My husband and I just passed our 19th anniversary. And since we started dating right after we turned 18 (married at barely 20), it means we’ve been together for well over half our lives. As we hit this milestone, I found myself reflecting on how much I have grown fond of divorce.
Before anyone close to us freaks out, don’t worry. This isn’t an announcement nor are either of us ready to jump ship. That’s just the thing… I am only here because I don’t want to leave. This was not always the case.
Like everyone else who grew up in conservative evangelicalism, I was raised knowing how BAD divorce is. God hates divorce. Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, and it lasts forever. Divorce is a sin, and while God can forgive it, the decision will follow you to your shame for the rest of your life. The permanency of marriage was told and shown to me in a million ways.
In fact, one core memory I have from when I was about eleven was listening to a particularly horrible, screaming fight between my parents. I escaped to the backyard until eventually my mom found me and simply said, “Marriage is forever. Sometimes you fall in love and sometimes you fall out. But if you fall out, you stick around until you fall back in.” I remember thinking how much I never wanted to be stuck with someone just waiting until I liked them again.
As I got older, I was told that the permanency of marriage was a comfort that non-Christian, divorce-happy couples didn’t have. It was a guarantee of sticking together through life’s ups and downs, and it promised security for those who took the covenant seriously. (Nevermind that Christian marriages have roughly the same divorce rates as anyone else.) I was told that those couples for whom divorce was an option lived in fear that the other would get bored or things would get hard and their spouse would leave them. Not having an exit door was not only righteous, it meant you were safe from abandonment.
I brought this belief into my own marriage. Despite my misgivings about relationships and the fear of being subservient and controlled by a husband, I married young. Dan was far more egalitarian than any Christian guy I had met before then. I had known him for several years as a friend before we dated so I thought I would be safe from my biggest worries of being consumed by my husband’s needs and dreams. We married, and for the first 15 years, we too believed in sticking-it-out-no-matter-what. Ironically, we came close to separating at one point, and some very good (and very expensive) non-Christian marriage counseling helped us through the enormous wall we had been banging up against for years: I wanted to be able to think my own thoughts and believe my own beliefs; he felt responsible for my soul, and my thoughts and beliefs were counter to what he thought was God’s way.
As he let go of the belief that he was spiritually responsible for me and I learned how to be more gentle with his fears, our relationship began to heal. Good thing too because right around the corner was a whopping case of spiritual abuse and trauma from our missions agency. That experience brought us closer together, but the combination of having broken away from some fundamentalist beliefs, being abused in our religion, and watching American evangelicals lose their damn minds over Donald Trump sent us both into a tailspin of faith deconstruction.
Nothing was left unexamined, including our marriage (again) and the institution of it in general. I came to the same conclusion that divorce is… wonderful. I don’t mean it isn’t sad or hard or even tragic when it happens. But it is WONDERFUL that we have a choice. That we aren’t stuck. That we can unmake a decision, walk away, start over, or simply realize that who we are now is no longer suited to partner with the person that made sense once upon a time.
Now that I am pushing 40, I’ve watched a whole lot of people, including people I am very close to, walk through divorce. Not a one of them has made that decision quickly or easily, and I have only been able to feel grateful that they have that choice at all. Because so. many. people. trapped in religious fundamentalism really don’t feel that they have a choice. They are literally wasting precious years of their lives in misery, years that they will never get back spent in daily suffering that is completely unnecessary.
I was told that not having the word “divorce” in our couples vocabulary would be comforting and bring a sense of peace and security. In reality, all it brought was fear and a feeling of being completely stuck unless we were willing to risk our souls by disobeying God’s rules. I was never sure if Dan stayed in our marriage because he wanted to. I didn’t know if he loved me or he just loved God enough to put up with me. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was still married because I loved Dan or because I was a good Christian woman.
Now, I know. I know that everyday we stay together it is because both of us want to be here. He is free to go, and so am I, with no shame and no guilt. It doesn’t mean that our marriage is easy. It means that our marriage is built on love and on choosing each other freely every single day. The idea that “not having divorce as an option brings peace” is just another lie of Christian fundamentalism. The truth is that any time we have agency and choice, we live with more peace and joy.