a wife choosing to divorce her husband for no good reason. (I’m choosing wife because the husband doing the same doesn’t seem to figure into your opinion on this case.) Maybe she’s bored, or maybe she just wants to move on.

    To say that no-fault divorce should be removed in order to force her to stay in a marriage seems to me to reveal an underlying paradigm that marriage is meant to control a romantic partner’s behavior in order to provide oneself security (as compared to providing security for the children who are innocent of choice in all this.) Under this premise, if marriage were more binding, it would increase the level of control by the one wanting to stay married over the one wanting to end it. This is, incidentally, why I wouldn’t want to enter into a legally covenant marriage as a survivor of domestic violence. I have experienced someone who I once trusted controlling me through emotional and physical violence, and would not be willing to place myself in a situation where I would again compromise my ability to fulfill my primary duty of providing safety for my (again, innocent of choice in this) children. No man who wishes to exert control over my behavior will ever again benefit from my company, my obedience, loyalty, or devotion. (Which is why I no longer date, and will likely never marry again; I do not believe that such a man exists who would be available to marry me.)

    Legal “covenantal marriage” is a contractual binding between husband and wife. This is far different from an actual covenantal marriage, which involves two people covenanting with God. In the case of an eternal covenantal marriage being broken, each individual is not answerable to each other, but to God for their individual part in it. I will covenant with God. I would not covenant with a man, and would not want him to covenant with me.

    Disallowing no-fault divorce does far more to control and punish victims than it does to assure stability to good partners. If a partner in a marriage no longer wants to participate, there is no way to force them to do so without harming innocents and victims (as is evident by the horrific trends already mentioned previously by Tim in places where it is not available.)

    If I had to guess, I would guess that my ex feels greatly wronged by my decision to divorce him. If his life expectancy went down, it was because I wasn’t sacrificing myself for his comfort any longer. He would likely have loved to have a way to force me to stay with him. He tried every means available to him that he thought he could get away with.

    As hard as it may have been for this hypothetical wronged man, at least he didn’t have to live a life of continuing fear. At least he didn’t have his last thought before falling asleep be wondering if he would wake up in the middle of the night, being dragged out of his room by his hair, beaten and raped repeatedly (which actually happened to a woman trying to divorce her abusive husband.) His is not an issue of physical safety, but of a sense of emotional abandonment and the injustice of ongoing financial obligation. I would trade that man in a heartbeat to live a life free of fear.

    Even now, four years later, I sometimes experience flashbacks and PTSD of my one (and thankfully only) trial, of the night he left, of the subsequent months of terror. These are things that will likely never go away completely. Not in this life. If I had been forced to prove his wrongdoing towards me in order to divorce him, I would have had to wait until I had a history of broken bones and bruises before getting out, rather than being able to make his first time laying hands on me also his last. It is in part due to no-fault divorce that I was able to protect my children as much as I could from further trauma and contention. Shouldn’t that be the main goal?

    I submit that you may feel like you had no control over your divorce, over a situation that your wife placed you in by choosing to end your marriage. Because you feel that loss of control, you seem to be supporting means to enforce that control in the future. If there is any truth in my perception, I submit that this is not an example of righteous dominion. It would legally empower abusers even more than they already are. I wish you were right, that such situations were infrequent. But sadly, you are not. When one in four women have been subjected to domestic violence, and three out of four Americans personally know someone who has experienced it, it is not an exception any more.

    The Book of Hosea, when read as an allegory of the Lord’s relationship to us as His people, is a powerful insight to how righteous dominion would be exercised in such a situation as the innocent husband being cheated on or abandoned by his spouse. It teaches us that we wrong God similarly, and can use His example to guide our actions we we feel we are the wronged party.

  35. SilverRain – I feel like you’re using me as a proxy for your ex, so I won’t be discussing the issue with you anymore. Your comments are hurtful and paint me as a potential abuser. I’m sorry for your experiences, but it’s clear the issue is too raw for either one of us.

  36. SR, I want to say this as delicately as possible because I consider you a friend, but I think you ought to reconsider this paragraph:

    “I submit that you may feel like you had no control over your divorce, over a situation that your wife placed you in by choosing to end your marriage. Because you feel that loss of control, you seem to be supporting means to enforce that control in the future. If there is any truth in my perception, I submit that this is not an example of righteous dominion. It would legally empower abusers even more than they already are. I wish you were right, that such situations were infrequent. But sadly, you are not. When one in four women have been subjected to domestic violence, and three out of four Americans personally know someone who has experienced it, it is not an exception any more.”

    SR, it seems to me as an outside observer that you are ascribing motives here to Ivan that are uncharitable. All he wanted to do was discuss the issue of covenant marriage and his problems with no-fault divorce. As a divorced person who was abused, I personally agree with you, SR, that no-fault divorce is probably better than the alternative given our fallen world. Having said that, I don’t think it’s right to impugn Ivan’s motives the way you appear to do here. Sometimes we write things and they don’t come out the way we intended. I think your intentions are good, but this particular paragraph is a bit harsh (imho).

  37. I apologize that this is the impression I’ve given. That is why I (very carefully) phrased it the way I did, to make it clear that I am aware that it is my perception and not necessarily a reflection of reality.

    I’m sorry if I hurt you, Ivan. I thought you may want to know how it sounded and have a chance to refute my impression if it was wrong, and clarify your motivations. Believe me when I say that was my intention, and not to accuse you of anything.

    This is the first time I have participated on this site in a long while. Perhaps it will help when I say that I regret it.

  38. I haven’t really interacted much with SilverRain (or anyone else in the last few years; I dropped out of the ‘Nacle when the divorce happened, since I realized I was in no emotional shape to get in arguments online – I’m only slowly reintegrating myself), but this whole thing has made me realize the divorce is still too raw for me and it hurts too much (this latest exchange actually caused me to break down crying for a few minutes).

    I will say that if it was only about me and my hurt, I could likely suck it up. But, for me, it isn’t so much about how no fault divorce hurt me personally, but how it damaged my children. Divorce used to be harder to obtain precisely because marriage was about the kids.

    Marriage hasn’t been about children in a long time, and the discussion here has shown that even many Mormons don’t believe marriage is about the kids, really. This saddens me. But I don’t want to cry anymore today. If I respond to Adam’s comment above, I may just create a new post solely on my experience with “covenant marriage.”

  39. “Divorce used to be harder to obtain precisely because marriage was about the kids.” Totally agree that we as a society have done a lot of damage to a whole generation of kids being raised in single-parent households. (This does not mean that some kids are not better off being raised by a single parent than a totally dysfunctional marriage). Totally feel your pain, my friend.

  40. Marriage isn’t just about the spouses, and neither is it just about the children. It’s about the shape of the whole community, and some shapes are better than others.

    The arguments for no-fault divorce aren’t too different from the argument against marriage that if a binding covenant between a couple is required then the relationship between them is of dubious worth. George Bernard Shaw was making such witty complaints against marriage a century ago: “Send me to the galleys and chain me to the felon whose number happens to be next before mine; and I must accept the inevitable and make the best of the companionship. Many such companionships, they tell me, are touchingly affectionate; and most are at least tolerably friendly. But that does not make a chain a desirable ornament nor the galleys an abode of bliss. Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?”

  41. John M, good point. There has always been a communal nature of marriage, which is why legal traditions take marriage so seriously. The state is involved in marriage because the future of communities are at stake in the health or lack thereof of marriage.

  42. Ivan, I am also a survivor of the trauma of divorce. I feel your pain and totally empathize with the difficulty of being male and divorced in the LDS church. For years, I felt somewhat out of place at church. My first divorce was over a decade ago, and I can still feel the pain of total lack of a support system for us men that got shafted with marriage. For many months, I was very alone and had to find my own way, emotionally and psychologically. Perhaps things are better now for divorced men, but I doubt it. Cultural change comes slow to our LDS communities.

    A better recognition of the fact that many LDS men who divorce are, in fact (!), good men would go a long way to healing and perhaps shortening the time needed to get back to “normal”.

  43. “A better recognition of the fact that many LDS men who divorce are, in fact (!), good men would go a long way to healing and perhaps shortening the time needed to get back to ‘normal’.”

    How about those who haven’t yet married? (I did at 31, and my wife was 27.) You don’t know all the ridiculous things I was told or labeled, particularly once I was in my late 20s. To me, single men get treated like lepers while single women (particularly divorced women) get all the sympathy.

  44. “To me, single men get treated like lepers while single women (particularly divorced women) get all the sympathy.”

    Yeah, I see and recognize that. I am sorry that you had to deal with that. I was just talking from a very personal perspective of someone that served a mission, married right after my 23rd birthday, and was divorced 2 1/2 years later because the marriage had all sorts of problems.

    I have believed for quite some time that whether you’re a single man, a divorced man, what have you, men are not treated well in our culture. This sort of dovetails with a trend that shows that men are getting short thrift in our society at large. Elder Christoffersen spoke to this issue conference before last.

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